Red Sox win Game 5 on Mike Napoli homer and Tiger miscues: Griffin
DETROIT-Arguably the greatest pure hitter in the game today, the playing very hurt Tigers' third baseman Miguel Cabrera proved lame at most other aspects of the game than swinging the bat on Thursday, contributing some alarming miscues early on to a 4-3 loss vs. the Red Sox at Comerica Park.
The confident Sox have now taken a 3-2 ALCS lead, needing just one more win at home on the weekend to advance to the World Series for the first time since 2007. Even as poorly as the Tigers played, they hung around and almost came back to tie. The biggest missed opportunity to come all the way back from four early runs down was in the seventh when Jose Iglesias and Torii Hunter led off with singles, but Cabrera grounded into a double play and Prince Fielder bounced out to second base -- and was booed.
“I still just don't think we should be booing him,” Hunter said of his teammate, who has one hit in his last 11 at-bats. This is our home. This is supposed to be a positive atmosphere. You shouldn't boo none of your players, especially when we're out there giving our all. He's hitting the ball but they've got their super shift on that's not normal and they're taking away his hits. He's had some tough pitches but you can tell he's trying to shoot the ball to left field. He's doing the best he can.”
Cabrera, who will likely repeat as AL MVP, had a hit and a walk and collected the first RBI. His double play produced the third run, it's not enough. Cabrera is playing with strains of his hip flexor and abdomen and a sore groin that would likely have him on the DL if it was regular season. but he drags himself out there every day to play third base. The lack of mobility has caught up with him. He may be a liability in a backs-to-the-wall big picture.
“Everybody knows that he's playing under some really, really tough conditions right now,” manager Jim Leyland said. “It's tough for him on certain pitches and I think you see it on the bases, which was part of the play tonight that happened. It is what it is but he's certainly not a guy that I'm going to move around or take out of the lineup. He's a threat, particularly going to Boston with the Green Monster. He's a threat to hit one.”
The incident on the bases to which Leyland referred came in the first inning. With two outs, Jhonny Peralta grounded a hard single into left field. Third base coach Tom Brookens and Cabrera combined to mess up the moment. Brookens, who deserves the most blame, waved him around third as he would a normal runner, suddenly throwing up a late stop sign after the ball was fielded cleanly. But he knows Cabrera is operating on a hat-trick of painful body parts and can't make those normal quick stops and changes of direction, so the big man kept going into the valley of death, approaching the plate in slow motion. Out by six strides he leaned into catcher David Ross hard, without sliding.
“Sometimes you think you've got to score with two outs, that's the old baseball thing,” Leyland said. “With Miggy, you've got to hold him up right away. Tommy was waving and in defence of him, the natural instinct is to wave right away. You don't want to stop him too quick in case something happens in the outfield. It's hard to get him going again, but he held him too late.
“With Cabrera right now you have to be cautious. He probably made a mistake by just not holding him a little quicker. It was a touchy one, but with Miguel's status right now, you pretty much almost have to play safety first. You can't really take any chances.”
Limping back to his position to start the second, Cabrera turned to watch as Mike Napoli launched a 460-foot blast halfway up the bushes in centre field that serves as the batter's eye. The next ball was a bad-hop grounder between Cabrera's legs for an error. Anibal Sanchez, the Game 1 winner, spun and fired a pickoff throw that eluded Fielder. No harm. But in left field, with two outs, non-left fielder, Peralta loped after a double that landed softly on the warning track. Can they win with that defence?
A third run scored in the inning on a Jacoby Ellsbury liner that deflected off Sanchez' glove, then the hard-nosed Ross evened a personal score for the earlier Cabrera collision. The Sox catcher left third on contact on a grounder directly to a drawn-in infield. He was easily out by an even wider margin than Cabrera, but threw his full weight into a crushing shoulder block on catcher Alex Avila.
Cabrera will keep playing at Fenway Park, but we cant be sure the same is true of Avila. In the fourth inning, in a separate moment from when trainers came out to check him following the collision with Ross, the Tiger catcher absorbed a foul tip that shook his mask free and staggered him momentarily with home plate umpire Dale Scott doing incidental housework as Avila shook off the cobwebs.
But not for long. In the bottom of the fourth Brayan Pena pinch-hit for Avila. The Tigers announced an inning later that Avila left the game with a patellar tendon strain to his left knee and is day-to-day. No mention of the foul-ball off the facemask.
“I didn't think it was a dirty play at all,” Avila said of Ross's late shoulder. “Just a good hard play. My foot kind of got stuck there and twisted weird or hyperextended weird and just sprained that tendon. I would have done the same thing. I've had a lot of big guys coming at me. That's part of the game. He's trying to do everything he can to get a run. I'm trying to do everything I can to stop it.”
The Tigers added a run in the sixth on a Pena single to centre and then another on the seventh inning DP by Cabrera. At what point does continuing to play Cabrera in his physical condition hurt the Tigers more than help them? They have their two most dominant starters going at Fenway Park in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. These guys deserve the best defence on the field, because as Leyland often points out, when you strike out so many guys, it runs up your pitch count. It's not just the errors with Cabrera at third base, it's plays not made. He positions himself shallow because he can't come in on balls so there are base-hits to either side. That adds extra pitches to the two aces.
“I think it's like (Dodgers manager Don) Mattingly said, we have to win one game, that's obvious,” Leyland said. “We have to win one game and take it from there. We've got to win one game.”
Even with their two top pitchers on the mound in Boston, things are not looking up for the Tigers. History says no. In the 28 years years since 1985 when the ALCS went to a best of seven format, all four teams that had been tied 2-2 that won Game 5 have advanced to the World Series. The last time an ALCS was tied two-all was in 1993, as the Blue Jays beat the White Sox and went on to face the Phillies. John Farrell is in the driver's seat.