Manager Jim Leyland's lineup shuffle wakes Tigers sleeping bats in ALCS: Griffin
DETROIT-Tigers manager Jim Leyland, all his years working in the game, has been known as a great communicator with his players. He does not like to greet them with surprises and, as such, when he had made the decision to juggle his batting order for an important Game 4 of the ALCS, a 7-3 victory for Doug Fister over the Red Sox on Wednesday, he made sure everyone affected received an early morning text on their changed roles.
Centre fielder Austin Jackson has been used to batting leadoff all year. He was being dropped down to the eight-hole in the batting order. The text message from his manager became a wake-up call – both literally and figuratively.
“I was in bed when I got the text,” Jackson recalled. “I was asleep and that's what woke me up. It's kind of weird to wake up to that text message. I was thinking (a change) was probably going to come sooner or later. I think it worked out for the best. I was thinking (I would not be playing).”
Jackson had been hitless in his last 11 at-bats and was 1-for-13 in the ALCS against the Sox. For the entire post-season he was batting .091 and had struck out 18 times in 33 at-bats. In Wednesday's key victory that evened the series at two games apiece, Jackson was 2-for-2 with a pair of walks. With the bases-loaded in the third, he drew a base-on-balls that produced the game's first run. Later, he singled twice and walked again in his final plate appearance, finally able to breathe easily again.
“After the (bases-loaded) walk, that definitely made me relax a little more,” Austin admitted. “It was a big situation right there to try and get something done. After I'd seen a couple of pitches I was able to take some deep breaths and relax a little bit and not worry so much about the result. Try to get a good pitch, make sure you're seeing the ball and take some good swings when you get your pitch.”
To compensate for Jackson dropping down to the eighth spot, Leyland simply moved everyone else up a spot in the batting order, meaning the hobbled, yet still powerful Miguel Cabrera was batting second, with Torii Hunter leading off. Hunter, the veteran right fielder talked about his reaction.
“Lloyd McClendon (the hitting coach) actually texted me and he told me that I was leading off,” Hunter said. “And I was like, 'Really?' I told him I hadn't led off since 1999, buy, hey, if Skip wanted me to do it, I work here and that's my boss so I respect authority.
“Leyland has a meaning behind everything. In 51 years in this game, I'm pretty sure that he's picked up some wisdom along the way. You really can't question a guy like that. You can always second-guess him, but he knows what he's doing and you saw today. It kind of created havoc for us. We were able to relax and change the mindset.”
It was almost as if Leyland had taken his new-batting-order from the playbook of Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons, looking eerily similar to the Jays strategy after Jose Reyes was injured long-term in Kansas City in April. The slight difference was that the immediate controversy with Leyland's revised lineup was in having the hobbled Cabrera, his best power hitter, but struggling to get around, batting second. It's much the same style of debate that centred around Jose Bautista hitting second in a Reyes-less lineup.
“I was laying on my couch at home (Tuesday) night watching the Dodgers and the Cardinals and I kept thinking,” Leyland said. “Because I didn't disagree with anybody saying we needed something. I felt like fans, members of the media, myself, probably the players, if the truth be known (all agreed). I think something had to be done. I thought about it long and hard.”
The Tigers had scored a total of just six runs in the first three games of the series with their regular lineup, including a 1-0 loss in Game 3 and a 1-0 win in Game 1. Then of course there was the David Ortiz slam that tied Game 2, the only time they had produced runs and that turned into a loss. Prior to Game 4, Leyland had described his hopes for the dramatic lineup juggle to come.
“I think I'm actually doing Austin Jackson a favour,” Leyland had said when announcing the changes. “He's getting kicked around pretty good right now. During the season you bench them for a week or something. There's not anything like being benched in the post-season. I mean we scored one run and no runs in two of the games. It certainly can't hurt. Maybe it wakes you up a little bit.”
Wake them up it did. In the second inning, facing Jake Peavy, they scored five runs and two more in the fourth, then holding on as the bullpen negotiated its way through the final nine outs. After Jackson's walk opened the scoring, Dustin Pedroia bobbled a potential double play ball for an RBI fielder's choice. Hunter doubled just inside the third-base bag to drive in two more. Cabrera singled for a 5-0 lead in the second. The lineup looked like inspired genius. Cabrera, Jackson and Hunter ended the game with two RBIs each. The Tigers scored more runs than in the previous three games combined.
But given the notorious inconsistency of the bullpen, Detroit continued to try and pile it on. In the fourth, Jackson singled off Pedroia's glove for his second RBI, then stole second and was sacrificed to third, coming in on a Cabrera groundball single to centre. Up 7-0, Cabrera stole second base uncontested. Look for that play to be remembered somewhere down the series line.
The Red Sox managed to score one run against Fister in the sixth and then worked their way deep into the Tigers bullpen, scoring another in the seventh against three Detroit relievers. In the eighth inning, reliever Felix Doubront drilled Alex Avila in the ribs with a fastball.
With closer Joaquin Benoit on the mound in the ninth, in a non-save situation, Xander Bogaerts doubled and Ellsbury tripled off the first-base bag over Fielder's head. But the righthander settled down and made sure Ortiz was not going to be the tying run when he came to the plate to end the game on a flyball to right. It was the first time Benoit faced Big Papi since the game-tying grand slam in Game 2.
The series continues with Game 5 on Thursday night.
“We keep grinding, we keep fighting, both teams," Hunter previewed. "Trust me, nobody's out there laid back and not want to win. We want to win. This is a battle. The Red Sox -- 97 wins, won the AL East. Big Papi over there, they've got some good guys over there. Great pitching. Look at our ballclub, the same thing. Veteran presence, we've been around, we know how to turn pages. So it's going to be a grind. Guys can really play."