If the Detroit Tigers are to return to the World Series, they’re going to have to beat the Boston Red Sox twice this weekend in Beantown. Such is their unenviable position after another disheartening 4-3 loss to the Sox at Comerica Park on Thursday night.
The Tigers got off to a promising start off Boston lefty Jon Lester in the first inning, as Miguel Cabrera walked and Prince Fielder sneaked a ground ball single through the middle to move Cabrera to second with one out.
With two out Jhonny Peralta grounded a single to left as Cabrera steamed into third base. Tom Brookens, who has had a wobbly first year in the third base coach’s box, vigorously waved Cabrera onward but made a late call for him to hit the brakes as he rounded the bag.
Cabrera blew through the tardy stop sign and was an easy out at home on left fielder Jonny Gomes’ throw. Cabrera decelerated as he neared the plate, avoiding a full force collision with Boston catcher David Ross.
For the first time in this ALCS, a Tiger starter–Anibal Sanchez– was scored upon within the first five innings of the game, as the Red Sox collected three runs in the second inning.
Sanchez, lacking the quality stuff and location that he possessed in the first game of the series in Boston, gave up a gargantuan home run to center field by Mike Napoli to lead off the second.
Third baseman Cabrera was then charged with an error on a Gomes’ grounder that took a late bad hop. Xander Bogaerts drove Gomes to third with a solid double to left, bringing catcher David Ross to the plate.
Ross ripped another double to left to score Gomes and bring the score to 2-0. Jacoby Ellsbury then drilled a liner off Sanchez that dribbled out toward Omar Infante for an infield single as Bogaerts scored the third run of the inning.
With the infield in and one out, and runners on second and third, Shane Victorino bounced a grounder to second baseman Infante, who relayed a throw to catcher Alex Avila. Running at full speed, Ross lowered his shoulder and crashed into Avila, who was protecting the plate.
The force of the collision sent Avila backwards and appeared to daze him, but he held onto the ball for the out. (This sequence of events should make for interesting small talk between Avila and Ross at the next Fraternal Society of MLB Catchers convention).
Mike Napoli continued to lambaste Tiger pitching by stroking a ground rule double to left with one out in the third.
With Stephen Drew at the plate and Napoli at third, Sanchez threw a low pitch that bounced away from Avila, scoring Napoli with Boston’s fourth run.
Detroit got on the board in the fifth, as Austin Jackson singled for his second hit. Jose Iglesias advanced him with a bunt and Cabrera plated him with a long single to left, bringing the score to 4-1.
The Tigers tacked on another singleton in the sixth as Martinez walked to lead off the inning. Infante dropped a single into center field, moving Martinez to second.
Brayan Pena, who had pinch hit for a spent Avila in the fourth inning, drove a liner to left off reliever Junichi Tazawa to score Martinez to close the deficit to two runs, 4-2.
Jose Iglesias, who had earlier made a sensational running catch of a David Ortiz fly ball to shallow left field, led off the seventh frame with a single to center.
Torii Hunter followed that up with a line drive single to right, which sent Iglesias flying to third base with no one out. With Cabrera coming to the plate, it looked like the Tigers were set up for a big inning.
Unfortunately Cabrera bounced into a double play on a one-ball count, scoring Iglesias but dousing the rally. Fielder quickly grounded out to second off lefty reliever Craig Breslow to end the once promising inning, with the Tigers trailing 4-3.
After Breslow retired Martinez in the eighth, Boston skipper John Farrell called upon shutdown closer Koji Uehara to get the final five outs, which he accomplished without incident.
So the Tigers’ mission is clear as they travel to Boston for Game 6 on Saturday, behind 3-2 in this closely contested ALCS. Win or go home.
The good news is they have Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander lined up to pitch Games 6 and 7 (if necessary), no day at the beach for any team. On the other hand, Boston fans, visibly depressed in the seventh inning of Game 2 Sunday before Ortiz’s slam, will be giddy and in full throat.
Tiger fans can only hope the slants of Scherzer and Verlander serve to muzzle those boisterous Bostonians this weekend, resuscitating their dreams of a World Series opener in Detroit in the process.