Pressure all on punchless Tigers after Game 3 ALDS loss to A's
DETROIT -- Pressure? Do you want to talk about pressure getting to the Detroit Tigers? Fine. Let's go straight to the bottom of the ninth inning of their 6-3 loss to Oakland on Tuesday, when Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez and A's closer Grant Balfour starred in the exact opposite of a romantic comedy.
Martinez looked at Balfour. Balfour asked: "What the (expletive) are you looking at?" Martinez said "Expletive you, expletive!" Two of the expletives were the same -- showing that, if nothing else, these two men share a love of the language. What did it all mean? Well, it's none of your expletive business.
But since you asked ...
It could mean that the A's are so far into their opponents' heads, they decide what the Tigers order for takeout. It could mean that, with Oakland leading this best-of-five American League Division Series 2-games-to-1, the Tigers are feeling the weight of a city that expects them to win the World Series, while the A's are feeling the weightlessness of being the underdog.
Yes, it could mean that. It sure looks that way. But if Detroit goes on to lose this series, the story will not be one guy walking toward the pitcher's mound. It will be a lot of guys who couldn't find home plate.
The Tigers have played 27 innings in this series. They have gone scoreless in 25 of them. And maybe nobody is built to win that way, but this team is really not built for it, and Game 3 showed why.
Miguel Cabrera, hobbling and now below adequate at third base, misplayed a bad hop, leading to an unearned run. (Failing to catch it was understandable, but if Cabrera had been in better position, he could have kept the ball in front of him.)
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta was in leftfield, playing as out of position as the "h" in his name, because the Tigers are desperate for offense. He short-armed a throw home, allowing a sacrifice fly. Peralta admitted the fly ball surprised him at the last moment, leaving him flat-footed; the throw was weak enough that teammate Torii Hunter, one of the nicest men in baseball, gently said he would not comment on it. That was a throw that an infielder makes when he tries the outfield. You see it sometimes in spring training, but rarely in October.
The A's also scored four runs on three home runs off Anibal Sanchez, and if you say that they are just as good as the Tigers and this series was always a 50-50 proposition, I say: You are correct. That was the case last year, too, when Detroit beat Oakland in a five-game ALDS that easily could have gone the other way.
That is the point. The Tigers must do the things they are supposed to do well -- like, you know, hit the ball. They need great starting pitching, which they have gotten in two of their three games, and power hitting, which they have not gotten at all. The Tigers finished second in baseball this season in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and finished first in hits. The numbers will naturally go down in the postseason, because the opposing pitching is better and the weather is colder.
But 24 scoreless innings out of 27? Three extra-base hits in 95 at-bats? This is an enormous problem for a Tigers team that faces more pressure than any other team in the playoffs.
Wait. Did I say that word again?
"Pressure?" catcher Alex Avila said. "This is the third year in a row we're in the playoffs, and it's always a question. This is what we live for. It's not even in our minds."
They are not pressing, OK? They swear to it. Avila said it. Prince Fielder said it: "I think we're gonna win. That's about it. Nothing too deep." Cabrera said it: "We know what we have. We have to get ready to play tomorrow. "
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said something prophetic and true last week. He was asked about the difference between a five-game and seven-game series, and he said the big one was this: In a five-game series, if you lose a game you should win, you probably won't recover.
For Detroit, that was Game 2, when Justin Verlander threw 7 shutout innings but Sonny Gray outdid him with eight. The Tigers could have won that game with two big hits. Instead, they find themselves on the verge of elimination.
"You just have to win," Fielder said. "There is no formula. You just gotta go out there and win. There is no one way to do it. However you can get it done, get it done."
The Tigers' way of getting it done usually involves balls landing on the other side of the fence, or at least bouncing out to the warning track. They have not looked like that team in this series. Cabrera is clearly not himself, but he is only one player. The lineup should be deeper than one guy. It's hard to describe exactly what has happened to the Tigers' hitting. But I suspect Balfour and Martinez have a word for it.