Austin Jackson holds on first after hitting an RBI single in the fourth inning Wednesday. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Detroit — According to the old adage, an out is an out — regardless of whether it’s a ground out, fly ball or strikeout.
With Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson, though, the outs were magnified in the American League Championship Series because in the leadoff role, he’s called on to get on base to provide more scoring opportunities with Miguel Cabera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez coming later in the order.
Jackson was hitting .091 (3-for-33) in the postseason before Wednesday’s Game 4 and was dropped from first to eighth in the order. He responded, though, going 2-for-2 with two RBIs as the Tigers tied the series at two games.
Manager Jim Leyland said after Tuesday’s Game 3 that he would consider using left-handed utility man Don Kelly in center field, but ultimately decided to shuffle the lineup, with Torii Hunter leading off against Red Sox starter Jake Peavy.
“Jackson has had some success (9-for-28) against Peavy; Donnie has not,” Leyland said before Game 4.
“So just get him away from it a little bit, the magnitude of that leadoff spot and hopefully relax him little bit.”
Jackson batted in the second with the bases loaded and one out and drew a walk, getting the first run of the game and keying the five-run inning. He was out on Jose Iglesias’ grounder, though Stephen Drew appeared to miss tagging the bag on replays.
In the fourth, he followed Jhonny Peralta’s ground-rule double with an RBI single, stretching the lead to 6-0. After Jackson stole second, Iglesias sacrificed him to third and he scored on Cabrera’s single.
Jackson said Tuesday that the Red Sox pitchers have been effective not only against him, but against the entire Tigers lineup with their approach.
“They’ve been doing a good job of hitting the corner. They’ve been pitching away and really staying out there,” Jackson said. “If they do come in, it’s more of a show pitch.”
Hunter, who had two hits in Game 2 and is batting .229 in the playoffs, has noticed a change in the way he’s been pitched in the postseason.
“It’s different — it’s tougher,” Hunter said.
“I’m not going to tell you what they’re doing because they might not know what they’re doing, but it’s totally different.”
The Tigers have been a traditional power lineup, scoring more runs via home runs and hits to the gaps than manufacturing runs through stealing bases and hit-and-run scenarios. Even in the three chances the Tigers had with runners at third base, there weren’t many opportunities to move the runners without a hit.
In the first inning, Hunter reached third after Fielder’s two-out single, but Martinez ended the inning with a fly out to center. In the fifth, Jhonny Peralta led off with a double and moved to third on a ground out, but Omar Infante struck out and Andy Dirks grounded out to end that threat.
In the eighth inning, the Tigers had Jackson on third and Hunter on first with one out, but with Cabrera and Fielder due up, any other strategy but having them swing away was unlikely. Both struck out and the Tigers didn’t score.
Jackson said there wasn’t a level of desperation that would force the Tigers to try to do something different and become a “small-ball” team that tried to create runs.
“You just have to play the game. If they’re giving it to you, that’s something you can definitely try,” he said. “If they’re not, you just have to drive a good at-bat and try to get that hit.”
With 18 strikeouts so far in the postseason, Jackson’s drop in the lineup was Leyland’s quick fix to the troubles, but with better contact, including a fly ball to left, Jackson could be showing signs of breaking out of the strikeout slump.
“It’s encouraging any time you’re putting the ball in play,” Jackson said. “That’s the main focus, now — just to relax and make solid contact.”