October 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Tigers' Jhonny Peralta bounces back by doing what he's always done

Boston — The fans mockingly chant his crime, if not his name. The issue comes up in every interview, and Jhonny Peralta handles it with polite calm.

If you’re going to get caught in a scandal, Peralta is giving a textbook lesson in how to rebound from it. He doesn’t dodge it and doesn’t excuse it, and he doesn’t flinch. All Peralta is doing is playing where the Tigers ask him to play, and hitting like they ask him to hit.

If these indeed are the last days of Peralta as a Tiger, he’s making the best of them. And please, let’s not waste time with the moralizing. Peralta served his punishment without appeal, and it wasn’t light. He took a 50-game suspension for his association with the Biogenesis clinic at the heart of the performance-enhancing drug scandal. He watched the Tigers go out and trade for his replacement, and then hoped for a second chance. The Tigers would have moved on if not for one little problem — they needed his bat.

Peralta has delivered, and there should be no ambivalence about it. The Boston crowd tried to stir it up, chanting “ster-oids” during Peralta’s at-bats in this ALCS. In the place that embraced alleged serial steroid users such as Manny Ramirez and Roger Clemens, the irony is rich. Also silly.

Peralta has answered with the crack of the bat — three hits and the lone RBI in the Tigers’ 1-0 victory in Game 1. He’s 8-for-16 this postseason, and of the Tigers’ 18 runs in six games, Peralta has driven in six of them. Actually, it’s scary to wonder where the offense would be without him, and how many near-no-hitters the Tigers would need to win.

“I don’t try to pay attention about what the fans are doing,” Peralta said. “I think it’s better for me to go to home plate and try to work hard everyday. I don’t try to listen to what people say.”

He says essentially the same thing, again and again, not looking for sympathy but not caving, either. He’s a pending free-agent, so he’s also playing for his own future. With young Jose Iglesias the new shortstop, it’s unlikely Peralta would return, and if his Detroit story ends after this postseason, I doubt he’d have any complaints.

'Nicest guy'

With Iglesias and Andy Dirks struggling at the plate, Peralta played Game 1 in left field and was back at shortstop for Game 2. As grateful as he is for another chance, the Tigers are grateful to have him back.

Some have made comparisons to the Giants’ refusal to allow Melky Cabrera to return for the playoffs last season, and they went on to win the World Series. It’s a comparison of lazy convenience. Cabrera aggressively tried to deceive baseball’s investigators and wasn’t eligible to return from his 50-game ban until after the playoffs began. It’s also easier to take a high moral stand when the offender exhausts all good will.

Peralta has handled it much differently. After his initial denial, he acknowledged his mistake and apologized. Then he left, worked out in the Dominican Republic, went to Florida shortly before his ban ended and returned as if he’d never left, the same quiet .303 hitter who’s well-liked by teammates.

“He served his time, worked his butt off, stayed in shape, and that’s why he’s here right now,” Torii Hunter said. “He’s a great person. He feels bad about it, but it’s done. Everybody in here loves Jhonny. ... If you know him, he’s soft-spoken, the nicest guy in the world. He’s an awesome, awesome guy. If you got to know him, you wouldn’t boo him.”

Here today

Tigers fans have mostly cheered him, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If he can help (obviously he can) and doesn’t create a distraction (obviously he hasn’t), you play him, and Jim Leyland has no problem doing it. The Tigers are all-in, and have been for a while. GM Dave Dombrowski wisely kept his options open, and even after trading for Iglesias, didn’t rule out Peralta’s return for the playoffs.

He’s here for now, for a little while longer. The issue of right and wrong was settled, sentence served. And Peralta is handling it the best way possible, trying to rebuild his reputation the only way he can.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/bobwojnowski