Rangers' mistake proves costly as Cabrera, Tigers cut into ALCS lead
Not walking Miguel Cabrera in the fifth was a critical miscue for the Rangers
Doug Fister pitched one of the most meaningful games in Tigers playoff history
Plus, the five best candidates to be player-managers and more thoughts
1. It was either a huge breakdown in communication or in execution, but the Texas Rangers lost ALCS Game 3 on an inexcusable mistake, one so bad they had trouble getting their story straight after a 5-2 loss to Detroit Tuesday.
The game turned in the fifth inning with two outs, the score tied and runners at first and third with Miguel Cabrera due. The Rangers, rightly so, are so aware of not letting Cabrera beat them that in Game 2 they walked him to load the bases in a ninth-inning tie. It worked when Neftali Feliz retired Victor Martinez on a pop-up.
Martinez was batting behind Cabrera again in this case, but this time it was an obviously diminished Martinez. He tweaked a muscle in his right side while hitting a home run in his previous at-bat, an injury so obvious he could hardly run around the bases, causing him to apologize to catcher Yorvit Torrealba in case it appeared he was Cadillicking the homer.
As Cabrera came to bat, Mike Maddux, the Texas pitching coach, visited pitcher Colby Lewis on the mound to spell out the scenario in crystal clear language: Cabrera should not see a hittable pitch because Martinez was hurt.
Asked if Lewis knew about Martinez's physical status, Maddux said, "We explained it."
But when Lewis was asked by reporters if he knew Martinez has tweaked his back, he replied tersely, "No."
Huh? How could he not know?
But here's a hint into Lewis' macho mindset on the mound: he had retired Cabrera twice already with sliders (one strikeout, one weak grounder), so he said, "He took two bad swings against me. I wasn't worried about his third at-bat at all."
Oh-kay then. The bottom line was that the Rangers wanted no part in giving Cabrera a good swing there. Asked if that was the assessment by the staff, Maddux nodded and said, "A base was open."
Lewis actually got ahead of Cabrera 0-and-2. What he was doing was walking himself further into a trap. He went to a fastball away and left it up. Cabrera is too good of a hitter with plate coverage that is too good for Lewis to get away with a mistake like that. Cabrera lashed it for a tiebreaking double, and the Tigers were on their way to getting back into this series.
It should have never come to that. There's no way Cabrera can get a pitch to hit with an infirm Martinez on deck. The whole ballpark knew it. And yet it happened.
There have been only seven games this year in which a starting pitcher beat the Rangers without walking a batter. Doug Fister has done it twice.
With textbook control and the audacity to pound fastballs inside on Texas hitters, Fister pitched one of the most masterful and meaningful games in Tigers postseason history. Game 3 was as close to a must-win game as you get in the postseason without actually facing an elimination game. Down two games to none, and with a short bullpen, the Tigers needed length and effectiveness from Fister.
And just how big did he come up for Detroit? This big: taking the ball into the eighth inning, he became only the fifth starting pitcher in Tigers history to win a postseason game without a walk. The others did so in World Series games generations ago: Jack Morris (1984), Denny McLain (1968), Tommy Bridges (1934 and 1935) and Schoolboy Rowe (1934).
Fister was so good he blew up several cords of bats and threw only 28 balls to 27 batters.
"I love watching him pitch," Justin Verlander said. "He pounds the zone with movement. I'm telling you, it was one of the biggest pickups of the year, and the big thing is we have him for four more years. This is not some rental. He's been amazing."
Asked how Fister could claim ownership to the inside of the plate with a fastball that general sits at 91 mph, catcher Alex Avila said, "Because he has so many looks with it. He has that sinker that drops and that two-seamer that he can also run in on their hands, and then when you don't expect it he can ride that four-seamer up and in. He throws a lot of two-seamers and then he'll throw a four-seamer when they expect it to move out of the zone and they take it for a strike."
After Martinez did his Kirk Gibson home run trot and finally made it back to the dugout, he took off his helmet -- with his left hand, while his right side was aching -- and fired it into the ground. He looked done, not just for the night, but for the postseason.
Martinez, though, received some treatment and took some swings gingerly in the batting cage, reaping the restorative rewards of being a DH. He took one swing the rest of the night and it was actually decent, resulting in a fly ball out to center field. Of course, he could wake up today and feel worse -- which is how teammate Delmon Young came to be knocked out of the lineup for Game 3 after playing Game 2 with a sore oblique.
But Martinez wasn't having any of that possibility. Asked if he would play Game 4, Martinez replied, "If I wake up tomorrow and I'm dead, that's the only way I don't play [Game 4]."
Nice way to put it -- sort of like how he explained what it's like hitting behind Cabrera, who often gets avoided by opposing teams.
"I don't really care what the opposing managers do," he said. "I always prepare to be hitting. I want to be hitting with runners in scoring position. Having Miguel in front of me is actually kind of sad. One swing of the bat and he clears the bases."
With games now being played four days in a row -- Games 2 through 5 -- at some point Tigers manager Jim Leyland is going to have to find another relief pitcher to get big outs other than Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. Leyland once again managed a sharp game in Game 3, never trying to squeeze an off day out of Benoit while trying to use somebody else with a 5-1 lead. It wasn't a game with which to mess around.
But somehow Leyland is going to have to get Al Albuquerque back into the mix. What was a weapon during the season has become a liability, but if Leyland can somehow find a spot with wiggle room -- sixth or seventh inning with a solid lead -- he needs to restore Albuquerque's confidence, or at least try.
In the meantime, the scope of the relief outing by Ryan Perry in Game 2 -- four batters faced, four runs charged against him and the loss -- needs some historic perspective. Only two pitchers in the postseason ever have faced at least that many batters without getting an out and having all of them score and charged to his record.
Josh Hancock of the 2006 Cardinals and Dick Coffman of the 1936 Giants faced five batters, all of whom scored and were charged to their line. Perry is the only one with such a 4-for-4 implosion.
White Sox manager Kenny Williams dropped a supreme compliment on first baseman Paul Konerko when he revealed that he briefly considered Konerko for the role of player-manager, an assignment that has disappeared from the game for a generation. There have been 113 player-managers in baseball history, but none since Pete Rose from 1984 through 1986.
Indeed, Rose capped something of a golden age for player-managaers. He was the fourth player-manager in a nine-year period, following Don Kessinger of the White Sox (1979), Joe Torre of the Mets (1977) and Frank Robinson of the Indians (1975).
Where have all the player-managers gone? The consensus is that the game has become much bigger than it was in the 1970s, especially in terms of media responsibilities. "It could happen," said one GM, "but I can't imagine how difficult it would be. Think about the conflicts alone: trying to tell teammates they're playing or not playing, contract clauses . . . Both jobs are difficult enough to do alone, let alone both at one time. It would take a special player, an inconic player in his market, and probably not one of the bigger markets. A guy like Ryan Braun late in his career."
With Konerko off the board for now -- how Robin Ventura reacts to the grind of the job will be interesting -- who are the current players who at least have the profile to be a player-manager? Here are the five best candidates:
1. Michael Young, Rangers. He fits the bill: iconic player, media savvy, baseball smart. Hey, it could be a case of keeping himself in the lineup to get 3,000 hits, the way Rose did to pad his record hit total.
2. Omar Vizquel, Mariners. He turns 45 next year and can still play in a part-time role. He's due back with the White Sox, but he's beloved in Seattle, his original organization and adopted home.
3. Chipper Jones, Atlanta. Having a switch-hitter with power on the bench in the NL is a nice perk, and the guy had to learn something playing all those years for Bobby Cox.
4. Kurt Suzuki, Oakland. He's only 28, so this one is a longer term projection. But managers aren't that important in the Oakland flow chart, so why not?
5. Michael Cuddyer, Minnesota. He can play multiple positions, knows the game well, has the right temperament and personality, and has been part of the Mom-and-Pop Twins organization for 15 years.
SI Now: Make or break year for Danica Patrick
SI Now: Russell Simmons on the benefits of meditation for athletes