October 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Green Monster: Tigers face their destiny in Boston's house of horrors

Theyre hurting, and not yet hitting. They dont run very fast, and in the late innings, they sometimes make you quiver.

For all their star power, the Tigers dont saunter easily through anything. At least that gives them experience because for a team that often does it the hard way, its about to get harder or as they say in Boston, wicked hahhhder.

The Tigers earned their way to a third straight American League Championship Series, and earned an unfamiliar underdog label. The Red Sox, arguably, are the best in baseball. They have home-field advantage, a scorching lineup and a fine rotation. They steal bases, wear scraggly beards and have the most-intimidating inanimate object in the game the Green Monster in left.

Its a good thing the Tigers dont scare easily. Its a better thing their swagger is on the pitching mound because if they engage in slugfests with the Red Sox, they wont win. Their hitting has been too sporadic, from Miguel Cabreras injuries to Austin Jacksons strikeout woes to Prince Fielders power purge.

This series cant be about what they dont do. It definitely can be about what they do unleash as powerful a rotation as there is. Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will line up for the first three starts, followed by Doug Fister. The Red Sox counter with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy impressive, but not as daunting.

The Red Sox should be favored in this first playoff matchup against the Tigers because of a lineup that includes Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino. Theyre versatile enough to win a variety of ways, and Fenway Park is borderline haunted. Although it means squat in this series, that 20-4 pummeling Sept. 4 must stir unpleasant memories for the Tigers.

But its as if theyve mastered the art of forgetting. Whatever happens in the regular season getting no-hit on the final day by the Marlins stays in the regular season.

Verlander's comeback

Not many teams have won as many tough games the past few years as the Tigers. Yes, Im aware they havent won the biggest, in the World Series, but theyve clinched three straight Division Series on the road New York and Oakland twice.

Verlanders eight-inning shutout performance against the As was sheer dominance. Hes back, vintage and vindicated, just like he said hed be. I assumed hed figure out his mechanical issues, but until you saw it, you couldnt necessarily count on it. Now Jim Leyland is counting on it as much as ever, which is why the Tigers remain a scary team.

Im pitching the way Im supposed to, Verlander said after blanking the As. I worked my butt off all year to try to get myself where I needed to be. I feel like it finally paid off at the end of the year.

In his last four starts, Verlanders numbers: 27 innings, no runs, six walks, 43 strikeouts. Hes back to menacing, and back in ace competition with Scherzer, not that he strayed for long.

Thats huge because the Tigers may have the hitters to match the Red Sox, but they dont have the hitting to match them right now. During the regular season, these were the two best offenses Boston led in runs and Detroit led in average. But while the Red Sox were outscoring the Rays, 26-12, the Tigers were staggering through a 20-inning scoreless streak against the As. With this talented team, its a small step from stagger to swagger, and some of their best need to take it.

Raising a ruckus

Jackson was 2-for-20 with 13 strikeouts against the As. Fielder was 5-for-18 without an extra-base hit or RBI. Torii Hunter was 3-for-19. Cabrera is dealing with abdominal and groin strains, so the only swing that mattered was his two-run homer that won Game 5.

Perhaps the Tigers difficulties make it easier to handle adversity. After missing a full season, Victor Martinez has been a difference-maker, from his fiery disposition to his 9-for-20 hitting in the ALDS. The Tigers have adopted a feisty mentality with Hunter, Martinez, Cabrera and Fielder, a potentially fearsome foursome indeed. Hunter started a noisy postgame ritual they call Turn Up, a thigh-slapping, hands-raising routine thats hard to decipher, but easy to understand.

For a team under constant scrutiny, alleviating pressure is almost as important as applying it. Remember, the Tigers spent a couple of months without a set closer, before Joaquin Benoit stepped in.

He still rattles a few nerves, and nobody is as unhittable as Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who posted this stunning line in the regular season: 1.09 ERA, nine walks, 101 strikeouts.

This is a heavyweight clash of stars and styles, Boston Strong versus Detroit Defiance. I wouldnt be surprised if it goes to Game 7 with Verlander on the mound in Fenway. If the Tigers get that far, theyll go even farther.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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