Detroit — On a night the federal government ended its shutdown, the Tigers offense kindly followed suit, putting up a stunning five-spot in the second inning and coasting to a 7-3 Game 4 victory that knots up what’s already been a thrilling American League Championship Series.
It puts the Tigers in dandy position moving forward, knowing their three horses – Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — are in line to start the final three games.
Here’s how the Tigers clawed their way back into the series.
News: The Tigers, from the get-go, played with great energy and swagger, and they sent notice to the Red Sox that they’re not going away quietly, with their tail tucked.
Views: Some say John Lackey out-Verlandered Justin Verlander on Game 3 (though, from this perspective, that’s debatable).
Well, let’s say the Tigers out-Red Soxed the Red Sox.
Detroit tied up this series by being patient at the plate, hustling to take the extra base, even stealing some bases — Miguel Cabrera had a stand-up swipe! — and playing exceptional defense.
The Tigers are built on power, in their bats and in their arms. So, refreshing it must’ve been for the fans to see them play like they did Wednesday night.
They walked three times in the five-run second inning, after drawing just seven in the first three games. Also in the frame, Jose Iglesias beat out a possible inning-ending double-play ball, leading to a run. It was aided when Dustin Pedroia bobbled it, though if anybody but Iglesias had been running, the gaffe wouldn’t have hurt.
Later, Iglesias scored from first on a double to left, something you rarely see out of Detroit. Two innings later, Omar Infante scored from second on a ball by Austin Jackson that hit off Pedroia’s glove and just trickled away. Jackson then stole a base, helping set up another run when Iglesias bunted him up, and Cabrera had his second RBI single.
Even Cabrera stole a base that inning — giving the Tigers two in the inning, as many as the swift Red Sox had through three games — to get in scoring position with two out, though it didn’t matter, as Fielder followed with his third of four outs on the night.
On defense, Iglesias was all over the yard, Cabrera made a couple of gems and Torii Hunter played one ball so beautifully — off a Comerica Park wall that’s given him fits this year — that he actually held the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury to a single in the third inning.
And the Red Sox, simply, had no answer.
News: The Tigers shuffled up the lineup, moving Jackson down to eighth and moving everybody else up a spot.
Views: And Jim Leyland will get a boatload of credit for pulling the right strings.
Some of it will be due. For starters, Jackson no longer could lead off. Forget the numbers through eight postseason games. His confidence was absolutely shot. You could see it in his eyes, his voice, and his slumped shoulders.
Moving him down, at least, would take the pressure off – and he responded, with a patient walk in the first inning and eighth inning, and in between a phenomenal at-bat in the fourth when he was just trying to move up the runner, Infante, and ended up with a single, and another opposite-field single in the sixth inning.
Good move, to be sure.
“For Austin, it worked,” Hunter said. “What Jim Leyland did makes him a brilliant man.”
For Leyland’s next trick, maybe he can get Fielder to agree to bat seventh.
As for the rest of the lineup, Leyland won’t take the credit there — nor does he deserve it. The order in which they hit didn’t nearly as much as the approach with which they walked to the plate was the difference-maker.
The Tigers worked the count on Jake Peavy, and, most notably, they didn’t miss the mistakes – which was the biggest issue against Lackey in Game 3.
Hunter got a hanging breaking ball — a pitch he’s previously called “a gift from God” — in the second inning, and drilled a two-run double down the left-field line.
In the fourth, like a night earlier, Infante was being fed a steady diet of curve balls away and bit on several of them — but then teed off one of the one hanger for a leadoff double that sparked a two-run inning.
Jackson didn’t try to do too much, but instead focused on his strength — shooting the ball the other way. It led to two hits. And Cabrera, with runners in scoring position, did what he does best. It’s easy to forget this prime talent of his, given the lack of men he’s seen on this postseason.
News: The Tigers let one get away in Boston, but they’re sure feeling good about themselves again now.
Views: Not that they ever stopped.
This team believes. I am not sure I could say that about some recent Tigers teams, but this one — with the addition of Hunter, and the return of big-time positive impact Victor Martinez — never doubts itself. Not when things got hairy over the summer. Not when they trailed the A’s, 2-1 – and faced elimination in back-to-back games.
And not after stuff hit the fan in Game 2.
That’s just the way this team rolls.
“We have a lot of veterans on this team, guys that have been through it,” said one of them, Alex Avila. “We know what panicking does to a team.
“We are pretty business-like, methodical, probably a little boring. But that’s fine. There’s a lot of ways to get it done in this game, just as long as you do it.”
And after a Game 4 win, there’s a really good chance the Tigers do it again.
Had they lost, it’d probably be lights-out. Teams simply have a super-hard time coming all the way back from down 3-1. Now, with the series tied, the Red Sox are facing the probability of again seeing the Tigers trio of aces again — assuming it goes seven games, and that’s a safe assumption .
And let’s not forget the job Doug Fister did in Game 4. He’s actually had two huge starts this postseason – one that kept them alive in the ALDS, and another that, for all intents and purposes, did the same in the ALCS.
“They just try to one-up each other,” Drew Smyly said of the Tigers starters.