The Tigers win Game 2 in dramatic fashion

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The Tigers win Game 2 in dramatic fashion

From Comcast SportsNetDETROIT (AP) -- Al Alburquerque reached out and snagged a sharp grounder to the mound -- then planted a little kiss on the ball before tossing it to first.The relieved reliever gave his Detroit teammates a reason to laugh in ninth inning of a tight game. Moments later, the Tigers were celebrating.Don Kelly scored the tying run on a wild pitch in the eighth, then hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth that lifted the Tigers over the Oakland Athletics 5-4 Sunday for a 2-0 lead in their AL playoff series.Detroit overcame three A's leads and seesawed to victory. It was 1-all before a wild final three innings that included a key error by Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp, two game-tying wild pitches and several momentum changes.Alburquerque kept it tied in the ninth when he got Yoenis Cespedes to hit a comebacker with men on first and third and two outs. He gave the ball a quick smooch before throwing underhand to first."I just did it," he said. "It was the emotion of the game. I wasn't trying to be a hot dog."Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick wasn't thrilled."We didn't appreciate that. I thought it was immature and not very professional," Reddick said. "You don't do that on the field. Save it for the dugout. That's all I'm going to say."Detroit will go for a sweep of the division series matchup in Game 3 on Tuesday at Oakland.Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera doubled twice for the Tigers, hit a fly ball that Crisp dropped for two runs and later singled in the ninth.It was the sixth straight postseason loss for the A's, all to Detroit. The Tigers swept Oakland in the 2006 AL championship series, winning the series on Magglio Ordonez's homer in Game 4 -- which was Detroit's last sudden-death postseason win before Sunday.Omar Infante and Cabrera hit back-to-back singles off Grant Balfour with one out in the ninth. With runners on first and third, Prince Fielder was intentionally walked, bringing up Kelly, who had stayed in the game as the designated hitter after pinch-running the previous inning."Was looking for a fastball and I got it," Kelly said. "It's a great feeling, to be able to go out there in that situation and do that."Kelly's fly to right was plenty deep enough to score Infante without a play at the plate. It was another big playoff moment for Kelly, who hit a home run last year when the Tigers beat the New York Yankees in the decisive fifth game of the division series.A favorite of manager Jim Leyland, Kelly hit .186 during the regular season but made the postseason roster as a pinch-running option who can also play any position in the field."It takes everybody to contribute and we got contributions from everybody," Leyland said.Alburquerque missed most of the season after offseason surgery on his throwing elbow. He came on to face Cespedes with the Tigers in a jam, and that one out was enough to earn him the win.And the right-hander entertained his teammates in the process with a bit of, um, comic relief."We were cracking up in the dugout," Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer said. "We were like, Did he really just kiss the ball?' ... Alburquerque does some crazy things on the mound."It was tied at 4 after both teams made their share of mistakes in the seventh and eighth. Cliff Pennington gave the A's the lead with an RBI single in the seventh, but Crisp dropped Cabrera's two-out flyball in the bottom half, allowing two runs to score.Oakland tied it in the eighth on a wild pitch by Joaquin Benoit, and Reddick followed with a solo homer to give the A's a 4-3 lead. Then it was Ryan Cook's turn to throw a tying wild pitch, allowing Kelly to score.Pennington nearly came through again for Oakland in the ninth, but his deep drive down the left-field line was just foul."We just need to win a game," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "If you start thinking about three games ahead, you lose your focus on Tuesday's game."On a drizzly day at Comerica Park, the Tigers and A's were sloppy with the game on the line.With runners on first and second and two out in the seventh, Cabrera lifted a fly to center. Crisp, charging hard, tried to make a basket catch but bobbled the ball. He nearly recovered to make a falling grab, but the ball popped out of his glove and the Tigers took a 3-2 lead."I saw it come off the heel of my glove, and I tried to grab again," Crisp said. "I even went for it barehanded, but I couldn't get it."Cespedes led off the eighth with a single and stole second and third. With one out and the infield in, Benoit threw a wild pitch to allow the tying run. The worst was still to come for the Detroit reliever, who allowed Reddick's homer to right that put Oakland ahead 4-3.Reddick had struck out in all six at-bats in the series before that.Oakland again gave up the lead immediately. The A's have taken the lead four times in this series, but on each occasion they failed to hold it through the bottom half of the inning.Doug Fister allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings for Detroit, striking out eight. Rookie Tommy Milone was impressive for the A's, allowing a run and five hits in six innings. He struck out six.Fister gave the A's trouble early with his slow, sweeping breaking ball, but Oakland hit four singles in the third. Crisp's slow roller to third turned into an infield hit when Cabrera threw wide to first. Stephen Drew struck out looking -- and had words for plate umpire Mark Wegner -- but Cespedes followed with a run-scoring single.Oakland nearly scored again on a single to right by Brandon Moss, but rookie Avisail Garcia threw Crisp out at home.The A's showed frustration with the plate umpire during Game 1, and that spilled over to Sunday. Reddick struck out looking for the third out of the third and threw his bat away immediately. Wegner took off his mask and stared at the Oakland hitter as he headed back toward the dugout, but the situation didn't escalate.Cabrera hit a one-out double in the bottom of the third -- to the same spot in left-center as his double in the first. He went to third on a single by Fielder and scored on a dribbler by Delmon Young that was too slow to be a double play.Milone retired 10 in a row, starting with Young's RBI groundout.NOTES:Balfour was charged with the loss. ... Oakland has struck out 23 times in the first two games. ... Benoit allowed 14 homers during the regular season, easily his most since 2004, when he spent some time as a starter. ... The A's are hoping LHP Brett Anderson is healthy enough to start Game 3 against Anibal Sanchez. Anderson missed the last couple weeks of the regular season because of a strained right oblique.

MacLellan hints at increased roles for Wilson, Orlov

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MacLellan hints at increased roles for Wilson, Orlov

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan went on a little radio blitz on Tuesday, appearing on the Grant and Danny Show on 106.7 The Fan and again on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.

Much of the discussion centered around the Capitals’ intention to improve their speed and quickness on the third line, along with the continued development of 22-year-old right wing  Tom Wilson and 24-year-old defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

Since entering the NHL as a 19-year-old in 2013-14 under Capitals head coach Adam Oates, Wilson’s offensive numbers have modestly increased, from three goals and seven assists (151 penalty minutes) as a rookie to four goals and 13 assists (172 PIM) in Year 2 and seven goals and 16 assists (163 PIM) this season. His ice time has also increased, from 7:56 as a rookie, to 10:56 last year and 12:54 this season.

MacLellan says he thinks the Caps’ decision to promote Wilson to the NHL instead of letting him play one more season with the WHL Plymouth Whalers was a mistake.

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“I’m optimistic with him,” MacLellan told NHL Network Radio. “I think, in hindsight, we probably started him in the NHL a year early.

“I think sometimes guys are physically mature and they can handle the physical part of it, but you know, big guys would be well-served playing a power play or playing a top-six role in a lower level versus a fourth-line role at the NHL level.

“I think maybe that first year didn’t do him any good. This year, I thought he made a lot of progress. He’s turned himself into a really good penalty killer. We played him in a third-line role most of the year, and he did a real good job killing penalties

“It would be nice to get him a little more offensive, you know maybe get on the second power play. But I think he’s coming. I think it’s just harder for him to get touches with the puck when you’re playing in a bottom-six role, and we anticipate putting him in more of an offensive role going forward.”

MacLellan told 106.7 The Fan that Orlov could find himself in the top four defensive rotation next season, with veteran Brooks Orpik possibly taking a reduced role as a third-pair defender with Nate Schmidt.

That could mean Orlov is paired with Matt Niskanen next season, with John Carlson and Karl Alzner being reunited.

“There’s an offensive upside to Orlov and there’s ability for him to move up in our lineup, and we’ve got to be careful that we don’t limit him in his ability to move there,” MacLellan said.

Orlov recorded a career-high eight goals and 21 assists in 82 regular season games while averaging 16:01 of ice time. That ice time decreased to 13:18 in 11 playoff games, where Orlov posted one assist and was pulled out of Game 2 against the Penguins.

“I would count on him developing and getting to that next level,” MacLellan said. “The idea would be, Brooks Orpik plays a little less minutes and Orlov plays a little bit more, maybe he moves into the top four for part of the time. That would be ideal situation, but we’ll have to see how he comes into camp.”

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Orioles struck out late and often against Astros

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Orioles struck out late and often against Astros

Everyone knows the Orioles are going to strike out. I could say they’ll strike out early and often, but in Tuesday night’s game, they fanned 19 times in 13 innings, and most of those strikeouts were late in the game,

How bad was it? 

According to Elias, Houston Astros relievers set a team record by striking out 16 Orioles in 7 1/3 innings. 

Nine of the 12 Orioles’ outs in extra innings came on strikeouts.

At least it wasn’t an Orioles team record. On Sept. 12, 1962, Washington’s Tom Cheney struck out 21 Orioles in 16 innings. In a 1996 Division Series game, they struck an amazing 23 times in 10 innings, and still won. 

When the season began, there was hope that the Orioles weren’t going to strike out as often as in 2015, but even in their season opening seven game winning streak, they were fanned 10 or more times twice. 

In their more recent seven-game run earlier this month, they didn’t strike out in double figures at all. 

Over their last five games, they’ve struck out 54 times. In their 3-1 win on Saturday night, they struck out 13 times. 

As Adam Jones told reporters in Houston after Tuesday night’s game, it’s in the Orioles DNA to strike out.

Overall, the Orioles are only eighth in the American League in strikeouts. In their 43 games, they’re averaging 8.23 strikeouts a game, but they’re 11th in walking, getting an average of three bases on balls per game. 

Their on-base percentage has fallen since their torrid offensive start, but it’s still .322, which ranks fourth in the league, and well above recent years. 

But, they have players who strike out a lot. Chris Davis is on pace for his second straight 200 strikeout season. Mark Trumbo could strike out more than 180 times. Manny Machado, Joey Rickard and Jonathan Schoop are all on pace to strike out more than 100 times this season.

No one will complain about the strikeouts if they hit home runs and win. Their 65 home runs are tied with the New York Mets for the most in baseball, and until last night, they’d been at the top of the division for the bulk of the season. The Orioles are now in second place, and for the first time, they trail Boston by a full game. 

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Pros and cons of Wizards targeting free agent Nicolas Batum

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Pros and cons of Wizards targeting free agent Nicolas Batum

The Washington Wizards must add plenty of bodies this offseason with only five players currently under contract. J. Michael and I tasked each other with filling out the roster as we see fit while assuming Kevin Durant isn't an option. We both said keep restricted free agent Bradley Beal, but our decisions swerved from there. Next on my priority list, Charlotte Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum. Here are the pros and cons of that potentially delicious and delusional call.

Pro: I'll start by sharing some thoughts from NBA analyst Matt Moore's mid-season article titled, "The Hornets' Nicolas Batum is the modern NBA wing every team needs." His game has looked more versatile and effective than ever. Everything about his game is fluid and smooth. He's slim and impossibly long, with a reported 7-4 wingspan. He's always been the kind of player that lights up scouting reports due to his combination of size, length and skill. He can handle, he can shoot, he can drive and finish, he can pass and defend. Batum may not be the top tier star of a team, but he is certainly a guy you want playing on the wing for your team."

Yes, what he said. The Wizards have a dynamic backcourt assuming Beal stays with John Wall. Marcin Gortat gets it done at center. Markieff Morris added needed athleticism at power forward. What they lack right now: A proven two-way NBA wing for the modern game.

Con: What the Wizards have at small forward now is Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr., otherwise known as their last two first round draft picks. Adding a hefty max contract player would seemingly put a high dollar roadblock on their road to developing. Porter becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

Pro: A creative coaching staff can figure out to use all three often and perhaps at times together. We're watching Oklahoma City use lengthy lineups to flummox Golden State's offensive machine. Ponder the full court possibilities with a pair of 6-foot-8 forwards in Batum and Porter Beal (6'5") and Wall (6'4") in the backcourt with Morris (6'10") at stretch-5. Everyone can sink 3's and run. Each perimeter player made at least 35% of their attempts from beyond the arc last season. Put in Oubre, who still needs to prove he should receive heavy minutes, and this small ball lineup gets even longer.

Con: With the salary cap projected around $92 million next season, an eight-year veteran like Batum is eligible for a per season max contract around $26 million. (Beal, entering his fifth year, would max out around $22-23 million). The Wizards can make that figure work and pay Beal, but then the back half of the roster would include a host of minimum contract players. That's a risky proposition considering all the bumps and bruises over an 82-game regular season.

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Pro: As OKC is demonstrating, those 10-12 player rotations found during the regular season often shrink to eight or so in the playoffs*. If you play fewer players and don't have a true elite option or a dynamic duo (Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook) or a Big 3 (Cavaliers), then you better have as much playmaking talent as possible within that eight. Batum's ability to play all over court helps offset any depth chart/injury issue.

(* Seeing as the Wizards didn't make the postseason in 2016, talking about playoff rotations defines putting the cart before the horse. Doesn't mean you don't think big picture and plan accordingly, especially since a coaching upgrade and good health puts Washington into top 2-4 seed mix.)

Con: If we're saying Batum isn't an elite player, then why pay him like one? Of the players truly on the open market this summer, the 27-year-old is a top 10 free agent and not all of those players are poised for max deals based on age. With more than half the league armed with oodles of cap space, Batum gets paid if he wants the full Brinks truck treatment. Even if he leaves a little on the table so a team can spend on others, that's still big bucks.

Pro: Batum's presence can help Washington's best player and the Wizards when that best player sits. He's not a point guard, but Batum's 5.8 assists ranked behind only Draymond Green and LeBron James among forwards. Add that type of threat and Washington can give Wall, who is coming off knee surgery, more of a blow during games and the season. The ball movement in general often declined when Wall watched from the bench.

Con: Pay Batum and Beal -- combined zero All-Star nods -- and now Wall becomes Washington's third highest paid player. Yeah, that could lead to chemistry issues if the three-time All-Star lets it.

Analysis: Stylistically, Batum is where the game is going. Add his versatility alongside the interesting talents on the roster and the Wizards will truly enter the modern NBA. Money, however, is an issue. Washington has enough, but so do others. Charlotte can pay him the most. The Wizards aren't going to spend over the luxury tax so add Batum and it's a fantasy football strategy of (no offense future Wizards)"stars and scrubs." But stars win in the NBA. Maybe Batum isn't elite. He'll make all better, including Wall and Beal. That's because he's the modern NBA wing every team needs. That's something worth considering.

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