Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera talks with Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, right, before a baseball workout at Fenway Park Friday. Game 1 of the ALCS is 8:07 p.m. Saturday. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
Not that it was their prerogative, but the Red Sox didn’t exactly leave the Tigers with a good taste in their mouths. More of an expired chowder taste, actually. The last time they met, Boston was churning out more hits than “Maroon 5” — and runs in bulk, too. Nineteen and 20, respectively.
It was the most humbling of experiences that early September day at Fenway Park, where the tail-tucked Tigers lost 20-4.
The A’s, too, embarrassed the Tigers when they met last during the regular season, Oakland pummeling Detroit for the better part of four games at Comerica Park in August.
That amounted to diddly in the postseason, as the Tigers again beat the A’s to advance to the American League Championship Series, which starts tonight in Boston.
That awful Red Sox encounter, too, probably isn’t foreshadowing much of anything, either.
But this is different. This Red Sox team is good — better than the team the Tigers just needed five games to put away. More complete, in fact, than any team they met in last year’s postseason.
“You come out on top this year,” said former Tigers pitcher Dan Petry, who knows these 2013 Red Sox fairly well, “you’re gonna definitely earn it.”
Petry was speaking more in general terms about the historic final four — Tigers, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals.
But of the Red Sox specifically?
“You could definitely say the Tigers should beat the A’s,” said Petry, who has filled in on a couple of Red Sox broadcasts this year. “But this is a really good Boston team.”
Back to life
It’s a bit of a surprise Boston team, too.
Few knew exactly what to expect when spring training broke. This was, after all, the team that collapsed down the stretch in 2011, costing Terry Francona his job, and was an utter mess last year under Bobby Valentine.
Valentine, too, got the ax. The man the Red Sox wanted, John Farrell, was pried away from the Blue Jays to be their manager; and they made some under-the-radar, but brilliantly shrewd offseason acquisitions, including the signings of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes on offense, plus eventual closer Koji Uehara.
The result has been stunning. The team turned back one AL East team after another and finished with a league-best 97 wins. For this reason: There’s simply nothing they’re lacking.
“Not a lot of superstars, but guys that come to play every single day, hard-nosed players that understand what it takes,” said Cliff Floyd, a former Red Sox outfielder who’s now an analyst for MLB Network. “The players, themselves, got there and play the game like it’s supposed to be played.”
That’s not to say Floyd doesn’t like the Tigers chances. He does. In fact, he believes if they split the first two games at Fenway Park, they can take the series.
But these Red Sox aren’t the 2006, ’12 or ’13 A’s; or the ’06, ’11 or ’12 Yankees; or the ’06 Cardinals; or the ’11 Rangers. Those, and last year’s Giants, are teams the Tigers have met in the playoffs on Leyland’s watch.
No disrespect, but none of ‘em – with, maybe, the possible exception of the ’11 Rangers – comes close to being as complete and diverse team as these Red Sox, who last summer cut bait with big names like Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, to focus on building a more cohesive group. They swapped ego for effort. Mission, uhh, accomplished.
■ They have veteran starting pitching, and at-times dominant starting pitching, led by Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, one from the left and one from the right.
■ They have a sick supply of power, up and down that lineup, from David Ortiz down to Will Middlebrooks. Nobody scored more runs in 2013; the Tigers were a distant second.
■ They run at will. Jacoby Ellsbury stole 52 bases, and was caught four times. Shane Victorino, 21 steals in 24 attempts. The team, as a whole, was 123 for 142. And they go first to third about as well as anybody.
■ They play good defense, particularly in the outfield, from Daniel Nava in left, to thoroughbred Jacoby Ellsbury in center, to full-throttle Victorino in right.
■ Their bullpen can be electric, particularly that closer, Uehara, who had one stretch this season where he retired 37 consecutive batters.
■ And then there’s the 26th man, the always-into-it crowd at Fenway Park, which is one of the greatest home-field advantages in sports.
“It’s huge,” Floyd said. “The atmosphere is gonna be great.”
Strong at the start
That doesn’t mean the Tigers can’t squeak out wins in four of seven games and shock the naysayers.
Floyd, in fact, likes the Tigers in seven. Petry hasn’t made a prediction, but suspects it’s going six or seven games.
That’s because the Tigers’ starting pitching, 1 through 4, is better, and can be more dominant. It’s their one clear edge.
Everything else, though, likely leans Red Sox, especially if the Tigers offense continues to struggle to score like it has since August.
“They (the Red Sox) can beat you in a number of different ways,” Petry said.