Winning baseball teams execute. Those that don’t get executed. Count the 2013 Detroit Tigers among the latter.
The Tigers were grand-slammed into the turf of Boston’s Fenway Park for a second time in the ALCS Saturday night, this time absorbing a fatal blow. Boston rode a seventh inning Shane Victorino grand slam home run off reliever Jose Veras to a 5-2 victory, eliminating Detroit from the postseason fiesta.
The game was scoreless through four before Boston notched a run in the fifth off Tiger starter Max Scherzer. Rookie Xander Bogaerts stroked a two out double to center and was driven in by Jacoby Ellsbury on a single to right.
The Tiger offense struck back in the sixth. Boston starter Clay Buchholz walked Torii Hunter on a full count pitch to lead off and Miguel Cabrera followed with a hard ground ball to left for a single.
Boston manager John Farrell brought in lefty Franklin Morales to face Prince Fielder and he promptly walked him on four pitches, loading the bases with no one out.
Victor Martinez, batting right-handed, banged a long single off the Green Monster in left. His blow advanced Fielder to third and drove in Hunter and Cabrera to make the score 2-1.
The Tigers, poised to break open a tight game, sent hot-hitting Jhonny Peralta to the plate to face righty reliever Brandon Workman.
What followed was a play that decimated the Tigers’ opportunity to take a strangle hold on the game.
With a drawn in infield, Peralta hit a grounder to Dustin Pedroia at second. As Martinez danced around near Pedroia in an attempt to avoid a tag, Fielder inexplicably stopped running between third and home.
After Pedroia eventually tagged Martinez out, he threw to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who chased Fielder backed towards third and tagged him out.
Alex Avila struck out with Peralta on second to end the fateful inning, which might have prolonged the Tigers’ season.
The Red Sox struck with a vengeance in the seventh, as Jonny Gomes led off with double high off the Green Monster in left. After Scherzer struck out Stephen Drew, he made a perfect outside corner pitch to Bogaerts on a full count that home plate umpire Dan Iassogna called a ball.
This witches’ brew was coming to a full boil.
With left-handed hitting Ellsbury due up, manager Jim Leyland opted for lefty Drew Smyly. Ellsbury bounced a grounder through the pitcher’s box to Jose Iglesias behind second. Iglesias briefly gloved the ball, but couldn’t find the handle while attempting to extract it for a flip to second baseman Omar Infante.
Iglesias was charged with an error, which resulted in a dramatic bases loaded, one out scenario at Fenway.
Jose Veras was brought in to face Shane Victorino, whom the Tigers had contained in the series with a steady diet of curve balls.
Veras sneaked the first two curve balls by him, but not the third, which caught a little too much of the plate. Victorino sent the Bosox world into nirvana by lifting a grand slam home run over the Green Monster in left field, making the score 5-2.
Reliever Craig Breslow retired the wounded Tigers in order in the eighth, and series MVP Koji Uehara finished off the ninth without damage to seal the victory for the Red Sox.
The Tigers are left to reflect on a series in which they fought a very good team hammer and tong throughout.
Their starting pitching was superb overall, and took them as far as can reasonably be expected. With the RBI-machine Cabrera seriously compromised due to injury, the offense tellingly under-performed.
This placed substantial pressure on the other elements of their game, which were methodically exposed. Their relief pitching, defense and base running all fell short of the opposition’s, which in the end determined the outcome of the series.
As the Tiger offseason regrettably begins today, no doubt the Tiger brain trust is already busy evaluating the many lessons learned throughout this exciting but ultimately disappointing postseason.