New playoff format doesn't do A's any favors

Opening ALDS in Detroit, they find themselves in 2-0 hole — and angry at Tigers relief pitcher's antics

DETROIT — So there it is: baseball's biggest kiss-off.

They made a movie about the 2002 Athletics. This time around, somebody should write a blues song for them.

After they had won the second-most games in the American League this year, the A's — who should really be called the Yoenis Cespedes Experience — were assigned to open the postseason on the road, like just another opening act. That's bad.

Even worse was they got themselves mugged by the 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. But worst of all, at least for the highlight reel, was they just got dissed by middle reliever Al Alburquerque.

He was so excited about fielding a come-backer from Cespedes with the go-ahead run on third base in the ninth inning that he kissed the ball before throwing it to first base.

There was your takeaway moment from the first two games of this American League Division Series, which the big-bucks Tigers won by 5-4 and 3-1 scores, putting baseball's most overachieving and entertaining team on the verge of extinction.

Josh Reddick, who plays right field for the A's, called Alburquerque's display "immature" and "very unprofessional." He was asked if the pitcher's act was designed to show up the A's.

"It is," said Reddick, who along with Cespedes had given the A's a 4-3 lead in the eighth. "That's exactly what's going on. … I don't think anybody, whether they've been in the big leagues one day or (have) 15 years in the big leagues should do that. You should enjoy yourself, do that stuff in the dugout when nobody's watching."

For much of the season, by reasons of time zones and slow starts, not many people outside of Oakland were watching the A's. But they changed that with a 57-26 record after June 30 and an 82-46 record in games started by Cespedes, the 26-year-old from Granma, Cuba. They swept a three-game series from the two-time defending AL champ Rangers to win the West, and here they are.

However, with Major League Baseball starting these best-of-five series at the home parks of the lower seeds, the Athletics' first trip to the postseason since 2006 has seemed like a tuneup for the Tigers. They were a popular World Series pick before they slogged through the preseason behind the White Sox, and it looks like they're hitting stride at the right time.

Every time the A's scored on Saturday and Sunday, Jim Leyland's Tigers answered in the bottom of the inning. Cabrera was hitless in Game 1 but would have had four hits in Sunday's 5-4 win, including two doubles, if official scorer Dan Marowski had not given Coco Crisp an error on a shallow fly off the end of his bat in the seventh inning. Two runs scored when Crisp botched a basket catch at the end of a sprint from the neighborhood of the warning track, where he was stationed.

"Coco ran 100 yards to get to that ball," said A's second baseman Cliff Pennington, exaggerating only a little. "Not many center fielders in the game even get close to catching that ball."

Closer Grant Balfour was close to rage in the clubhouse afterward, kicking a chair in the middle of the room after doors had been opened to reporters. Manager Bob Melvin brought him in to get the game into extra innings, but he wound up with powder burns.

Balfour allowed one-out singles to Omar Infante and Cabrera before an intentional walk of Prince Fielder to load the bases for Don Kelly, who had come in the game as a pinch runner an inning earlier. Kelly lifted a fly to Reddick, easily scoring Infante.

Winning pitcher: Alburquerque, who faced only Cespedes (and he was probably still out of breath after stealing two bases and scoring on a wild pitch an inning earlier).

Alburquerque said he has never kissed a baseball before but did it out of excitement after fielding the ball. Leyland probably wants to kiss someone or something after getting this close to headlining over the Yoenis Cespedes Experience.

"We're playing one hell of a team," Leyland said. "You saw them today. They're not going to cash it in, trust me. … We got a long, long way to go."

Because MLB chose to squeeze the new wild-card round into a previously arranged postseason window of 28 days, it compromised by using a 2-3 format to save a travel day in the division series. That put the top seeds into the position of falling into a 2-0 hole on the road, and that's what has happened to the A's.

"Not many guys in here are concerned about that," said lefty reliever Sean Doolittle, who was on the mound when Crisp just missed catching Cabrera's fly. "We have an off day (Monday). We're going to use that to turn the page, get refocused. Truly, we're more concerned about what's going on in here, how we play at home, with our fans. That stadium will be packed."

Reddick said his message for A's fans is simple.

"Don't give up on us," he said. "We're not done yet."

Lots of people hope not, although probably not the network that will televise the World Series.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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