First game of a 3-game series.
“My favorite pastime is definitely baseball. We have a star-studded team & it’s going to be fun tonight”
Thank you Calvin (or is it Johnson?). I couldn’t have said it better myself.
It was a small thing really: take one guy from the front of the lineup, move him to the back, move everyone else up one. Could it really make that big of a difference? It could. Austin Jackson was struggling mightily, historically: he had struck out in over 50% of his at bats in this postseason, and it was weighing on him, it was bringing down the team, and it was upsetting the fans. So Leyland pulled the trigger, and decided to see if batting lower in the order would take some pressure off.
Austin Jackson is a very good professional baseball player. Austin Jackson has skills, and it is unlikely that those skills suddenly left him. But baseball is a game played partly in the head, and it was worth a shot to change his perspective a bit, and boy did it work.
But nobody, least of all Jim Leyland, expected this: Austin Jackson’s first at bat in his new spot in the lineup comes up in the second inning with the bases loaded and 1 out. This after losing the night before partly because the Tigers failed to score a run on two tries with a runner on 3rd and 1 out. Talk about “taking the pressure off” backfiring. But then Peavy did Jackson a favor: a pitch too far outside the strike zone for even the struggling Jackson to swing at. And then another. Suddenly Jackson was in a favorable 2-0 count. Then 3-0. The 4th pitch was close, but in a take-all-the-way situation, all Jackson had to to was watch ball four, take first base, walk in the first run of the game, and soak in the applause.
It was only the 2nd inning, but I think that was the at bat of the game, and in its own way may contend with importance with the Ortiz at bat in Game 2, albeit in a way not tailored to highlight. I’m not sure what Peavy was doing, or trying to do, but I think the whole game turned on that at bat. The Tigers ended up scoring 5 in the inning; if Jackson had struck out there, not only do the Tigers probably not score, but Jackson is probably back in his funk. And it was only the 2nd inning, not a dramatic 8th inning home run, but I think scoring early is the key to beating Boston in this series, and the second inning outburst of runs was huge.
That wasn’t Leyland’s only move with Jackson of the game though. In the 4th inning, probably encouraged by his 2nd inning RBI walk, Jackson singled Infante in from 2nd. Two at bats, two RBI. Now Jackson is probably really feeling good, right? So Leyland sends him, and Austin has his first stolen base since September 17. The stolen base was useful: Jackson came around to score. But don’t think the gamble Leyland was taking here had nothing to do with taking Jackson’s energy and bumping it up a notch. Leyland at his best.
The other, probably unintended effect of the lineup change is that it gave the Tigers a slow half/fast half of the lineup setup: with Infante/Jackson/Iglesias/Hunter all batting together, we were treated to a burst of base running/bunting/infield hit action that Tiger fans haven’t seen in a while. I’m not sure why the change tonight (Avila moved up one spot).
Then there is Prince Fielder. Kevin mentioned that T Smith and KW had already dealt him before yesterday; it seems StorminNorman$ has also dealt him today. With Jackson having a good day, Prince takes the hot seat. Fielder had a mildly disappointedly regular season, but the disappointment is hot and spicy for his postseason. Which seems familiar…oh yes, the same thing happened last year.
In fact, Fielder’s career postseason OPS is now .701. Oh wait, that’s Don Kelly’s. Prince’s career postseason OPS: .632. I’m not sure what is going on with Prince. Last month I talked about how much I liked Prince, even while being disappointed with him: he tried hard, ran hard, put his body in front of balls, anything he could do to help. Not so much right now. I’m not a fan of the facial expression analysis school of baseball fandom–it’s too easy to read things into expressions and body language through a lens of disappointment (in Cabrera’s first year in Detroit he looked “disinterested,” “lazy” and one commenter kept insisting he would “be out of baseball in 3 years”). But he sure doesn’t scare anybody on other teams, say the way Ortiz scares us when he steps up to the plate.
A year or two back I read a good analysis about the difference between the Yankees and the Tigers–the Tigers were giving out some big contracts, but all of the Tiger big contracts were good big contacts: the Verlanders and Cabreras were actually worth the money, while the Yankees were stuck with a bunch of big contracts that were dead money. Did the Tigers pull a “Yankee” with Fielder? Is it too soon to tell?
Well, here we go: last game at Comerica, until the Dodgers or Cardinals stop by. Which would you prefer? When it looked like St. Louis would sweep, I was all for St. Louis–let them sit for a week until this thing is over. Now, I may have changed my mind. At any rate, this is my last ALCS post. I hereby turn this thing over to the capable hands of Kevin and Loon. It has been quite the postseason so far.
We have Anibal tonight. The Red Sox couldn’t hit him last time. They have Lester. The Tigers couldn’t really hit him. It’s playoff baseball, fasten your seat belts, and pack plenty of provisions, it will probably be a long one!
Quote of the day goes to Don Kelly, via Jerry Crasnick: “I’d have a hard time if I played for the #redsox. I would have had to start my beard 3 years ago.”
Today’s Player of the Pre-game: Austin Jackson. Is there momentum in baseball?
Today’s Score Early Lineup:
Whatever happened to Brayan Pena? Just wondering (I think I can make this line into a template).