One down, three to go.
That makes it sound a lot easier than it will be. Once the celebrations subsided after last night’s thrilling, nail-biting victory, the questions crept back. Are the Tigers back to their frustrating habit of the all-or-nothing, feast-or-famine offense? It was a classic famine game: a bunch of base runners, most of whom were left hanging out in scoring position or thrown out on the base paths through a combination of bad luck, untimely strikeouts, failed sacrifice attempts, and whatnot.
And Boston was not the AL leader in runs per game and team OPS for nothing: their bats won’t be held down forever.
Dash the questions though–there was just so much to enjoy about last night’s game, which leaves the Tigers in a best case scenario, up 1-0 on the road with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander lined up.
And despite the frustrating inability to score, there were some positive signs from the offense: Torii Hunter finally got a hit; Alex Avila got a hit and hit the ball well; Austin Jackson struck out twice, but when he did hit the ball, hit it well; Omar Infante continued to hit the ball hard without any luck (the luck will come), and Peralta continued to be Jhonny on the Spot. And how about the much-maligned bullpen? 3 innings pitched, 0 runs, 0 walks, 1 hit, 5 Ks.
The real story of the game was Anibal Sanchez, who was unhittable. The Red Sox had a plan for Anibal, and it worked: take as many pitches as possible, drive up his pitch count, and get an early stab at the bullpen. The Red Sox do that well: they saw more pitches this season than any other team (1500 more than Detroit). It is a concerted team effort, up and down the lineup.
For the game, they took 29 of 35 first pitches. That’s dedication to a game plan.
Anibal never got frustrated, despite all the 3-2 counts, the walks, the rising pitch count. When an early strikeout turned into a safe-on-a-wild-pitch, a stolen base, and a subsequent walk, he just methodically struck out Ortiz and Napoli (Ortiz would have 3 checked-swing strikeouts on the day). It’s as if he threw random pitches until he got into a 3-2 count, then threw the last pitch they were expecting.
And in doing so, he tied a record, becoming just the 2nd person to strike out 4 in a postseason inning (and the first Tiger in any game), joining ol’ Orval Overall, who did that on the way to clinching the last ever Cubs World Series title against the Detroit Tigers (one of his 4 victims was Ty Cobb).
Jim Leyland seemed to make all of the right moves yesterday, from starting Peralta in left to pulling Sanchez after 6. Alburquerque blew through the 7th inning in impressive fashion (maybe starting the inning instead of coming in with runners on helped out here), and even more impressively is what happened in the next inning: Jose Veras was brought in to replace Alburquerque. Al has had a number of frustrating outings this year when he pitches a shutdown inning, only to fall apart in the next inning. Leyland learned from that:
“If you try to send him back out there [for a 2nd inning], things normally don’t work out so good.” (Jason Beck tweet).
The one head-scratcher of a move was pulling Peralta for a pinch-runner in the 7th (Santiago), and replacing him in left with Don Kelly. It makes sense if (and only if) Leyland had already decided that regardless of the outcome of the inning, that Cabrera was done for the day, and Peralta was done in the field (not that anybody was hitting any balls anywhere last night). With Cabrera’s spot coming up the next inning, the double-switch allowed Leyland to get Kelly batting in that spot, who was presumably a better bat at that point than Santiago.
Anibal set the bar pretty high. Let’s see what Max can do tonight. The key to the game will be keeping the first two hitters, Ellsbury and Victorino, off the bases. They have been hitting over .400 each in the postseason, and when they do get on they will steal. They were a combined 73-of-80 in the regular season, and that is against a bunch of teams that are all better than Detroit at stopping the running game. The one time either of them got on base last night was when Victorino struck out on the wild pitch, and he promptly stole 2nd.
Tonight Leyland is going with Peralta at SS. “This guy’s no donkey.” Well, how dumb does he think we are? We all know that Don Kelly is The Donkey, and he will be playing left.
Today’s Player of the Pre-game: Omar Infante. With Peralta getting on base a lot and Omar hitting the ball hard (although with nothing to show for it) I am predicting Infante will come through with a big RBI.
Today’s Who’s the Donkey? Lineup:
Whatever happened to Brayan Pena? Just wondering (I think I can make this line into a template).