The American League Championship Series is tied up at a game apiece as the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers take a day off and head to the Motor City where the series will resume on Tuesday afternoon. We’ve seen two no-hit bids and an epic grand slam. You get the feeling that the fun is just getting cranked up in this fight between the AL’s top seed (Boston ) and the AL’s preseason betting line favorite (Detroit).
Let’s open this discussion of the first two games at Fenway Park with some tributes and then move into debatable managerial moves…
*What else is there to do for Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer but tip your cap? Sanchez threw six no-hit innings in Game 1 before he had to be lifted, as six walks had pushed the pitch count to 111. I’m not a pitch-count fascist, but this was the right move. Sanchez was not going to finish the game at that rate and the score was only 1-0. The Detroit bullpen kept the no-hitter alive until Danny Nava singled with one out in the ninth.
Scherzer then came out one night later and against the offense that was the best in the American League all year and he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Scherzer would leave with a 5-1 lead after seven. Between him and Sanchez, they pitched 13 innings, gave up two hits and struck out 25 batters. Unbelievable and as a Red Sox fan I felt like a hockey fan watching his team go up against a hot goalie in the playoffs. The feeling that can only be described as hopelessness.
*What else can David Ortiz do in the postseason? He had three walkoff hits in the Red Sox historic run of 2004. He hit a big three-run homer that keyed the biggest single-game comeback in ALCS history in 2008, a Game 5 elimination spot against Tampa Bay. He’s delivered countless walkoff hits throughout the regular season. Last night wasn’t a walkoff, but his grand slam in the eighth of Joaquin Benoit with two outs to tie the game sure felt like it.
*And on a smaller level, Detroit catcher Alex Avila is heating up in this series after tough season at the plate. Avila is 3-for-8 with a walk and a big two-run home run last night that should have provided enough insurance for the Tiger bullpen. On the Boston side, Dustin Pedroia had two hits last night and a stellar defensive play in the field.
Enough with the feel-good stuff. Now let’s start second-guessing one great manager in Jim Leyland and another one that looks pretty good in John Farrell. In Game 2, I think Leyland pulled his starter too quickly and Farrell was too late on the hook.
On the Red Sox side, Clay Bucholz was clearly starting to lose it. A sequence of Miguel Cabrera homering, Prince Fielder hitting a double, Victor Martinez doing the same and Jhonny Peralta hitting a loud out to centerfield should have established that. The score is now 3-0, the Red Sox are the team trailing in the series and just putting the ball in play, much less scoring a run is looking like a challenge. Farrell did not show a lot of urgency in this situation and managed it like a regular season game in June. Avila then hit his long home run to right center and the game looked over.
Now let’s come to Leyland. Why did he pull Scherzer after seven innings? The starter had thrown 108 pitches, and could surely have at least gone back out to squeeze as many outs as possible in say, 15-20 more pitches. I know when you have a 5-1 lead it should be secure, but I wonder how many Detroit fans, after watching this bullpen nearly melt down in Games 4 & 5 of the Oakland series felt that way.
Leyland’s own uncertainty could be shown in that he knew there was no one he could simply trust to get three outs. The manager emptied out his pen and got to closer Benoit in the eighth. I have no issue with how the manager used his relievers, but he went to them too quickly.
Getting six outs by mixing and matching is a lot and it underscored the fundamental divide in this series–if it’s decided by starting pitching and frontline talent in the everyday lineup, Detroit will win. If it’s decided by tight games in the bullpen, Boston will win.
I know I defended Leyland for taking out Sanchez in Game 1 with nine outs left in a one-run game, so let me clarify any inconsistency–I simply defended the manager for not managing to the no-hitter, which was not going to be possible. I would have sent Sanchez out to try and squeeze a few more outs. Although even allowing that, Sanchez is a solid #3 starter, better than the league norm at that spot. Scherzer is the probable Cy Young winner. That’s the ultimate difference.
Detroit still got a win on the road, they still have Justin Verlander lined up for Game 3 and a possible Game 7, they still have Scherzer for Game 6 (or a Game 5 on short rest) and they have three games coming up in Detroit. I’m sure Tiger fans would have taken that scenario had it been offered to them on Saturday afternoon. But no one in Boston is complaining after the way things felt late last night.
TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage also looks at the National League Championship Series after two games.