Struggling outflielder delivers go-ahead single to help keep Tigers alive
DETROIT -- Don't let the constant smile fool you. Austin Jackson is pretty tough.
He was booed for three at-bats on Tuesday night, some of the first boos he had heard in his career at Comerica Park, and he shrugged it off. By the end of the evening, an 8-6 victory over the A's in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, he was cheered wildly twice.
"Getting booed, it's whatever," Jackson said. "I was still confident in myself and I could say my teammates were able to pump me up and make sure I wasn't going up there with my head down. Teammates pump you up, that's what you need."
So when his seventh-inning, go-ahead single fell into short right field, the remnants of his bat left in pieces around home plate as the sellout crowd rose to its feet and roared, Jackson looked in the same direction, right to the dugout. Just as he fed off teammates at the worst of his struggles, he wanted to see their reaction when everything turned.
"Looking over in the dugout and seeing how pumped up they were for me, it just kind of gave me chills a little bit," Jackson said. "Just happy to get it done in that moment."
If he can take that hit and use it as a spark for a deciding Game 5 on Thursday night in Oakland (8 p.m. ET on TBs), he can give a lot more back.
"Hopefully that gets him going," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "As you know, he's struggled in this series a little bit, but sometimes that's the magic that gets a guy going."
Struggles might not describe what he's been through at the plate. He's known for streaks and struggles. This series could have been a pit of despair if he let it.
His double to lead off Game 1 set up the Tigers' three-run opening inning, which was all the offense they needed for the victory. He had put just three pitches in play in 14 plate appearances to follow, none of them getting out of the infield, with 10 strikeouts and a walk mixed in.
Those eight hits he had over the final week of the regular season seemed like from another year.
"It was very tough for Austin the last 12 to 13 at-bats," hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said. "It was certainly not indicative of the type of season he's had. It was extremely tough for him."
McClendon wouldn't divulge the issues they had touched upon when discussing his hitting. Jackson hinted at it when asked if the mechanics of a swing can be fixed in the midst of a postseason.
"I think when it's something like that, when it's something mechanically, as far as your foot not getting down or just timing, I think you look at film and get in the cage and find the rhythm and that timing," Jackson said. "That's really the only thing you can do.
"You don't want to try to invent something that you haven't been doing, but look at film and things like that, trying to fix the problem."
He had a favorable matchup in Game 3, with a pitcher he could hit in Jarrod Parker, and couldn't take advantage. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his career off Dan Straily entering Game 4, and added three strikeouts to that total early on Thursday.
The first two came on swings and misses that riled up the crowd against him. The third was a called strike on the outside corner that riled up the crowd against the umpire.
"They were making good pitches," Jackson said. "I'm not going to get down on myself about them making good pitches on the corners. Those are pitches that you think are balls out of the hand, but they're right there on the corner.
"They're making good pitches and I think the main thing is really to just keep going up there with confidence, not get down about the strikeouts. It's baseball."
Jackson had a seemingly worse matchup in the seventh against Sean Doolittle, a left-hander who holds right-handed hitters to a .227 average with high strikeouts facing a high-strikeout hitter batting .213 off lefties this year.
Jackson fell into an 0-2 count before fouling off a 95-mph fastball. Doolittle's ensuing 96-mph heater snapped Jackson's bat, but the outfielder got enough of it to send it safely into right field and send pinch-runner Andy Dirks home with a 5-4 lead.
The next inning, his running catch in left-center on Alberto Callaspo's line drive kept the lead intact. It was a ball Max Scherzer said he thought would fall in, but Jackson -- his range in center well-known -- ran it down with help from positioning.
"At the last second, I looked in to [coach Tom] Brookens and he told me to shade him in the gap, opposite side," Jackson said. "I think he was hoping he would get a fastball away and stay on that side of the field and it worked out perfectly."
So did the evening, eventually. It just took a couple rounds of boos to get there. And as the Tigers look ahead to Game 5, Jackson is their example.
"Just keep grinding, grinding, and grinding and good things can happen. Austin is the perfect example of that," McClendon said.