Detroit's sluggers strike out with runners on first and third in eighth
DETROIT -- Torii Hunter ripped an eighth-inning single off Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa and could hardly contain himself upon reaching first base. He was excited. In yet another American League Championship Series game in which runs would be at a premium, the Tigers had an ideal scenario while trailing by a run with five outs left -- runners on the corners, one out, and arguably the best 1-2 combination in baseball due up.
What came next was the last thing Hunter expected:
"That's surprising," Hunter said Tuesday night after the 1-0 Game 3 loss that put the Tigers down, 2-1, to the Red Sox and left them lamenting missed opportunities. "You're talking about the best hitter on the planet, and Prince is pretty good up there. But that's a credit to those guys on the mound. They made good pitches when they needed to, and we couldn't do much with it."
John Lackey pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings and three Red Sox relievers -- Craig Breslow, Tazawa and Koji Uehara, respectively -- recorded the final seven outs to shut the Tigers out for only the seventh time all season at home.
Asked if the loss was a byproduct of Red Sox pitching or missed opportunities, center fielder Austin Jackson said: "A little bit of both."
The Red Sox were lights out, spoiling a dominant Justin Verlander start that saw him give up only a Mike Napoli homer in eight innings. But the Tigers went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and missed out on a few premium opportunities to get on the board.
In the first, Hunter hit a one-out single and Fielder did the same to put runners on the corners with two outs, but Victor Martinez flied out to center. In the fifth, Jhonny Peralta led off with a double and moved to third on Alex Avila's groundout, but Omar Infante struck out and Andy Dirks grounded out. In the seventh, Martinez hit a one-out single and moved to second on Avila's two-out walk, but Infante grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice. And in the ninth, after Martinez led off with a single, Peralta grounded into a double play that set up Avila's game-ending strikeout.
But it was the eighth inning, particularly the strikeouts of Cabrera and Fielder, that stood out most.
"That's part of the game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "You don't do it every time."
Cabrera's strike-zone awareness is among the best in the game, but against Tazawa, whom he had faced only four other times, most recently in June -- the reigning Triple Crown winner was noticeably jumpy.
He swung through a 94-mph fastball down the middle to start the at-bat, then swung through one well up and away, took another one for a ball and chased a 1-2 fastball that was about three inches off the plate for his second strikeout of the game.
"I was swinging at balls out of the strike zone," Cabrera said. "That makes it an easy out."
Red Sox manager John Farrell considered attempting a five-out save with his closer, Uehara, but noted Cabrera's history against him: Two homers in four at-bats.
"And particularly after the base hit the other way by Torii to put them in the first-and-third situation," Farrell added, "we felt power was the best way to go there. Whether he climbed the ladder away from him late or just stayed hard with him, it was a pivotal moment. You're getting the best guy in baseball at the plate, trying to preserve a one-run lead, and that was a swing moment for sure."
With Fielder up next, Farrell finally turned to Uehara, who got the Tigers' cleanup hitter to pop out in the ninth inning of Game 1. And Fielder never stood a chance. He fouled off an 89-mph fastball high and away, swung through an 89-mph fastball low and away, then whiffed on a devastating 81-mph splitter that tumbled below the strike zone.
"It's pretty tough," Fielder, 8-for-29 in the playoffs, said of Uehara's splitter. "That's why he's there. You just have to wait, and when he makes a mistake, you gotta hit it. If not, you're probably out."
The Tigers ranked second in the Majors in OPS with runners in scoring position during the regular season, their .806 clip trailing only the Cardinals' .865. Fielder had a solid .282/.371/.453 slash line with runners in scoring position, and Cabrera's .397/.529/.782 line was absurd.
But in Game 3, they couldn't come through, and one Verlander mistake wound up being the difference.
"We got opportunities to try to score and we didn't do our jobs," Cabrera said. "We have to come tomorrow ready to play and try to get [Tigers starters] some run support."