The Boston Red Sox win two hard-fought games in Detroit, while the Tigers grab one in easier fashion, as the American League Championship Series played out its three middle games in Motown. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage looks back on the middle trio of the ALCS and ahead to the weekend’s conclusion in Fenway Park.
Game 3: After Boston lost Game 1, and the Jon Lester-Anibal Sanchez matchup, the math of this ALCS required the Red Sox strike a counterblow. They got it here, as their own #3 starter, John Lackey, outdueled Justin Verlander.
Both pitchers were completely dominant, with Verlander striking out ten in eight innings and Lackey K’ing eight in 6.2 IP. It was like watching a hockey game where the goalies were locked in. Mike Napoli delivered the baseball equivalent of the long slapshot, when he took Verlander deep in the seventh for the only run in Boston’s 1-0 win.
Game 4: The story of Detroit’s 7-3 win was the lineup shuffling of Tiger manager Jim Leyland. He dropped struggling leadoff man Austin Jackson to eighth, hit Tori Hunter leadoff and had Miguel Cabrera in the two-hole. When Detroit scored five runs in the second and was never seriously threatened, the manager won some rightful plaudits.
But if you go a little deeper, the bigger cause of this game was the complete lack of control by Boston starter Jake Peavy. He walked Jackson on four pitches in the second, a part of walking the bases loaded. Peavy got a bad break–with the score 1-0 and runners on first and third, Dustin Pedroia flubbed a room service double play grounder, only got one out and allowed the second run to come in through the backdoor.
But how much does that excuse Peavy immediately allowing two more hits and letting the score balloon to 5-zip? In an LCS dominated by pitching in both leagues, Peavy is the only starter to be completely lit up. Peavy gave up two more runs in the fourth, an inning he did not record an out. The revamped Detroit lineup did not score in six innings against non-Peavy pitchers .
Jackson still went 2-for-2 with two walks and got two more hits in Game 5, so it’s eminently reasonable to credit the reduced pressure on him as triggering the change. That alone makes Leyland’s move a smart managerial gambit. I simply suggest we keep it in perspective and that its effects might not be as far-reaching as the media reaction would imply.
Game 5: Sanchez’s Game 1 magic was gone. Napoli hit what might be the longest home run in Detroit since Reggie Jackson blasted one into the lights at old Tiger Stadium in the 1971 All-Star Game and the Red Sox chipped away for an early 4-0 lead. Lester pitched well, but he too, was not as dominant in Game 1, though he got key outs and kept the ball in the park.
Boston manager John Farrell gets some kudos for managing this pivotal game with the urgency it deserved, especially with a travel day coming up. He pulled Lester with two outs in the sixth at 98 pitches, when you normally might have tried to squeeze a few more outs from the nominal staff ace. But Farrell essentially moved everything up an inning, brought closer Koji Uehara on for five outs and watched his closer nail down a 4-3 win.
SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON
The Red Sox now go home for Game 6 on Saturday and a potential Game 7 on Sunday night. On the surface, they would seem in firm command. But here again, we come to a question of whether you’d rather have homefield or a pitching advantage.
Max Scherzer is lined up to pitch Game 6 for Detroit, and Verlander is set for Sunday night. Boston has already won each game these two pitchers have started (through no fault of Scherzer or Verlander), and it’s asking a lot to go 3-1 (or 3-0) in games started by aces the caliber of these. But that’s what the Sox have to do.
Now flip that around, and note that Detroit has already split two games in Boston. The path to the pennant is going to require them to go 3-1 in games played at Fenway Park, a scenario no Tiger fan would have welcomed at the start of the series.
What it makes is for a potentially dramatic weekend, both here in Boston and in St. Louis where the National League Championship Series resumes tonight. The Red Sox and Cardinals are at home with chances to clinch in Game 6. The Tigers and Dodgers have the presumptive Cy Young Award winners lined up to pitch Game 6, and Detroit has the consensus best pitcher in the American League for Sunday.
The best-of-seven format for LCS play was instituted in 1985, and since then we’ve only seen four occasions of a team winning Games 6 & 7 on the road, twice in the each league. The trivia answers are the 1985 Kansas City Royals and 2004 Boston Red Sox in the AL, with the 1991 Atlanta Braves and 2003 Florida Marlins in the NL. But every year has its own unique features, and with the way the pitching shapes up, Los Angeles, and certainly Detroit, should not feel bound by the burdens of history.
TV scheduling for the ALCS is not final. The Cards-Dodgers go tonight in Game 6 at 8 PM ET on TBS. If the NL goes seven games, that will get the same time slot for prime-time on Saturday and the Red Sox-Tigers will go at 4:30 PM ET on Fox. If St. Louis clinches on Friday, then Fox’s American League coverage on Saturday moves into prime-time. A potential ALCS Game 7 is on Sunday at 8 PM ET on Fox.