Detroit — Well that, uhhh, was interesting.
But, really, not all that unbelievable. The Tigers live and die with their starting pitchers. Make it a bullpen game, and it’s a whole different ballgame. This is not news.
Add in the Fenway Factor, and how the Red Sox always seem to have some magic in reserve, and here we are: with an American League Championship Series knotted at a win apiece.
Here’s a quick-hit look back at Game 2, which the Tigers had, then suddenly, certainly, did not.
News: The Red Sox finally woke up with the bats — which you knew would happen eventually — but only after Max Scherzer absolutely dominated them through seven innings.
Views: The Tigers bullpen was handed a four-run lead in the eighth inning, and promptly blew it, compliments of Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit, each of whom allowed a hit or walk — though none bigger, of course, than the blast off Benoit, a David Ortiz grand slam just out of the reach of a tumbling Torii Hunter in right field.
It brought to life Fenway Park, which through the first 16 innings of the series sounded more like a morgue than the site of the greatest home-field advantage in the game.
This led to lots of questions, of course. Mainly, why did Tigers manager Jim Leyland take out Max Scherzer? He only had thrown 108 pitches, which, granted, is right around his norm, though 10 fewer than he was allowed in his American League Division Series start.
Also of note: Scherzer’s last outing in the playoffs was out of the bullpen, so he was plenty fresh — and on a normal four days’ rest — for his start against the Red Sox, and, man, did it show. The fastball was electric, the change-up was unhittable, and he struck out 13 on the night, including, by the way, two in a no-stress 1-2-3 seventh inning. Yet, that was it.
Afterward, Leyland told reporters Scherzer was tired, and Scherzer confirmed this. And you must take Schezer at his word. He’s as straight talker as there is in that Tigers clubhouse. Not all fans will get this. Not all understand the stamina it takes to do what Scherzer did, nor the way playoff baseball has a knack for exhausting a pitcher sooner than he’s perhaps accustomed to.
So Leyland probably gets the pass here.
But he will have to continue answering questions about his late-game defensive substitutions. He took out Miguel Cabrera in Game 1, leaving Don Kelly to bat in what could’ve been a critical situation in the ninth inning. Kelly whiffed swiftly, but it didn’t end up mattering.
Leyland, though, probably had that on his mind Sunday night, which might be the reason Cabrera never came out of Game 2, not even with that late four-run lead.
That said, Leyland did yank Jhonny Peralta, and replaced him with Jose Iglesias at shortstop. Iglesias, in a cruel twist, ended up making a throwing error — granted, let’s call it like it is: Prince Fielder should’ve blocked it — to start the Red Sox rally in the ninth.
News: The series, amazingly, is all tied up, and now shifts to Comerica Park.
Views: The Tigers, before Game 1, would’ve been thrilled with a split in Boston, where they’ve struggled so much, for so many years.
Now, though, after winning Game 1 in such dominating fashion and being just four outs from coming home up 2-0 before letting it all slip away, they can’t be feeling good about themselves — not even with the revived Justin Verlander set to start Game 3 on Tuesday.
Really, you can think long and hard and not come up with a more demoralizing loss in Tigers playoff history, particularly in recent years.
So, we’ll learn really fast just what this team is made of.
It’s a good clubhouse. They have a manager, in Leyland, who doesn’t ever exude a sense of panic. It could be that Sunday’s game ends up just being a footnote in what ends up being a championship season for the franchise.
Many fans left this team for dead after losing to the A’s in Game 3 of the ALDS, to fall down 2-1 — a single loss from elimination. The Tigers then won three games in a row, in three different cities: the do-or-die game in Detroit, the clincher in Oakland, and then the opener in Boston.
That’s tough stuff, from a tough team. Just how tough, though?
We’re about to find out.
News: There were positives for the Tigers in Game 2.
Views: One, Cabrera obviously is feeling much, much better. Forget the home run over the Green Monster. He also smashed a ball to deep center field — that, yes, was caught, but might’ve been the best-hit ball he’s had in a month or so. He’s also smiling, a lot, these days. This is huge. But he can’t do it alone.
Victor Martinez has stepped up, and a rejuvenated Jhonny Peralta, too. Even Fielder had a better approach (at the plate; again, surely not in the field).
But Alex Avila’s at-bats might be what stood out most.
Always so methodical at the plate, and so patient, he amped it up Sunday — and was surprisingly aggressive. In his first three at-bats, he actually swung at the first pitch each time — resulting in an RBI single in the first at-bat, and a long, two-run homer in his third. Even on the out Avila made, he had a good swing.
This is interesting, and new, from a guy who takes more batting-practice pitches than anybody I’ve seen. During the off-season and again in spring training, after Avila struggled so much at the plate in 2012, Leyland said he believed sometimes was too patient for his own good. Too often, he’d take strike one, down the gut or in the vicinity. And, so, he’d constantly be battling from behind in the count, a pitcher’s delight. So, Leyland started subtly harping on Avila to swing earlier, should the pitch be at all driveable, if not picture perfect.
Interestingly, Avila, in a spring conversation with me, essentially said that approach wasn’t for him. Well, eight months later, maybe it’s finally for him.
It sure looks like it suits him.
News: Peralta was replaced late at short in Game 2, and Cabrera at third in Game 1.
Views: Yet, it was Fielder who was absolutely brutal in the ninth inning of the Game 2 loss, first letting Iglesias’ throw bounce past him and into a camera well — thus allowing leadoff man Jonny Gomes second base — when getting down on one knee or even just in a crouch would’ve prevented that.
Then, he botched a routine foul pop-up near the stands, a gaffe that was not at all the result of the fans.
So here’s a question: When is the biggest deficiency on the infield — Fielder — going to start getting the late-game Peralta/Cabrera treatment?