October 15, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Lynn Henning

Struggling Austin Jackson poses problem for Tigers

Chat-room topics spurred by Tuesday afternoon’s event at Comerica Park, where the Tigers fell 1-0 to the Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series:

Austin Jackson killing the Tigers at the top of the order, but moving him isn’t the answer.

Jackson is hitting .091 in 33 playoff at-bats, with 18 strikeouts.

This is no way to win the Motor City’s affection, nor is it any way to keep your leadoff job.

But what are the options? Dropping him in the order means you simply postpone the strikeouts and put-outs, knowing — because of Jackson’s past history — that he could just as easily break loose and make that move look foolish.

You also have to replace him at leadoff. And manager Jim Leyland’s lineup isn’t brimming with candidates. No one else is hitting anywhere in the order.

“The only thing you could think about is possibly playing Donnie (Kelly) in center field,” Leyland said after Tuesday’s game. “We talked about it at one time this series. I have to sleep on it.

“There are only a couple of real options you have. When you see guys from any team struggling, you don’t necessarily change things unless you come up with something else that makes sense.”

Batting orders are natural attractions for people seeking a shake-up. But what you’re shaking up are hitters who aren’t hitting. And different places in the order aren’t an answer for making contact against good pitches the Tigers haven’t been touching.

Jose Iglesias pinch-hits to begin the eighth inning, leaving Brayan Pena on the bench.

This was a legs move made because of a one-run game. Iglesias, if he had been able to get on with a clean hit, or one of his infield bounders that he so often beats out for a hit, would have been on base with a chance to gallop on any combination of hits and advances.

He could also have pinch-run for Pena had Pena — the better hitter by a bunch — gotten that single or more that Iglesias failed to get when he struck out. For the Tigers, Iglesias’ whiff ached all the more after Austin Jackson walked and Torii Hunter rapped a single down the right-field line.

I can understand Leyland not wanting to lose two bench players on a single play when he wanted to protect Pena’s bat and position option at catcher later on.

But that put the pressure on Iglesias to get on base, which three quick strikes eliminated.

Pena, as it turned out, gathered his usual postseason dust. He hasn’t had an at-bat in October.

Phil Coke does the job in a one-batter cameo against David Ortiz.

If he was good enough to put away Ortiz with a two-pitch at-bat Tuesday (good slider, good 94-mph fastball), why didn’t Leyland use him last Sunday night against Ortiz at Fenway Park?

That’s fair to ask after Tuesday. But you can imagine what the I’ll-wait-and-see-how-this-at-bat-turns-out crowd would have said had Coke been brought on to pitch to Ortiz at Fenway Park, with the bases loaded, and when he hadn’t pitched since September, and given up a walk, or been nicked by a batter who tends to enjoy pitchers coming back from long layoffs.

Well, we know.

What counted Tuesday is that Coke threw two pitches reminiscent of last autumn’s playoffs when he was all but the team’s MVP in the ALCS showdown against the Yankees.

Coke will get at least another chance this series. It will be as much an audition for 2014 (the Tigers are probably on the fence in deciding whether to offer a contract) as it will be a matchup that might or might not help decide an ALCS game.

Last Sunday night’s disaster lingered with the home crowd.

Had the Tigers won last Sunday, or simply avoided losing Game 2 in the ghastly fashion that unfurled in the eighth inning at Fenway Park, Comerica Park would have been more like a cauldron as the league’s showdown series moved to Detroit.

That was the expectation after the Tigers stole their Game 1 prize, 1-0 last Saturday.

But the psychological effects from last Sunday hung over Comerica and its crowd like a canopy in Game 3.

It was a pure case of community deflation tied to a single, historically bad, inning of postseason baseball at Fenway Park.

It’s interesting how crowds differ during Comerica Park’s postseason. A more highbrow gang shows up for the ALCS games. It’s a situation where ALCS tickets are expensive, and more of a staid throng plops into those high-dollar seats.

But the voltage would have been intense, even by the limo crowd’s standards, had the Tigers not had the oxygen sucked from them and their fan base during last Sunday’s disaster for the ages at Fenway Park.


Austin Jackson is hitting .091 in 33 playoff at-bats, with 18 strikeouts. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News
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