Detroit and Oakland had met twice in the post season, with Oakland winning a thrilling five game series in 1972, and the Tigers sweeping the A’s in 2006. In 2012, they would meet in the American league division series (ALDS).
The Tigers entered the 2012 season as heavy favorites, not only to win their division, but many had them winning the American League pennant. Detroit had won their division by 15 games in 2011, and eliminated the New York Yankees before losing the league championship series to the Texas Rangers.
The Oakland A’s were not picked by anyone outside of Oakland to make the playoffs. Against all odds, they won the west over the Los Angeles Angels and the defending American League champion Texas Rangers.
Both teams faced very tight races to win their respective divisions. The Tigers trailed the Chicago White Sox as late as September 24, while the A’s still trailed the Rangers by four games on that date. They won the last six games of the regular season including a three game sweep of the Rangers in the final three games to win the west division.
The Rangers were eliminated in the wild card playoff game by the Baltimore Orioles, who went on to face the Yankees in the other ALDS playoff series.
Because major league baseball had decided very late in the game to add a wild second wild card team to the playoff format, the schedule for the ALDS was modified so that the first two games would be played in Detroit, while the final three would be played in Oakland, who still had the "home field advantage" with a possible three of the five games at the Oakland Coliseum. This was effectively the same 2- 3 format used in 1972, when the east and west divisions simply alternated the home field "advantage" on a yearly basis.
The Tigers had under performed expectations all season long, but they still entered with high expectations. Detroit had Miguel Cabrera, the first triple crown winner in 45 years and certain MVP. They had Justin Verlander, the MVP from the previous season, widely considered the best pitcher in the game. They would use a four man pitching rotation with Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and recently acquired Anibal Sanchez. The Tiger rotation ranked second in the league in ERA.
Offensively, the Tigers were explosive, but they did a better job getting on base than they did scoring runs. The mid season addition of Omar Infante plugged a large hole at second base, but they were sixth in the league in runs scored.
Oakland had plenty to be excited about also. Their young rotation featured rookies Jarrod Parker, AJ Griffin and Tommy Milone to go with Brett Anderson, who was just returning from the disabled list, having pitched only 35 innings during the season. The A’s were second in the league in team ERA, third behind the Tigers in rotation ERA, and second in bullpen ERA. They also had a lineup that led the league in runs scored in the second half of the season, without the star names that the Tiger lineup featured. Oakland's offense was led by rookies Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Josh Reddick.
Game One- Comerica Park, Detroit
Verlander took the mound against the A’s rookie, Jarrod Parker to open the series. Coco Crisp led off the game with a home run off Verlander who got careless with a 1- 2 fastball over the plate. After a walk and a pair of strikeouts, the A’s had worked the Tiger ACE for 26 pitches in the opening frame, but the score remained at 1- 0.
The Tigers responded quickly in the bottom of the first with a lead off double by Austin Jackson and a base hit by Quintin Berry, Jackson stopping at third. Cabrera grounded into a double play, which scored the tying run. The Tigers took the lead in the third on a double by Omar Infante, and an RBI single by Berry. They made it 3- 1 on a solo homer by Alex Avila to lead off the fifth inning.
Verlander, meanwhile, put the game on cruise control, allowing a runner per inning before striking out five in a row through the sixth and seventh innings. Joaquin Benoit relieved Verlander in the eighth, retiring the side allowing only a single by Cespedes. Jose Valverde came on for the save, striking out the first two batters and retiring George Kottaras on a grounder to give the Tigers a 3- 1 victory.
Game Two- Comerica Park, Detroit
The Tigers sent Doug Fister to the mound to face Oakland’s second rookie, Tommy Milone. Fister retired the A’s in order in the first, and struck out the side in the second, allowing two runners to reach with two out in the second on a single by Josh Donaldson and Seth Smith being hit by a pitch. Miguel Cabrera doubled in the first but was stranded, and they loaded the bases in the second when Andy Dirks singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, Avisail Garcia walked and Gerald Laird was hit by a pitch. They left the bases loaded when Jackson flew out to left field to end the threat.
The A’s got on the board in the third on a single by Chad Pennington, an infield single by Coco Crisp, and after Fister struck out Steven Drew, Cespedes lined a single to left field scoring Pennington and moving Crisp to second with one out. Brandon Moss then singled to right field, and Avisail Garcia gunned down Crisp at the plate. Cespedes took third and Moss took second on the throw home. Fister then struck out rookie Josh Reddick to end the inning with the A’s up 1- 0.
True to form, the Tigers came right back in the bottom of the third when Cabrera doubled with one out, Prince Fielder singled moving Cabrera to third, and a grounder to first base scored the tying run as Cabrera crossed the plate. Jhonny Peralta struck out to end the inning with the score tied at one. It would remain that way through the sixth inning, neither team moving a runner past first base.
Smith led off the seventh inning with a walk, was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kottaras, and scored on an RBI single by Pennington. Fister retired Crisp and Drew leaving the score at 2- 1 Oakland. The Tigers responded in the bottom of the seventh with a pair of two out singles by Jackson and Infante off reliever Sean Doolittle. With runners on first and second and two outs, Cabrera blooped one to center field that was misplayed by Coco Crisp, scoring both runners. Fielder struck out to end the inning, but the damage had been done and the Tigers led, 3- 2. Things were only starting to get interesting.
Joaquin Benoit relieved Fister in the eighth, and promptly gave up a first pitch single to Cespedes. After Moss flied out to center field, Cespedes stole second and third, then scored on a wild pitch. Josh Reddick then homered to give Oakland the lead, 4- 3. Benoit then got Donaldson on a pop foul and Smith on a liner to Infante at second base to end the inning.
Ryan Cook replaced Doolittle in the bottom of the eighth, giving up a lead off single to Delmon Young. Don Kelly pinch ran for Young. Peralta singled to right, moving Kelly to second, and Danny Worth was brought in to run for Peralta. Andy Dirks then sacrificed the runners to second and third with a bunt. Manager Jim Leyland then sent Quintin Berry, who had gone 2 for 3 in the opener, to pinch hit for Garcia. Berry struck out swinging, leaving runners on second and third with two outs. With Avila batting, Cook uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Kelly and bailing out some poor decision making from the Tiger dugout.
Headed to the ninth, the score was tied at 4- 4. Leyland turned to lefty reliever Phil Coke, who struck out Norris, walked Pennington, got Crisp on a grounder to force the runner out at second. Drew singled to right, moving Crisp to third, and Al Alburquerque was brought in. He got Cespedes to ground out back to the pitcher, with Albuquerque kissing the ball before he flipped it to Fielder to record the final out in the Oakland ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, Grant Balfour relieved Cook. He struck out Jackson and gave up a single to Infante. Cabrera then singled to center, moving Infante to third. Fielder was intentionally walked, loading the bases. With runners on first and third, one out, the .186 hitting Don Kelly was allowed to bat. When a walk off sacrifice fly scored Infante, Kelly’s heroes celebrated a 5- 4 Tiger victory and a 2- 0 series lead.
Four times in the series, the Tigers came back in the bottom of the inning after Oakland had taken the lead. Tiger fans were more than a bit nervous about the bullpen situation. Benoit led the league with 14 home runs allowed by a reliever, Jose Valverde was getting shaky in the closer’s role- and Leyland went with Coke in a tie game in the ninth despite the fact that there wasn’t going to be a save situation for Valverde by that point. Ironically, Coke got the righty Norris and Crisp batting right, but allowed the switch hitting Pennington batting right, and the lefty hitting Drew to reach base. To be continued.
Game Three- Oakland Coliseum
A raucous crowd packed into the Oakland Coliseum with the A’s facing elimination in their first home game since they finished off a sweep of the AL champion Rangers to end the regular season. The Tigers sent Anibal Sanchez to the mound, and the A’s countered with Brett Anderson, the lone non rookie in their playoff rotation. Anderson had come off the disabled list in late August and made five starts, with an ERA of 6.10 and a WHIP of 1.60. He had missed the last two weeks of the season, but Oakland put all their eggs in his basket. He would not disappoint them.
The A’s took the lead in the first inning on a single by Crisp, a walk to Drew, and an RBI single by Cespedes. Sanchez got Reddick to ground into a double play to end the inning. A solo home run by Smith in the fifth was all the scoring this game would see. The A’s defense twice robbed Prince Fielder when Coco Crisp grabbed a sure home run from over the center field fence in the second inning and again in the eighth when Cespedes made a diving catch on a ball headed for extra bases.
Anderson went six innings, allowing two hits and a pair of walks while striking out six Tigers for a total of just 80 pitches. Sanchez worked six and a third innings, giving up five hits and two walks, striking out three. After pitch 101, Dotel recorded the final two outs in the seventh, Coke retired two of the three batters he faced in the eighth, and Porcello got the final hitter, but the Tigers failed to score off the trio of Cook, Doolittle, or Balfour, and the A’s won 2- 0 to cut the Tiger lead to 2 games to one in the series.
Game Four- Oakland Coliseum
Detroit sent Max Scherzer to the mound against Oakland rookie AJ Griffin in game four. The Tigers finally scored first in this game when Avila led off the third inning with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Infante, and scored on Jackson’s RBI single. They added to the lead when Fielder hit a solo homer to lead off the fourth, making it 2- 0 Detroit.
Scherzer worked 5-1/3 innings, striking out 8 batters and allowing just three hits and a walk in 91 pitches. He was charged with an unearned run in the fifth, when Crisp reached base on an error by Fielder, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a double by Drew, who was thrown out trying to reach third.
Scherzer was removed in the sixth as Leyland used Dotel and Coke to get one out apiece to finish the inning. Griffin went five innings, allowing two runs on seven hits, walking none and striking out one. He gave way to Jeremy Blevins, who pitched two innings. Alburquerque set the A’s down in the seventh without a runner, and the Tigers remained on top, 2- 0 headed to the eighth.
Doolittle came in to face the Tigers in the top of the eighth, allowing a base hit by Infante who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jackson. Garcia laced an RBI single to right field, scoring Infante to put the Tigers ahead, 3- 2. After Cabrera popped out to third, Fielder singled to right, advancing Garcia to third, but the two were stranded when Delmon Young grounded out to second to end the inning.
Benoit took the mound for the eighth and got the first two hitters on a Pennington grounder to Fielder and a Crisp fly ball to deep center field. The next two reached base on a single by Drew and a walk to Cespedes, but they were stranded when Benoit struck out Moss. Cook came in for the A’s in the ninth and retired the Tigers in order. Drama built as cameras panned to Jose Valverde working in the bullpen and the Tigers leading, 3- 1.
El Papa Grande was on the mound for the bottom of the ninth. The Tiger closer had shown signs of rockiness recently, but had not allowed a home run since mid July, and had blown just one save since the all star break. Reddick took a 1- 2 pitch to right field for a base hit and Donaldson followed with a double, advancing Reddick to third. Smith lined a double to left scoring both runners to tie the game. Three million Tiger fans were screaming at their televisions, telling Leyland to "get Valverde outta there".
Valverde got Kottaras on a foul pop to third, and struck out Pennington. With two outs and a runner on third, Crisp came through once again for Oakland, lining a single to right that was overrun by Garcia, who had little shot to get Smith regardless, and the A’s had a walk off, 4- 3 victory, tying the series at two games each.
Game Five- Oakland Coliseum
The Tigers sent their ACE, Justin Verlander to the mound for the fifth and final game of the series. The A’s went back to rookie sensation Jarrod Parker. Each side put one runner on in each of the first two innings. Berry doubled for the Tigers in the first and was stranded. Cespedes doubled but did not score for the A’s. Dirks singled and stole second in the second inning and was left on base. Moss walked in the second inning and was thrown out by Avila trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt. No score after two frames.
Infante led off the Tiger third with a single to left and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Jackson doubled scoring Infante, and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Berry. With Cabrera batting, another wild pitch by Parker scored Jackson from third, giving Detroit a 2- 0 lead. Cabrera flew out to right and Fielder struck out to end the inning.
Verlander found his groove and went the distance, allowing no runs on just four hits and one walk, striking out eleven batters to shut the A’s down cold. The Tigers added to their lead in the seventh, when Peralta got an infield single and stole second base (Yes, Peralta). Infante singled Peralta to third, and Parker was removed for Cook, leaving runners on first and third with one out and the Tigers up , 2- 0.
Jackson singled, scoring Peralta and moving Infante over to third. Cook walked Berry to load the bases, then Cabrera was hit by a pitch to force in a run, making it 4- 0. Fielder singled on a fly to center and everyone moved up one base. With bases still loaded, Young swung at the first pitch trying to hit into a double play, but Drew booted the ball for an error, scoring Berry, moving Cabrera to third and Fielder to second. 6- 0 Tigers with one out and the bases still loaded.
Andy Dirks hit a grounder to second, and Pennington came home for the force. Peralta flew out to center field to end the threat, but the Tigers had scored four times in the inning to take a 6- 0 lead with Verlander mowing down everything in sight. The A’s managed two singles in the eighth but never seriously threatened. Smith grounded out to second for the last out in the ninth, and the Tigers won the series and would move on to the ALCS for the second consecutive season for a rematch with the New York Yankees.
Omar Infante had six hits in the series, scoring six times without batting in a run. Andy Dirks added five hits and neither scored nor drove in a run. Austin Jackson recorded five hits, scored four runs and led the club with 3 RBI. Seven Tigers had at least one RBI in the series. Avila and Fielder each had one home run (and Fielder was robbed of a second). Peralta, Dirks, Infante, and Berry each stole a base for Detroit.
On the mound, Verlander had two wins over 16 innings for his two starts, and a 1.057 WHIP. Valverde, Benoit and Coke were all shaky in the bullpen, but held it together just enough to get through the series.