OAKLAND, Calif. -- Every now and then in a ballclub's once-in-a-generation, out-of-nowhere storybook season, there are reminders.
Unplanned and then unforgettable examples that life is being lived right and that a previously elusive championship may actually, really, seriously be on the horizon.
Exhibit A for the Detroit Tigers: Alexis Gomez.
His name absolutely, positively must be followed by a three-letter word: Who? For those outside Detroit and Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic, Gomez is a 28-year-old left-handed outfielder who was twice designated for assignment by the Tigers this season and was once waived by the Kansas City Royals, baseball's equivalent of being fired by a temp agency.
Gomez is also the Tigers' newest hero, after hitting a two-run homer and driving in four runs, to help lead the Tigers to an 8-5 win against the Oakland Athletics yesterday in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
"Anybody can do something up and down this lineup. And today was his day," said Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez.
The Tigers, who stumbled into the postseason after a rough September, have won five consecutive playoff games and now own a 2-0 lead as they head home for tomorrow's Game 3. Two wins at Comerica Park and the Tigers can prepare for the Motor City's first World Series in 22 years.
Gomez received the starting nod at designated hitter only because Tigers manager Jim Leyland wanted a left-hander to face Oakland starter Esteban Loaiza. Plus, regular DH Marcus Thames had just one hit in 30 at-bats this year against the A's.
So Gomez, a career .259 hitter with one homer and 11 lifetime RBIs before last night, got the call. And he answered with the performance of his undefined career.
"[Leyland] told me I was maybe going to play DH today and [I said] `OK, I'd be ready,'" Gomez said.
Leyland, who thanked his player for "making me look good," joked that Gomez was a batting-practice homer hitter, so putting him into yesterday's lineup made sense.
"I told him that it's a 5 o'clock game and that's when you hit most of your home runs, normally. So I am going to play you tonight," Leyland said.
Kidding aside, closer Todd Jones said it was another example of Leyland's managerial prowess.
"Whatever Jim's got to tell us, it's the right thing and it's the best thing I have ever been around," Jones said. "If Friday night I'm hitting cleanup, I'll expect to get a hit."
Gomez's first break came in the Tigers' four-run fourth - and at the expense of heavy-hearted A's third baseman Eric Chavez.
Chavez learned earlier in the day that his former Oakland teammate and good friend, New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, was killed in a plane crash in New York City. He said pre-game that it was going to be difficult to concentrate on baseball.
With the bases loaded and one out and the A's leading 3-2, Gomez hit a hard chopper toward the hole on the left-side of the infield. A perennial Gold Glove winner, Chavez charged to his left and reached out, but the ball nicked his glove and skipped into shallow left. Ruled a hit, it was the second time in two nights he didn't cleanly scoop a reachable grounder. Two runs scored, giving the Tigers a 4-3 lead.
Gomez provided the Tigers the insurance they needed with his homer in the sixth off Loaiza, who was smacked around for seven runs in six innings. The A's hung around, though, thanks to a redemptive, bases-empty homer by Chavez and Milton Bradley's monster game. The right fielder had a broken-bat RBI single in the first, a two-run homer in the third and a bases-empty shot in the seventh, accounting for four of Oakland's five runs.
His last homer, against Tigers reliever Wilfredo Ledezma, brought the A's within two, 7-5. But Curtis Granderson added a Bases-empty homer in the ninth and Detroit's relievers didn't break, securing the win for rookie Justin Verlander.
The A's loaded the bases in the ninth with two outs against Jones. And with the soldout crowd of 36,168 waving white rally towels, there was still hope with slugger Frank Thomas at the plate. But Thomas hit a lazy fly ball to center to end the threat.
Verlander allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings, but struck out six as the A's struck out an ALCS-record 13 times. And for the second consecutive night, Detroit's starter was just good enough to get the victory.
That's what happens in special seasons, when balls inexplicably escape golden gloves, unheralded relievers pick up All-Star starters and the Alexis Gomezes of the baseball world become heroes.
NLCS Game 1: Cardinals (Jeff Weaver) @Mets (Tom Glavine), 8 p.m., chs. 45, 5
NLCS Game 2: Cardinals (Undecided) @Mets (John Maine), time TBA, TV TBA
ALCS Game 3: Athletics (Rich Harden) @Tigers (Kenny Rogers), 8 p.m., TV TBA