Groundhog Day: Leyland won't entertain 'what if'
Former Tigers skipper knows 2013 ALCS outcome vs. Boston can't be changed
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland retired as Tigers manager with the third-highest win total in franchise history, three consecutive American League Central crowns and two pennants. He did not get the World Series title he sought for his longtime organization.
Leyland's last chance sailed out of Fenway Park with a pair of grand slams in the 2013 AL Championship Series -- one from David Ortiz in Game 2, the other from Shane Victorino in Game 6. It's the former that haunts Tigers fans, and might for years to come.
Leyland remembers seeing Victorino's drive headed to right, hoping Torii Hunter could make a game-saving catch. He saw Hunter disappear over the short fence and Ortiz rounding the bases. Ortiz's shot off Joaquin Benoit tied the game, but it essentially swung the series.
"Had we won that game," Leyland admitted last week, "we probably would've gone to the World Series."
Like the Groundhog Day film, Leyland can relive that night all he wants. He cannot change the end result, which is why he doesn't play a lot of what-if scenarios in his head.
"I'm not going to change what I did and say I'm sorry that I did that," Leyland said. "Had I known David Ortiz was going to hit a home run, yeah, I would've walked him. That doesn't bother me."
Leyland had his bullpen lined up the way he wanted in Game 2 once starter Max Scherzer told him the skipper he was done after seven innings of two-hit ball. With a 5-1 lead, Leyland had lefties and righties to go batter for batter. Whether he had his best matchup for Ortiz will be long debated.
It shouldn't have gotten that far. Three other relievers could've avoided it. Jose Veras, the right-hander Detroit acquired at the July non-waiver Trade Deadline, retired Stephen Drew to start the inning, then gave up a double to No. 9 batter Will Middlebrooks.
Lefty Drew Smyly, who allowed a .189 average (23-for-122) to lefties that regular season, put Jacoby Ellsbury in a 1-2 count before losing him to a walk. With Victorino and Dustin Pedroia due up, Leyland turned to strikeout artist Al Alburquerque while getting Phil Coke and Benoit warming in the bullpen.
Alburquerque fanned Victorino, but Pedroia -- 0-for-4 with a strikeout previously against Alburquerque -- hit a ground-ball single to load the bases.
Ortiz was 2-for-18 with four strikeouts for his career against Coke. However, Coke hadn't pitched since Sept. 18, and he had missed the AL Division Series while recovering from a groin injury.
"He was up, and a lot of people thought, 'Well, maybe you bring him in for Big Papi,'" Leyland said. "But I was just scared he hadn't pitched for so long, and I thought, 'Well, you get him up and if something bad happens, then I've still got him for lefties down behind him.'
"I decided to do just what [Red Sox manager] John Farrell decided to do: He went five outs with [closer Koji Uehara], I think a couple times. And I just went with what I felt was my best pitcher."
Benoit gave up 14 home runs in 2012, but he yielded just five in '13. None had come from Ortiz, who was 3-for-15 with four strikeouts against him since '05.
"I wasn't thinking home run," Leyland said. "If he gets a hit, OK. I thought Benoit could obviously get him out. I felt comfortable with him getting him out. He had a combination of pitches that were good enough to get him out."
It was a fastball-changeup combination. Benoit started him off with a changeup.
"He was looking for a changeup. He got one," Leyland said. "But if Joaquin gets it where he wanted to, he probably wouldn't have hit it."
It didn't sink their spirits, Leyland said, but it boosted Boston's. To Leyland, however, the next game was the turning point.
"Was it an impact game? No question about that," Leyland said. "If you want to say I let it get away, say I let it get away. I don't care how people want to look at it.
"People forget, we still came out of there with a split, and we went home to our ballpark with Justin Verlander with a 1-1 tie in the series and we got shut out, 1-0. And I thought that game, on top of Game 2, that was really a killer for us."