October 20th, 2013

How Game 6 turned against Tigers

The more Tigers players talked, the more the sense emerged that if they won Game 6 Saturday night, they loved their chances at winning Game 7 behind Justin Verlander.

“Absolutely,” Don Kelly said. “Fenway’s a great place to play. It’s fun. It’s exciting. But to have Max and Ver going, you feel good about your chances.”

Verlander himself felt pretty confident, too.

“I felt confident in the way I’ve been throwing the ball lately,” he said. “I obviously wanted the opportunity.”

But then, Omar Infante thought, they might not be in this position if they had won Game 2.

“I think the second game, we have to win that game,” Infante said. “That happens in baseball. Sometimes you have to get lucky.”

Call it luck, call it skill, call it fundamentals. Whatever terms you use, though they credited the Red Sox with making the big plays, this was a series with regrets.

“In my years in the postseason, if you make mistakes, they get magnified and they cost you,” Hunter said. “We made mistakes. We can’t do anything about it, nothing about it. It’s tough.

“We can always look back and think of certain situations, certain pitches, certain situations we didn’t come through in. You can always look back and second guess. We probably should’ve won at least one of these games, and it should’ve been 3-3, but why? It’s over with. You can’t do anything about it, can’t take it back, it’s over. It’s tough. Tough for me. The door’s closing.”

Said Justin Verlander: “I felt like we put ourselves in a position. I felt like we were one or two plays away from going to the World Series. It just didn’t happen. I think when you get to this point in the season, it’s one or two plays, especially against a team that’s as good as the Red Sox. I feel like we were just as good as those guys. It was just that kind of series where a couple things went their way and they won those ballgames.”

That said, Alex Avila wanted to make sure credit went to the Red Sox.

“As disappointing as the loss is, we can’t be upset on how we played, how hard we played,” he said. “They’re a great team over there, they played their ass off too. I think fans got everything they could ask for in this series.”

That said, if you’re going to look at the plays that cost the Tigers, there were a few on Saturday:

1. The Prince Fielder rundown at the plate

This is one case where the replay looked stranger than real life. As Victor Martinez tried to continue a rundown between first and second, Prince Fielder seemingly froze going home. Whether Dustin Pedroia would’ve had a play at the plate had Fielder kept going is a question, but he had no play by stopping.

“I was trying to keep us out of the double play,” Fielder said, “and once I saw Pedroia tag him I kind of got stuck there – and it was a double play anyway.”

The rundown might well have kept the two-run inning, the only scoring inning for the Tigers on the night, from becoming something bigger.

2. The Austin Jackson pickoff

Jackson was not going when he was on base in the fifth inning, before Jose Iglesias hit into a double play. He was caught off base, however, in the seventh by reliever Brandon Workman.

“Just trying to be too aggressive right there,” Jackson said. “It just happened, I don’t think it was necessarily a deal breaker or anything but it was definitely not the right time to be that aggressive.”

3. Xander Bogaerts

Three times in as many chances, Max Scherzer moved ahead in the count against the rookie third baseman: 0-2 in the third inning, then 1-2 in the fifth and seventh. All three times, he worked the count full before reaching base. His fifth-inning double ignited the two-out rally for the first run of the game. His seventh-inning walk, which included some pitches that Tigers fans are vehemently arguing are strikes, led to Scherzer’s exit.

4. Jose Iglesias’ error

Say what you will about what impact Bogaerts’ walk had on that play, forcing Iglesias to look to turn two. It looked like Iglesias’ positioning right behind the bag at second might have led him to expect a different bounce, perhaps off the bag.

If not for that, Iglesias said, “We probably finish that inning there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it done. It would be a huge double play if we turn that one but we didn’t.”

5. Jose Veras’ hanging curve

Shane Victorino took the first curveball he saw from Veras and then fouled off the second, a nasty pitch in the dirt. Veras wanted to bounce another one but left it up just enough for Victorino to make contact.

“We wanted to bounce the ball,” Veras said. “It was down but it was supposed to bounce the ball, breaking ball in the dirt. He made the adjustment. Today was the big hit for him. Sometimes you have to tip your hat. He dived a little bit and he hit it.”

In other words, right pitch, wrong location.

“He hadn’t done much with breaking balls this series,” Avila said, “and you have to give him credit for hitting it hard. That’s really it. …  Ideally you maybe want it a little lower, something if he’s going to swing, he’s not making contact. But I know Veras and he was trying to make a very good pitch there. It was a little bit up which allowed him to get some good wood on the ball but he hadn’t been hitting very many breaking balls either and you have to give him credit, too.”