Boston — Knowing a little bit about crowds, and atmosphere, and how the events from a playoff series factor into each, a conversation began on Fenway Park’s field early Saturday evening. It took place during Detroit’s turn at batting practice, an hour before the Tigers and Red Sox were to meet in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
It was mentioned to Ron Colangelo, the Tigers’ vice president for communications, that if the team for which he works happened to steal one of these first two games in Boston, the Tigers would arrive home for Game 3, 4 (and probably 5) to the loudest, most energy-charged throngs Colangelo has seen in the five years he has worked for the Tigers.
The scribe’s two cents, which were not exactly sought by Colangelo, came from a guy who has seen, and listened to, his share of big-moment baseball crowds in Detroit. And what I would expect to observe beginning Tuesday at Comerica Park will be the most hyper-intense, high-decibel response to a team and to a game since the Tigers beat the Yankees in that rather astonishing division series in 2006, which was the official point of Detroit’s baseball renaissance.
Why this week’s playoffs at Comerica already loom as potentially extraordinary is the product of Saturday night’s big event. The Tigers beat the Red Sox, 1-0, in Game 1 of the ALCS to quickly thieve the game they had to snare at a place that has long haunted them.
Escaping the Red Sox’s Fenway lair with at least a split, and with a shot at a 2-0 lead should things go well today for Max Scherzer and his mates, enables the Tigers to summon the same supernatural lift this month that they got from those victory-starved Detroit fans in 2006.
And why would it be different this week when Motown’s baseball faithful were noticeably low-key during the division series against the A’s? Why would it have some qualitative distinction not on display a year ago, when the Tigers last played in a World Series?
Because the fan base now senses the Tigers can, in fact, win the whole shebang, even with a diminished Miguel Cabrera. It wasn’t a feeling that quite took root last year when the Tigers got down early to the Giants in the World Series and were swiftly swept.
The new, emerging mindset was reinforced Saturday, 48 hours after the Tigers had shut out the A’s to clinch the division series. It was a fire that began to flicker Tuesday in Game 4, when Scherzer came on as a bullpen pitcher to vanquish the A’s and finish off a comeback in a game in which they had been down, 3-0, with curtains all but drawn on the Tigers’ season.
Some will say, properly, that good pitching beats good hitting. And with the Tigers featuring starters who can commandeer a game better than any top-three rotation guns in baseball, Detroit automatically has an edge on any opponent, in this league or the other.
But it is never as simple as pitching. You still must score runs. And the Tigers were having — correction, they’re still having — trouble on offense that would not be an issue if Cabrera were clobbering pitches with anything close to his old might.
What has changed during the last three games is a team’s new, more secure, capacity to beat good teams. And with that realization, fans who rightly thought one-half of Cabrera translated into one-half of a chance to beat a bunch as good as the Red Sox, can at least dream.
It will be those outlines of a possible world championship that will fuel the scene now beginning to gestate ahead of this week’s certain drama at Comerica.
What happened Saturday night was not exactly in the stars. The gifted Red Sox do not allow no-hit bids against them to extend much past the first couple of innings. This one, the Tigers prolonged for 81⁄3 innings.
The Red Sox do not strike out 17 times. Not that 17 strikeouts is any big deal for Tigers pitchers who have been throwing hard stuff, mixed with some bedeviling secondary pitches, past hitters at such a pace in 2013 they set a big-league record.
And when you have pitchers of such distinction, you can pull off a 1-0 victory at a long-time Tigers death trap known as Fenway Park. You can fly cross-country to California’s Bay Area and shut down a menacing mass of A’s power hitters, as they had done Thursday.
And, perhaps, you can do what some of us — well, one guy, anyway — thought would be prohibitively difficult when a batter as celestial as Cabrera simply isn’t the same threat. You can, once in a while, play past his disabling sore groin.
It still requires some heroism on the part of manager Jim Leyland’s lineup. Should the Red Sox bounce back today, as is a popular bet here in Back Bay, the series is square, with the Red Sox still enjoying that critical home-field edge in Games 6 and 7, if they’re required.
The Tigers have scored four runs in these past two playoff games. They scored three runs in their first two division contests against the A’s.
But their pitching continues to accomplish the most with the least amount of aid and comfort from Leyland’s hitters.
That speaks to something formidable happening on the mound. Knowing how Detroit’s pitching is suddenly becoming a disproportionate factor in these playoffs, the local fans are thinking thoughts, feeling a regeneration of spirit, and preparing to scream their lungs into pulp beginning Tuesday at Comerica Park.
It’s happening. If you know your town, know your crowds, and know where their minds today are, you know what’s coming this week.