A's shut down, face 3-0 ALCS deficit
Harden shakes off tough start, but Rogers lights-out for Tigers
OAKLAND -- There's exactly one precedent in the history of the game for scaling the mountain the A's now face in the American League Championship Series, but at least it's still fresh in everyone's mind.
Down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS, the Boston Red Sox stunned the baseball world by ripping off four consecutive victories over the rival Yankees before sweeping their way past the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Do the A's, who suffered a 3-0 loss to the host Tigers in Game 3 of the 2006 ALCS at sold-out Comerica Park on Friday, have that kind of magic in them?
That question can't be answered until Saturday night at the earliest, and the only definitive answer Game 4 can provide is "no." A "yes" would require wins Saturday and Sunday in Detroit, and two more wins Tuesday and Wednesday back in Oakland.
"It's definitely not impossible," said A's first baseman Nick Swisher, whose two walks accounted for half of his club's baserunners for the night. "Getting to this point and being down 3-0 is tough, no doubt about it, but if we can catch fire, start stringing together some hits and get the kind of starting pitching we got for most of the year, we can get back in this."
"You don't really think, 'Oh, the Red Sox did it, so we can do it,'" said center fielder Mark Kotsay, who provided two of the few A's highlights with a pair of sensational catches in the fourth inning. "But it is nice to know it's been done before. At least we won't have to make history to do it."
Added A's catcher Jason Kendall: "We've got a bunch of whacked-out guys ... if anyone can do it, it's this bunch of guys."
The only question to which the A's got a definitive answer Friday was this: Does Kenny Rogers still own them? That's affirmative, without question.
Rogers, who brought a 21-7 career record against the A's into Game 3 and hasn't lost to them since September 2004, made 7 1/3 innings of two-hit work look easy while leading the Tigers to the brink of their first World Series appearance since 1984.
"I normally don't give pitchers any credit; I get myself out. But he was outstanding," Oakland right fielder Milton Bradley said of Rogers. "You can't pitch better than that. I don't want to disrespect anybody, but I almost feel like going over [to the Tigers' clubhouse] and high-fiving him myself. He was that good."
"He kept everyone off-balance and kept everyone between speeds," added designated hitter Frank Thomas, who went 0-for-2 on the night and is 0-for-10 in the ALCS. "That's how you get big-league hitters out."
His counterpart, A's righty Rich Harden, wasn't bad, easing concerns about his health and arm strength by coming within an out of a quality start, but Rogers ranged far past quality and well into excellence.
Harden wobbled early, allowing two runs on two hits and a walk in the first inning, and his less-than-impeccable command led to five free passes over 5 2/3 innings of five-hit work. Rogers' command was pinpoint, and he expertly mixed paint and power to hold Oakland to a pair of singles and two walks while striking out six on 97 pitches.
"When you can throw any of your pitches at any time for strikes and you're throwing them with sink on the fastball, and good bite on your curveball and slider, and great arm action on your changeup, it makes it difficult for the hitters," said Oakland manager Ken Macha.
Looking very much like someone who hadn't pitched in a big-league game since Oct. 1, Harden, who hadn't, walked Tigers leadoff man Curtis Granderson on four pitches in the bottom of the first and fell behind No. 2 hitter Craig Monroe, 3-1, before Monroe slapped a hit-and-run single to right field, moving Granderson to third.
Placido Polanco, who entered the game 4-for-4 in his career against Harden, followed with another single to right, scoring Granderson and putting runners back on the corners. Monroe ended up scoring on a fielder's-choice ground ball, and he scored again by belting a leadoff home run to left field to open the bottom of the fifth.
"He threw the ball well with the exception of the first inning," Kendall said. "After that, he settled down and threw the ball the way he normally does. Unfortunately, we didn't leave him any room for error."
Harden, who threw 105 pitches, left after issuing a two-out walk in the sixth and said he was disappointed with his outing.
"I'm not really happy with it, especially the first inning," he said. "That's not exactly what I wanted to do."
Rogers, meanwhile, encountered considerably less resistance in carving through the A's in much the same manner he dispatched the vaunted Yankees lineup while wrapping up Detroit's AL Division Series shocker a week earlier.
|"Getting to this point and being down 3-0 is tough, no doubt about it, but if we can catch fire, start stringing together some hits and get the kind of starting pitching we got for most of the year, we can get back in this."|
|-- Nick Swisher|
Kendall opened the game with an infield single and moved to second when Rogers hit Thomas with a two-out pitch, but the A's never again had more than one runner on base at the same time.
Swisher was left at first base after a leadoff walk in the second, and Marco Scutaro's one-out single in the fifth was quickly rendered moot when D'Angelo Jimenez hit into a double play. After walking Swisher to open the eighth and getting Scutaro to force him out at second with a fielder's choice, Rogers was pulled and received a standing ovation as he walked off the field.
"He didn't pitch anybody the same, and he never throws the same pitch twice in the same at-bat," Kotsay marveled. "You could see five, six pitches in an at-bat, and he'll throw them at five or six different speeds."
Hard-throwing righty Fernando Rodney took over for the Tigers and got pinch-hitter Bobby Kielty to bounce into an inning-ending double play, and closer Todd Jones wrapped it up with a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save of the series.
Mission impossible for the A's? They say no -- but awfully hard under the circumstances.
"They're just a good, well-rounded team, and they're playing perfect baseball right now," said Harden.
"All we've gotta do is win four games in a row," Kendall said. "We've done that before this year. No reason to think we can't do it again. We just have to go get that first one tomorrow."
A's third baseman Eric Chavez, blunt as always, flatly called the Tigers "the better team." But he stopped just short of figuratively waving the white flag.
"Obviously, the percentages aren't in our favor," he said. "But we have to have a little pride, come out and play hard tomorrow, and see what happens."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.