MLB Coverage: Boston Moves Forward; Two Game 5s Loom

Tuesday in the American League playoffs was filled with more tension and drama, not to mention. The Boston Red Sox punched their ticket to the League Championship Series, joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in advancing past the first round. The Oakland A’s came up short in their attempt to do the same, losing to the Detroit Tigers and setting up a Game 5 back on the West Coast.

TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage looks back on both games yesterday, and ahead to the two Game 5s that begin tonight in the National League with Pittsburgh-St. Louis.

Boston 3 Tampa Bay 1: You knew this was going to be a tough one when Boston loaded the bases with none out in the second inning, but Tampa escaped the inning when Stephen Drew’s line drive that appeared headed for the corner was speared by James Loney and turned into a double play. Jake Peavy was brilliant for the Red Sox, not allowing a run until the sixth, and Johnny WholeStaff was almost as impressive for the Rays.

The nickname applied to the theory of emptying the bullpen was quite literal for Tampa Bay. Joe Maddon pulled starter Jeremy Hellickson after the bases were loaded up in the second, the manager used nine pitchers total and had it gone extras he had David Price on two days rest and his theoretical Game 5 starter warming up in the bullpen.

You can’t argue with Maddon’s logic–there was no tomorrow and he couldn’t let the game get away. But my big second guess pertains to the original decision to start Hellickson in the first place. The young righthander has a 5.17 ERA on the year and has never gotten into a good groove.

If you were going to bring back Game 1 starter Matt Moore–who pitched two sharp innings–why not just start Moore to begin with? Even if he only pitches a few innings, you allow him to pitch in the atmosphere he’s most comfortable, with the complete pregame warmup.

In either case, you aren’t going to win when you only score one run–or at least you won’t win very often and certainly not against the best offense in the American League. The Red Sox missed some opportunities, but broke through in the seventh when they tied the game on a wild pitch that also moved up Jacoby Ellsbury to third. Ellsbury then scored on an infield hit by Shane Victorino with the lead run, and Boston tacked on some insurance in the top of the ninth.

Peavy’s pitching underscored one of the key differences between these two teams, first in the AL East race and then in this Division Series. Boston had a top-flight starter ready to work a Game 4 while Tampa Bay was scrounging.

I know if this were the Yankees advancing I would be sure to point out that it was their big payroll that allowed them to acquire such a starter at the trade deadline, while the Rays had to make do with what they had. Fairness requires that I point out the same thing with the Sawx, whom I cheer for. But I’m no less ecstactic with the end result, and Boston is returning to the American League Championship Series for the first time since losing to Tampa Bay in 2008.

Detroit 8 Oakland 6: When Oakland jumped out to a 3-0 lead against an obviously struggling Doug Fister, I really thought this was over. Not that I thought a three-run lead was insurmountable, but the way the Tigers have been hitting–or not hitting as the case may be, and all the momentum going Oakland’s way¬† it just seemed to be cascading toward an A’s clinch. But the Tigers rallied to tie it 3-3, then 4-4, then broke it open with three runs in the eighth and then held off one last Oakland rally in the ninth.

It’s the way Detroit tied the game at 4-4 in the seventh that will be the subject of controversy. Victor Martinez hit an opposite field home run that just got out of the park. In fact, the replays seemed to show it didn’t quite leave the park, that fans reached just over the yellow line and interfered with rightfielder Josh Reddick.

In watching the replay–and I’m pulling for Detroit, just so that’s on the record–it seemed to me to be very clear interference. The play will draw reasonable comparisons to the infamous play in Yankee Stadium in Game 2 of the 1996 ALCS, when Derek Jeter’s game-winning home run against Baltimore was pulled in by 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier. The umps in ’96 didn’t have replay. The umps of 2013 do, and this play, because it was a home run fell under that purview.

There is one key difference though between the 1996 and 2013 play. In the former case, Oriole outfielder Tony Tarasco was settled in for a clear catch on the warning track. Yesterday, Reddick was leaping and outstretched. He had a play on the ball, but it would have been a spectacular play–like one of the best ever made in postseason history.

Can an umpire really assume such a play? Is there an option to award Martinez a double? The TBS announcing crew never laid out what the umpires’ choices where. If they had the option to order the batter to second base, that should have happened. If the only choices are rule it a home run or assume a spectacular history-making catch…then I don’t know.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland followed the same path Maddon would later in the evening and brought back Game 1 starter Max Scherzer to give him some relief work. The perils of asking a starter to do this were apparent–Scherzer never appeared fully in command and gave up a run in two innings of work. But he got the game to closer Joaquin Benoit, whose erratic ninth showed why Leyland is willing to live with some erratic, but survivable innings from his starters out of the bullpen.

Notable offensive heroes in this game included Coco Crisp who had four hits at the top of the Oakland lineup, and Jed Lowrie, who hit a two-run homer early and finished with three RBIs. For Detroit, Martinez had three hits, including the disputed home run. And perhaps no one was bigger than Jhonny Peralta, who belted a three-run homer in the fifth to tie the game and had another hit later on.

Peralta, of course, is one of those suspended for his PED involvement with the BioGenesis clinic and was activated in time for the postseason. Suffice it to say, I have mixed feelings about this. I understand Detroit putting him in the lineup–he’s served his time and apologized, the latter being something that separates him from Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun– but should we really be cheering Peralta on like a conquering hero?


Pittsburgh and St. Louis play the decisive game of their series tonight in Busch Stadium. In a way, both teams are where they want to be. The Pirates have reduced a season-long battle with a more talented and experienced opponent to one game where anything can happen.

If you’re the Cardinals, you accept that any Division Series, by definition, comes down to taking care of business in targeted spots where the percentages are in your favor. And a game at home with Adam Wainwright on the mound qualifies as that. Game time is 8:07 PM ET on TBS.

Then on Thursday night the Division Series round will come to an end with Oakland-Detroit. Justin Verlander is scheduled for the Tigers. The A’s are still undecided, presumably debating between Bartolo Colon or Sonny Gray, each of whom would be on full rest. Game time there is also 8:07 PM ET on TBS.