MLB Postseason Wrap: Tigers advance to ALCS

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MLB Postseason Wrap: Tigers advance to ALCS

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Justin Verlander pitched another Game 5 gem in Oakland while carrying a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, and Miguel Cabrera homered to lead the Detroit Tigers past the Athletics 3-0 Thursday night and back into the AL championship series.

Joaquin Benoit retired Seth Smith on a fly ball with two on in the ninth to close out the deciding game of their division series. The Tigers became the first team to reach the ALCS in three straight years since the New York Yankees from 1998-2001.

Game 1 is Saturday in Boston. The Tigers went 4-3 against the Red Sox this year. They have never faced each other in the postseason.

Verlander gave up a clean, two-out single to Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh to end his chance at the third no-hitter in postseason history. The hit hardly fazed him, however.

On a night he allowed only three baserunners, Verlander made it a postseason-record 30 straight scoreless innings against one team since Coco Crisp hit a leadoff home run for the A's in Game 1 last October.

Just 364 days earlier, Verlander tossed a four-hit, 6-0 masterpiece in Game 5 in this very ballpark, a 122-pitch performance for his first career postseason shutout and complete game.

He nearly matched that with a spectacular 111-pitch outing in a rematch of his thrilling pitcher's duel with rookie Sonny Gray five days earlier in Game 2.

Aching slugger Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the fourth off with a drive into the left-field seats for his first homer since Sept. 17 and just his third extra-base hit in 99 at-bats. That ended a 20-inning scoreless streak by the Tigers at the Coliseum.

Gray danced with danger from the start with stuff not nearly as crisp as just five nights before when he matched zeros with the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner.

This time, Verlander didn't allow a baserunner until Josh Reddick drew a one-out walk in the sixth -- but the no-hit bid remained until Cespedes' single the next inning. The hardest hit ball was a fly to the center-field warning track by Stephen Vogt in the sixth.

Verlander struck out 10 in eight innings, giving him 21 Ks in these two starts. He has 43 strikeouts in his four playoff outings against Oakland the past two years.

The A's saw their season end at the hands of Detroit for the third time in as many postseasons, including in a four-game sweep in the 2006 ALCS.

Oakland has lost its last six winner-take-all Game 5s and fell to 1-12 in potential clinchers since 2000. The A's struck out 57 times for the most in a best-of-five playoff series.

Verlander earned the nod for the decider after Game 1 winner Max Scherzer pitched in relief of an 8-6, season-saving win Game 4 in Detroit. Manager Jim Leyland had no qualms turning again to Verlander, who went 13-12 this season.

When asked before the game about his bullpen availability, Leyland nodded his head and quipped, "Verlander, he's available."

Gray, meanwhile, looked overmatched this time. He wiped his brow and never looked comfortable.

A's manager Bob Melvin went with Gray over 18-game winner and 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who yielded three first-inning runs to lose Game 1.

These Game 5s becoming awfully familiar for both sides in their recent October rivalry.

Detroit held another clinching party in the visiting clubhouse of the Oakland Coliseum, where a raucous crowd of 46,959 swirled yellow towels until Benoit threw his hands in the air at the final out.

Catcher Alex Avila met Benoit in front of the mound for a long embrace as their teammates quickly joined them -- with cheers of "Let's go Oakland!" still ringing out.

The Tigers came together near the mound for a unique chant in which they squatted in unison and raised their hands in the air.

The 93-win Tigers are determined to take the next step and win a championship after being swept in four games of the 2012 World Series by the San Francisco Giants.

The 23-year-old Gray, pitching to chants of "Sonny! Sonny!" in his 12th career start, returned for the sixth inning at 92 pitches but was done once he allowed consecutive singles to Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. Omar Infante then drove in the third run with a fielder's choice grounder off Dan Otero.

Along the 880 freeway just outside the Coliseum, a billboard blared: "IT'S ALWAYS SONNY IN THE TOWN." The only thing sunny was the outfield for the early evening start, which had players shielding their eyes to deal with tricky shadows and sun angles. Center field and right field initially played in bright sun.

Rookie starters have lost their last six winner-take-all postseason games since Daisuke Matsuzaka beat Cleveland in the 2007 ALCS for Boston.

Gray's curveball had less break and he never found the same groove that carried him in his playoff debut. It was a breezy Bay Area night and 19 degrees cooler at first pitch than the 82 degrees in a game starting an hour later Saturday night.

This marks another disappointing exit for the low-budget A's, who have baseball's 27th smallest payroll at $71.1 million after having the lowest at $59.5 million last year.

Both managers tweaked their lineups, most notably in the middle infield with Peralta back at shortstop for Detroit and the A's Alberto Callaspo playing second base in his first career postseason start.

Peralta, who served a 50-game suspension until late September for his ties to the Biogenesis clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs, hit a three-run homer in Game 4 to help extend Detroit's season.

Notes
Verlander tried for just the third no-hitter in postseason history and first since Philadelphia's Roy Halladay no-hit Cincinnati on Oct. 6, 2010. Don Larsen pitched a perfect game for the New York Yankees against Brooklyn in the World Series on Oct. 8, 1956. ... Brandon Moss struck out 13 times in 18 at-bats. Detroit's Austin Jackson fanned 13 times in 20 at-bats.

Now a Phillie, Chris Coghlan has come full circle in his inspirational baseball journey

Now a Phillie, Chris Coghlan has come full circle in his inspirational baseball journey

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Almost seven years later, Chris Coghlan still gets his Irish up when he thinks about the game.
 
It was May 29, 2010.
 
The night Roy Halladay pitched his perfect game against the Florida Marlins in Miami.
 
Phillies fans remember it well. In the 11th start of his first season with the club, Halladay sliced through the Marlins' lineup on 115 pitches in two hours and 13 minutes. He struck out 11. It was thrilling.
 
But not for Coghlan.
 
He had a slightly different perspective. He was the Marlins' leadoff batter that night and in six pitches became Halladay's first strikeout victim.
 
The moment still burns.
 
"Big strike zone that night," Coghlan said, his eyes widening. "Go back and look at it. I was leading off, 3-2, ball off the plate, strike three. I still get chapped about it. Go look at it. It could have been totally different."
 
Coghlan was 24 and in his second season in the majors the night Halladay threw his perfect game. He had been the National League Rookie of the Year the previous season.
 
All these years later, Coghlan's baseball journey -- and it would be completely appropriate to call it an inspiring baseball journey -- has taken him to the Phillies. The 31-year-old infielder/outfielder signed a minor-league contract with the club in January and has a good chance to win a spot on the roster as one of Pete Mackanin's go-to utility guys.
 
There's something just a little bit fitting about Coghlan becoming a Phillie. The team has lurked in the margins of his life for years, first as a kid pouring himself into the game and then as a frequent opponent in the NL East.
 
As a teen polishing his skills at second base, he took countless ground balls on the same field that Larry Bowa, Scott Rolen and Jimmy Rollins did. And he hit in the same batting cages that Mike Schmidt, Jim Thome and Chase Utley took their hacks in.
 
The full-circle feel of it all hit Coghlan as he and his wife, Corrie, arrived in Clearwater and drove past the Phillies' Carpenter Complex training facility at the start of spring training.
 
"Dang," he said to Corrie, looking over at the emerald green ball fields. "I remember playing high school games there."

. . .

Coghlan is a graduate of East Lake High School, just up the road from Clearwater. For years he trained tirelessly at The Winning Inning, a baseball academy that moved into Jack Russell Stadium, the Phillies' longtime spring training home, after the club moved to its new spring stadium, now called Spectrum Field, in 2004.
 
"I started going to Jack Russell Stadium when I was 14," Coghlan said.
 
As a young teen, Coghlan loved to hit.
 
The batting cages at Jack Russell Stadium were his refuge, his grief counselor.
 
Coghlan was 15 when he lost his dad, Tim, in a car accident in June 2001. It was a devastating time for his mother, Heather, who still lives near Clearwater, and his brother and two sisters.
 
"When my dad died, I would hit," he said. "That's really how I got better. I wasn't really that good of a player. I got cut my freshman year in high school. I wasn't a good hitter.
 
"I didn't want to go home because I was so depressed and everyone was crying. So I spent hours at Winning Inning. I was there till 10 o'clock at night. I was there all the time.
 
"I tell people all the time, yes, there's talent, but what's unique about our game is it's a skill-oriented game. You don't have to be a physical specimen to play it. If you hone your skills you can get really good."
 
Coghlan is proof of that.
 
The hitting skills that eventually helped make him a star in high school and at the University of Mississippi, a Cape Cod League batting champion, a first-round draft pick of the Marlins, an NL Rookie of the Year and ultimately a World Champion with the Chicago Cubs last year were born out of a broken heart.
 
"It was life-changing," he said of the loss of his father. "I was 15. You're already confused in life anyway and then add that on, your best friend.
 
"But I look at it as a blessing. I've learned and grown so much from all the experiences I've had. They've helped shape and mold me to the point where now I'm content to where I am as a person -- I know how much I suffered and was crying out -- and if I can just help a little, if I can help one person, it's all worth it."
 
Coghlan is always willing to speak with and try to help the grieving.
 
Especially those who've endured a loss like he did.
 
"I have a heart for the fatherless," he said. "It's very dear to me."

. . .

If Chris Coghlan the person has been shaped by experience, so has Chris Coghlan the player.
 
"I've played nine seasons, had nine managers, been to the NLCS, the World Series and won a World Series in the hardest place to win," he said. "I've sucked, I've been good, I've been in-between. I've been a regular, a platoon guy and I've come off the bench.
 
"And I'm grateful for all the knowledge I've picked up in those experiences."
 
He is eager to pass on some of that knowledge to his new mostly young Phillies teammates.
 
"The bottom line why I signed here was that I saw an opportunity to play and I saw the opportunity to build something bigger than myself," said Coghlan, who was pursued by several teams this winter. "I was in Chicago when we lost 89 games in 2014 and I was there when we won 97 and 103 and became the first team to win a World Series in 108 years. We went from not being good to being really good. We grew together and built relationships.
 
"This team is in a transition period of trying to groom guys, but they also need older guys to bridge the gap and I thought it would be a great opportunity. Lord willing, if things go well, what happened in Chicago can someday happen here. I got to grow with those young guys and we won the World Series. I just want to come in here, establish myself, be a great teammate, lead by example and maybe I can stick around long term and see this thing through."

. . .

Oh, by the way, that stuff Coghlan said about still being chapped about the generous strike zone that Halladay got on the night he pitched his perfect game seven years ago -- that was just the competitor in him coming out.
 
It never goes away.
 
Or at least when it does, it's time to find a new line of work.
 
Truth be told, Coghlan has great respect for the Phillies' past, especially the clubs that racked up five straight NL East titles from 2007 to 2011. He played with the Marlins from 2009 to 2013 and -- hat tip to those old batting cages at Jack Russell Stadium -- posted good numbers in his career against the Phillies, hitting .303 with a .849 OPS.
 
"Those teams were awesome, and I loved hitting against them because it was the best of the best," he said. "You had Halladay, (Cliff) Lee, (Cole) Hamels. You had (Brad) Lidge closing it out.
 
"Chooch (Ruiz), (Jayson) Werth, (Jimmy) Rollins, (Ryan) Howard. Those guys were great and then Utley was my favorite player coming up. Second baseman. Left-handed hitter. Great swing. I loved his intensity.
 
"I loved playing against those guys. And we played them tough. That happens with a young team -- you get up for the big boys but don't always carry that focus through to the other teams."
 
Coghlan and his Marlins teammates were totally up for Halladay on that memorable night of May 29, 2010. They were focused, ready for the big boys. But there was no beating the Phillies ace that night.
 
No runs. No hits. No errors.
 
It still burns Coghlan.
 
"Oh, everybody loves it except for the guys it's happening against," Coghlan said. "I had some buddies at the game and afterward they were like, 'Bro, that was awesome. I can't believe I saw that. I'm saving this ticket.' And I'm like, 'You're in the family room, bro, and you're ticking me off. We just got embarrassed. You can find your own ride home. I'm not giving you a ride.'"
 
Standing in the Phillies' spring clubhouse, just a few hundred yards from where he played some high school games, Coghlan began to laugh as he talked about his buddies' reaction to witnessing Halladay's perfect game.
 
And then he completely softened and tipped his cap to Halladay.
 
"I joke about the zone that night," Coghlan said. "But I would never diminish anything that man did. To pitch a perfect game, everything has to go perfect and it did for him that night.
 
"I saw him throw his last pitch in Miami before he hung it up in 2013. He had that one inning. He came out throwing 80 miles an hour and it was sad. He was a legend.
 
"So I have a lot of respect for this organization and its history."
 
It seems only fitting that Chris Coghlan is now part of it. In a way, he's come full circle.

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jeremy Hellickson did not shine in his spring debut Sunday, but he didn’t have to.

Hellickson projects to be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second straight year, but with five weeks to go before it all starts for real in Cincinnati, he has plenty of time to put a coat of polish on his game.

The right-hander knocked off some wintertime rust with two innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up four hits and two runs, walked one and did not strike out a batter.

"I felt great," Hellickson said. "I wasn't really commanding the fastball like I wanted, but my arm and my body felt good."

Hellickson went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season and could have opted for free agency in the offseason. However, he surveyed the marketplace and determined he'd be better off taking the Phillies' qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 and trying his luck on the free-agent market next season.

So he's betting on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

The Phillies can't give Hellickson another qualifying offer after this season so it's quite possible they will look to deal him in July. But that won't necessarily be easy. The Phils had talks with a number of teams about Hellickson last July and were unable to consummate a deal. It will be tougher this July as Hellickson’s salary has jumped by $10 million. The Phillies may have to eat some of that salary to get a deal they like.

Hellickson was asked if he was ready for another summer of trade rumors.

"No," he said with a wry smile. "But I know it's coming."

He's holding out hope that the Phillies will play their way into contention and the front office keeps the rotation together. He believes it's possible.

"I think we have a really good team here," he said. "Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline.

"I've been reading some stuff saying (Aaron) Nola is a No. 5 guy. If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong innings every time out. Then with the guys, we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

The game
The Phillies beat the Jays, 10-3, on the strength of 13 hits and three Toronto errors. The Phils had eight hits in Saturday’s win over the Yankees.

Cam Perkins, Pedro Florimon and Daniel Nava all had two hits. Rhys Hoskins and Ryan Hanigan both walked twice. Andres Blanco homered. Brock Stassi doubled. Nick Williams had a hit, two RBIs and a walk. Power-hitting rightfielder Dylan Cozens stole two bases.

Cozens is a legitimate stolen-base threat. In addition to belting 40 homers at Double A Reading last season, he swiped 21 bags and was only caught once.

"You've got to like his tools," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's really an athletic guy. He's got good hands at the plate. I think he's going to hit because he doesn't have a lot of excess body movement. He hits a lot with his hands and I think in time he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he'll be an even better player. He looks like a solid defender, good hitting ability, a lot of power and some speed."

On the mound
Ben Lively and Alberto Tirado both pitched two scoreless innings and Pat Neshek and Michael Mariot had one each.

Up next
Jerad Eikchoff makes his spring debut when the Phillies host the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

Clay Buchholz will get the start Tuesday against Baltimore.