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Inge leads assault of Zito as Tigers take Game One of ALCS

Oct 11, 2006 - 4:02 AM OAKLAND, California (Ticker) -- Brandon Inge and Ivan Rodriguez contributed to a short night for Barry Zito. Nate Robertson and the Detroit Tigers' bullpen made it a very long night for the pathetic Oakland Athletics' hitters.

Showing unusual patience at the plate and getting homers from Inge and Rodriguez, the Tigers knocked out Zito in the fourth inning en route to posting a 5-1 victory over the Athletics to take the opener of the American League Championship Series.

While Detroit jumped all over the AL West champion's ace, Oakland got two runners on base in five of the first six innings but set a championship series record by hitting into four double plays and tied another by going 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

"If you don't capitalize on those situations, you're not going to win ballgames," A's designated hitter Frank Thomas said. "It's Game One and maybe guys were a little over anxious. We have a long series and there is a lot of baseball left to be played. There's no need to panic, we're going to be OK."

After getting just two hits in a stunning ALDS victory over the New York Yankees, Inge finished with three hits and two RBI for the Tigers, who will try for a commanding 2-0 lead on Wednesday night.

"There's a lot of guys here who have not been in postseason play, including myself," Inge said. "When you get out there on that field, there's just such a sense of focus and adrenaline rush, that I think we were really concentrating on every single pitch, every at-bat."

Zito (1-1), who was 4-2 with a 2.43 ERA in six previous postseason starts and coming off an outstanding effort in Game One of the ALDS against Minnesota, looked like he was on his way to another dominant performance early.

The lefthander retired the first eight batters with a combination of fastballs, sharp-breaking curves and an outstanding changeup, before Inge - who entered 3-for-24 lifetime against Zito - homered in the third to open the scoring.

"The first thing that happened, Inge hit a homer on a fastball," Zito said. "He put a good swing on it, and hit a good pitch. After that I started to nit-pick a little bit instead of coming right after them. This is the playoffs, so if you don't get ahead in the count, it becomes more exposed than it does in the regular season."

Detroit's third baseman belted a 2-1 fastball that was up-and-in just inside the left field foul pole for his first postseason homer, a blast the 2002 Cy Young Award winner never recovered from.

"Kind of the ironic thing was I was trying to look out over the plate against Zito because I noticed he pounded us in, but they weren't really for strikes, just to get us off his outside pitches," Inge said. "So I was kind of looking out over the plate, and I guess my hands didn't quite cooperate with my mind.

"He throws a fastball in, and I end up pulling it down the line. I'm not going to complain about that. He's a great pitcher and you have to get him in the zone because he'll make you fish for a lot of pitches."

Curtis Granderson followed with a double into the right field corner and, after a pair of full-count walks, Magglio Ordonez hit a hard one-hopper that bounced out of the glove of third baseman Eric Chavez for an infield single and a 2-0 lead.

"The field was playing fast tonight," Chavez said. "Even the balls that I did catch were bouncing a little rough. It was a quick infield, and you have to make adjustments, that one just got away from me."

Zito got Carlos Guillen to escape the bases-loaded jam after 39 pitches, but he did not make it out of the fourth.

Rodriguez led off the frame with his fourth career postseason homer, drilling a 2-1 changeup over the right-center field wall for a 3-0 lead.

After issuing another walk, the Oakland starter again did not get any help from his defense as second baseman D'Angelo Jimenez's relay throw on a potential double-play grounder bounced by first baseman Nick Swisher for an error, allowing Marcus Thames to reach second.

Inge then doubled off the top of the left-center field wall, plating Thames and after a groundout, Placido Polanco grounded a hard single up the middle to give Detroit a 5-0 lead. That was the end for Zito, who allowed five runs, seven hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings in his shortest start since pitching just 1 1/3 frames against the Yankees on Opening Day.

"I just need to get better fastball command," Zito said. "When I put the fastball where I want it, it makes the offspeed stuff more effective. That's why some changeups got hit pretty well tonight, because the fastball didn't keep them honest."

It also was a major aberration from last Tuesday, when Zito retired the first nine hitters against Minnesota, had a no-hitter through 4 2/3 innings and yielded just one run in eight outstanding frames.

"The ground ball hit to Chavez, we didn't turn a double play and it wound up costing us two runs there," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "As far as him giving up the five runs, sure, they hit a couple homers off him and he gave up some hits, but the game could have been reasonable had we turned that double play."

The Tigers, who were next-to-last in the AL in drawing walks, showed outstanding patience against Zito. Six of the last 15 hitters got ahead 2-0 in the count and five of those batters reached.

"Today we came in with a good gameplan," Rodriguez said. "We wanted him to make pitches, and just hit his strikes. He threw a lot of pitches up, and we didn't swing at them. We made him throw the fastball in, and we were able to hit it."

After squandering chances to score in each of the first three frames, including hitting into two inning-ending double plays, Oakland had runners on second and third in the fourth.

But after a visit from manager Jim Leyland, Robertson struck out Chavez, Nick Swisher and Marco Scutaro - the last two on 95 mile-per-hour fastballs.

"I basically just told him, 'Don't worry about the two runners that are already on. You've got to make your pitches, though, from here on out, and don't worry if those two runs score. Don't let this thing open up trying to not let anybody score and consequently you open up a huge inning and let three or four score.'"

In the following frame, the A's put their first two runners on before Robertson induced another double-play grounder. Left fielder Craig Monroe made an outstanding diving catch to rob Milton Bradley to end the frame.

"We were dodging bullets from the get-go," Leyland said. "It was amazing we allowed just one run. It won't happen again. (We) can't keep putting runners on. It got us in trouble."

Robertson (1-1) left after five innings, yielding six hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

"You have to make pitches," Roberston said. "You know, you've got guys in scoring position with no outs, you have to make pitches. I've never backed down from a situation like that. If they beat me, they beat me with my best stuff, so I came right at them."

Fernando Rodney allowed two runners in the sixth and got a double play to end the seventh. Oakland finally broke through against rookie Joel Zumaya in the eighth, when Milton Bradley led off with a double and came around on a pair of groundouts. Todd Jones yielded a leadoff walk in the ninth before closing out the win.

About the only thing that went wrong for Detroit was first baseman Sean Casey straining a left calf muscle after grounding out in the sixth.

"We don't really know the extent of it yet, but it's 100 percent that he will not play (Wednesday)," Leyland said.

Jay Payton had two doubles and an RBI for the Oakland, which was just 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position against Minnesota.

"We got a lot of guys on, we swung the bats OK, we just couldn't get the big hit," Macha said. "Let's just keep getting the base runners, I'm OK with that. We'll wind up getting the big hit sooner or later."

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