- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

OAKLAND, Calif. — Jim Leyland trusted his gut and changed designated hitters, going with little-used Alexis Gomez for Game 2 of the American League Championship Series last night.

The result: a 2-0 advantage heading home to Motown.

Gomez hit a go-ahead, two-run single and later added a two-run homer to lead the Detroit Tigers to an 8-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics on a somber night following the death of former A’s pitcher Cory Lidle in a plane crash earlier in the day.

A career minor leaguer, Gomez had just one home run in the majors and contributed only six RBI in 103 at-bats this season.

“He does have big-time power,” Leyland said. “Unfortunately, he showed most of it in batting practice.”

Milton Bradley homered twice for the A’s and beat out an infield hit with two outs in the ninth inning that loaded the bases. But closer Todd Jones retired Frank Thomas on a harmless fly for his second save of this postseason.

“What a challenge,” Jones said. “It was a lot of fun. We’re up 2-0, and we’re going back to Detroit.”

Leyland, who turned around the Tigers in his first season as their manager, benched righty Marcus Thames and his 26 regular-season home runs in favor of Gomez, who hadn’t been on the field in nearly two weeks and spent much of the year at Class AAA Toledo.

“We just took a shot that maybe, by chance, a lefty may have a shot,” Leyland said beforehand.

Leyland already had to reshuffle his lineup to replace Sean Casey after the first baseman injured his calf in Tuesday’s opener. The moves paid off, and the Tigers won their fifth straight postseason game.

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is tomorrow at Detroit’s Comerica Park, featuring Rich Harden for Oakland against former A’s pitcher Kenny Rogers.

Harden, who returned to make three late-season starts after missing more than three months with an elbow injury, did not pitch during the division series sweep of the Minnesota Twins. Rogers pitched shutout ball against the New York Yankees in Game 3.

A moment of silence was held before the national anthem for Lidle, who most recently pitched for the Yankees on Saturday in Detroit and spent the 2001 and 2002 seasons in Oakland. His picture was shown on the main scoreboard.

Both teams did their best to focus on baseball and put their grief aside for a few hours.

The switch-hitting Bradley homered from both sides of the plate, drove in four runs and managed not to spill coffee on starter Esteban Loaiza this time.

Eric Chavez also homered for the A’s, who didn’t know until arriving at the ballpark that Lidle had been in the small plane. His old Oakland jersey hung near the dugout.

Hard-throwing Tigers rookie Justin Verlander struck out six and wasn’t shaken by an early deficit — and he got plenty of support from the bats, and Jones.

“He made it a little bit exciting, but he got it done,” Verlander said.

Curtis Granderson hit a solo home run off Huston Street leading off the ninth, Craig Monroe had two RBI and Brandon Inge drove in another run at the bottom of the order with a sacrifice fly for the wild-card Tigers.

Detroit left the Bay Area with the comfort of knowing that all eight road teams to take a 2-0 lead in LCS history have gone on to reach the World Series.

The A’s took an early lead by getting a hit in their first opportunity with a runner in scoring position — in Game 1, they tied a postseason record by going hitless in 13 at-bats in those situations.

But Oakland couldn’t hold the edge.

“I think you’ve got to give our hitters some credit. We wound up putting some runs on the board,” A’s manager Ken Macha said.

Both teams brought their infields in with a runner on third and one out in the first two innings, apparently anticipating a low-scoring pitcher’s duel.

Instead, the Tigers’ bats came up big in the fourth.

As patient as Detroit has been in these playoffs, Loaiza threw more strikes early and retired six straight batters after Carlos Guillen’s leadoff double in the second.

Then, back-to-back singles by Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez started the four-run rally.

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