Rock-solid defense? D'Angelo Jimenez, who was flawless in Game 3 of the ALDS in his first start as the fill-in for injured second baseman Mark Ellis, badly bounced a throw past first base while trying to turn a double play in the middle of Detroit's three-run fourth inning.
"It was a tough play," said Jimenez, who took a feed from third baseman Eric Chavez and uncorked a sinker that evaded the swipe of first baseman Nick Swisher. "It happens. It's part of the game."
Clutch hitting? The A's, who came up with timely hits in each of their three wins over the Twins, came up empty in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position Tuesday, stranding nine runners overall while grounding into an LCS-record four double plays.
"We're not the kind of team that can overcome little mistakes," Chavez said. "We play good fundamental baseball; that's what we did to get here. So if we deviate from that, it's gonna be a short series and we'll be going home."
It was this kind of night: The hero of Oakland's ALDS sweep, shortstop Marco Scutaro, was greeted with the same chants -- "Marco! Scutaro!" -- that preceded his game-breaking double last Friday before each of his at-bats Tuesday, and grounded into an inning-ending twin-killing in the second inning, struck out with runners at second and third to end the fourth, and bounced out with two runners on to close out the sixth.
"We just got a little anxious," said designated hitter Frank Thomas. "There were a couple situations where we went after balls out of the strike zone."
"When you don't hit with runners in scoring position, you're not going to score many runs," added center fielder Mark Kotsay. "That was the storyline tonight."
Only the A's stellar bullpen held up in the club's first ALCS game since 1992, but it was too little, too late.
"I guess this means we're not going undefeated in the postseason," cracked catcher Jason Kendall. "But this one's over with, and we'll go get 'em tomorrow."
Tigers starter Nate Robertson was the Bizarro World Zito, bouncing back from a pounding at the hands of the Yankees in Game 1 of Detroit's ALDS shocker with five shutout innings of six-hit work, and No. 9 hitter Brandon Inge homered and doubled off Zito as part of a 3-for-3 night that shifted home-field advantage in the series to the Motor City Cinderellas.
"No need to panic," Thomas said. "It's a long series, and we've got a lot of baseball to play."
Zito, who held the Tigers to a run on three hits over seven innings in his only start against them during the regular season on April 20, made quick work of the first eight batters he faced. But Inge put an end to that by ripping a high fastball into the seats down the left-field line, Curtis Granderson followed with a double to right, and after back-to-back walks, Magglio Ordonez made it 2-0 with an infield single.
"Inge hit a homer on a fastball, and he just put a good swing on a pretty good pitch," Zito said. "After that, I started to nitpick a little bit instead of just coming right after them. This is the playoffs, so if you don't get ahead in the count, it becomes more exposed than in the regular season."
"He got some balls up to a good-hitting team," Kendall said. "What can you do?"
Ivan Rodriguez opened the fourth inning with a home run to right-center field, and following a walk and a fielder's-choice grounder, Inge doubled high off the wall in left-center before coming around to score on a two-out single up the middle by A's nemesis Placido Polanco, who had a .493 career average against Oakland entering Tuesday.
"Sure, they hit a couple homers off him and he gave up some hits," manager Ken Macha said of Zito, "but the game could have been reasonable had we turned that double play."
Zito was gone after Sean Casey blooped a single to right. It was the shortest -- by two innings -- of Zito's seven career playoff starts, and the shortest of his 15 career starts against the typically free-swinging Tigers, who made him throw 61 of his 92 pitches after the second inning.
"I thought we all showed pretty good patience against Barry," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "He's a good pitcher and he doesn't show you the same look very often. ... We were fortunate tonight, because I thought we had some pretty good at-bats against a very outstanding pitcher."
"He threw some good pitches. They just laid off them," Kotsay said. "They did a good job tonight. They had a game plan, and they executed it."
"No need to panic. It's a long series, and we've got a lot of baseball to play."
-- Frank Thomas
Zito didn't want any part of hearing that Jimenez's error was as costly as Macha suggested it was, saying, "I take full responsibility for the loss."
The A's had several chances early against Robertson, but none better than in the fourth, when Jay Payton hit the first of his two doubles after a leadoff walk to Thomas. It was over as quickly as it started, though, with Chavez and Swisher going down swinging before Scutaro was rung up looking.
"Second and third, nobody out, and [Robertson] reached back, got a little extra and struck out the side," Macha said. "That's pretty frustrating."
Asked how Robertson did it, A's outfielder Milton Bradley smiled and said, "Smoke and mirrors? I don't know."
Chad Gaudin, Joe Kennedy, Kiko Calero and Joe Blanton teamed up on 4 2/3 shutout innings of four-hit work for Oakland, but the A's could muster only a run-scoring groundout by Payton in four innings against Detroit's tough relief trio of Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones, who helped extend the Tigers' postseason winning streak to four games.
Kotsay suggested that getting a look at Rodney, Zumaya and Jones this early in the series was one of the few positive developments of the night.
"From that standpoint, nothing's going to be new to us from here on out," Kotsay explained.
The A's will try to pull even in the series Wednesday, when they'll send veteran righty Esteban Loaiza to the mound against top AL Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Verlander, also a righty, in Game 2.
And while the prospect of dropping two games is daunting, the A's weren't exactly sweating as they quietly dressed for the drive home.
"We've had our backs against the wall quite a few times this year," Thomas said.
"We've gone through some periods like this," Macha echoed.
Added Bradley: "We just made the experts look smart today. It had to happen one time. We'll be back up to speed tomorrow."