American League Championship Series – Game 3 Recap

*For more work by Zig-Zag, check out STRENGTH IN WRITING and A HERO’S JOURNEY*

American League Championship Series

            10/11/11: Game 3 – Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers

            Colby Lewis vs. Doug Fister

Tonight was a must-win situation for the Detroit Tigers.  After two tough losses in Texas (that really could have gone the exact opposite way with one lucky break), the Tigers were down 2-0 in the ALCS.  Their hopes and dreams of staying competitive in this series came to rest squarely on the shoulders of Doug Fister.  And he did not disappoint.

Delmon Young was originally supposed to be in the lineup tonight, but some soreness with his oblique made him a scratch for this game.  Hopefully, with a day of rest, he’ll be able to play in Game 4 against Matt Harrison.  But Young’s absence meant that there was no need to guess who in the lineup with hits on Lewis would be sitting today.  So Andy Dirks got the start in right field, with Ryan Raburn in left.  Good to see Raburn getting some respectable playing time right now.  Although, without Young or Ordonez in the game, there are no other outfielders on the Tigers’ bench.  So he was going to be playing no matter what.

The real surprise came at seeing Don Kelly at third base.  There was no doubt in my mind that Kelly would be playing tonight, given what limited success he’s had recently, and Leyland’s love of him.  But I would have thought Betemit, who also has multiple hits off Lewis this year, would get in the game as well.  Looks like underperforming in the ALDS has finally caught up with him, and he’ll be on the bench until further notice.

Texas played Yorvit Torrealba and Endy Chavez tonight in place of Murphy and Moreland.  Torrealba did have multiple hits off of Fister this year, but considering the way Ron Washington set up his lineups for the entirety of the postseason thus far, I had no idea that Torrealba was even playing for the Rangers right now.  So he got the call behind the plate, and Napoli became tonight’s designated hitter.  Young took over at first base, and Chavez was in left field.

1.    Pitching Recap—Tigers

Doug Fister needed to be more on his game tonight than any other start this season…and things did not look promising early.  Fister gave up three straight singles to lead off the game in the first, bringing in one run for the Rangers.  Things didn’t get much better, giving up a hit in the second and hit in the third.  A hit in the fifth, a hit batter in the sixth, and a hit in the eighth would put a lot of individual damage on the board for Fister in this outing.  But only two runs scored on those seven hits.  And Fister managed to make it into the eighth inning before turning it over to a very taxed bullpen.

Joaquin Benoit came into the game in the eighth to turn things over to the closer Valverde.  Benoit had the clean outing that’s become expected of him in that setup role.  Valverde entered the game in a save situation, in which he’s been perfect all season long.  After a quick double to lead off the inning, Papa Grande made short work of the remaining batters he faced.  He earned the save for the Tigers, giving the team new life in this series.

                a.     Pitcher Final Lines—Tigers

                        Fister—7 1/3 IP; 7 H; 2 ER; 3 K; 0 BB

                        Benoit—2/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 0 BB

                        Valverde—1 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 1K; 0 BB

                b.    Pitching Final Thoughts—Tigers

            There are only good things to say about the pitching outing by the Tigers’ staff tonight.  Doug Fister needed to be a playoff hero tonight and give the Tigers a spectacular outing.  I’d say that 7 1/3 innings certainly qualifies.  Things looked like they could get very bad in a hurry early on.  By the fourth inning, Doug had already racked up five hits and an earned run.  But even though he got hit around a little bit, the hits by the Texas players came early in counts, which kept his pitch count down considerably.  For instance, the first two hits of the game from Kinsler and Andrus came in the first three pitches.  So even though there were hits, none of them were allowed to convert into runs and Fister kept the total number of pitches down (102 pitches for 7 1/3 innings).  Which means he was pounding the strike zone, getting in on the hands of a lot of hitters to induce fly balls, and making sure that he turned in an outing that made the bullpen an essential non-factor in the game for the Tigers.  But when the bullpen did get involved, they did exactly what they’ve been doing all season long.

Benoit and Valverde both pitched perfectly out of the bullpen tonight.  Which was somewhat surprising, considering how much they pitched last night.  Benoit was probably in better shape, having only pitched 1 1/3 innings in Game 2 (which were fairly clean innings), so coming out of the bullpen for two outs tonight probably wasn’t too big of a deal.  If there was any lingering soreness from last night, it didn’t show.  Benoit did a great job.  Yes, he let Fister’s final hit come in for a run.  But doing so may have actually been a blessing.  That blessing is Papa Grande.

As has been documented (and shown in the postseason to all those who were not familiar with it), Valverde is, well, a little less than stellar when there’s no save on the line.  In Game 2 of the ALCS, the game was tied at three runs a piece when Valverde entered.  He then immediately loaded up the bases with no outs.  In a surprising twist, he managed to get out of the jam, thanks to heads up fielding by Cabrera and Avila.  But, it was still way too much trouble for the best closer in 2011.  As if to immediately show the difference, he came out tonight in Game 3, gave up one hit, and then shut down the Rangers to pick up a save.  So, technically, he is still perfect in save opportunities.

It was surprising to see Valverde pitch tonight, actually.  Yes, a reliever should be able to pitch at least two days in a row, since that’s just the kind of role that a pitcher is called on to have when pitching out of a team’s bullpen.  But considering the loaded bases and the fact that he pitched two full innings last night, I would have imagined he would have been on rest for today.  Although, I guess in those two innings he did only throw 23 pitches.  So his arm was probably good enough for the save.  It’ll be interesting to see what kind of situation is necessary in Game 4, however.  Knowing that Benoit and Valverde threw two days in a row now, if the need arises for that eighth and ninth inning bridge to the save, will it be these two out of the pen?  Or will, perhaps, two others be called upon to finish off the game?  Only time will tell, so let’s wait and see around 7 p.m.

It was  a great pitching outing for the Tigers tonight—exactly what they needed to gain a little morale and momentum with (now) two more games to play in Comerica Park.

2.    Pitching Recap—Rangers

Colby Lewis was looking to keep the pressure on the Tigers and keep his team in the game.  A 3-0 lead would have made sure that whatever hope Detroit had left of making it to the World Series was all but gone.  Lewis came into the game with a 4-0 postseason record and a 1.67 ERA.  However, his season ERA against the Tigers was just under 16.00.  So, Texas’s win tonight was completely dependent on which Lewis showed up to play.  After a clean first inning, Lewis gave up a hit and a walk in the second inning, and a hit in the third.  It was from there that trouble really set in for Lewis.

The fourth inning saw Lewis give up a home run, which allowed Detroit to tie the game.  The fifth came with back-to-back-to-back its that ultimately drove in a run, as well as a walk.  Lewis continued to be damaged in the sixth inning, as another home run and two singles drove in two more runs.

Lewis was replaced by Uehara, one of only two relievers the Rangers had not already brought into the series.  After cleaning up the sixth inning, Uehara was greeted in the seventh by a home run, ending his outing.  Darren Oliver came in next, pitching a clean seventh, and beginning the eighth.  After being replaced by Tateyama, one more hit would follow.  The Rangers were never able to come out in the bottom of the ninth, and the Tigers took home the 5-2 victory.

               a.     Pitcher Final Lines—Rangers

                        Lewis—5 2/3 IP; 8 H; 4 ER; 6 K; 2 BB

                        Uehara—2/3 IP; 2 H; 1 ER; 0 K; 0 BB

                        Oliver—1 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 0 BB

                        Tateyama—2/3 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 0 BB

                b.    Pitching Final Thoughts—Rangers

            Colby Lewis came out of the gate looking really good.  Yes, he gave up a couple hits in the early innings, but he struck out six batters rather quickly as well.  It was a combination of Amazing Playoff Lewis and Destroyed By Tigers Lewis.  Luckily he was left in long enough for the bats to come alive and pick up some runs.  The Tigers needed to be able to get some runs off of the starter, because the bullpen has just been too damn good.

Speaking of the Rangers’ bullpen, they have actually pitched more innings in the ALCS thus far than the three starters have.  That’s amazing, that your bullpen can do that much great work for your team.  Of course, that also means that eventually they’ll be taxed and unable to pitch one night.  You have to believe that’s what happened in this game.  Undoubtedly, Ron Washington did not want to use some of his great bullpen pieces once the Tigers took a 5-1 lead.  After all, why waste Ogando or Feliz or Adams in a situation where the opponent’s starter has been extra spectacular and any sort of decent effort by the opponent’s bullpen will mean a loss?  Instead, let them rest for the day and be totally fresh to pitch in Game 4, should your team get off to a good, strong start against Porcello.  Whatever Washington’s thinking was, the rest of that bullpen (except, maybe, Feldman) will be all set to go in Game 4, and (barring another poor starting performance or extra innings) Game 5 as well.  A solid strategy that now gives the Rangers a fresh(ish) bullpen for what could be the final two games of the series.

3.    Hitting Recap—Tigers

The Tigers bats came alive in Game 3, which is exactly the kind of spark the offense needed to perhaps be lively for the remainder of the series.  A Victor Martinez walk, and Jhonny Peralta single in the second got things rolling.  Austin Jackson kept things going in the third with a single of his own.  Unfortunately, no runs to show for it yet.  But that all changed when Martinez hit a solo home run in the fourth that tied the game at one.  Things only got better in the fifth, as Jackson and Ramon Santiago came up with singles ahead of a Miguel Cabrera RBI double.  Martinez would add another walk to his line before the inning ended.

Peralta kept the pressure on Colby Lewis by hitting a first-pitch solo home run in the sixth, and two batters later Andy Dirks would add a single to knock Lewis out of the game.  But the inning wasn’t over yet, as Jackson continued to have a big night with an RBI single.  The Texas bullpen that shut down the Tigers in the first two games, however, was nowhere to be found in Game 3, as Miguel Cabrera added a solo home run in the seventh, with the final hit being a Ryan Raburn double in the eighth.  The Tigers ultimately posted five runs on ten hits in this game.

             a.     Hitting Final Thoughts—Tigers

Something finally got through to these hitters.  Martinez, Cabrera, and Peralta all came up with big home runs, possibly restoring some much-needed life to the Tigers’ offense.  Everyone seemed to chip in too: Dirks, Santiago, and Raburn all had hits.  The biggest night, however probably belonged to Austin Jackson.  For someone who has 15 strikeouts already in the postseason, coming up with a three-hit night is huge.  Hopefully that’s the start of his bat turning around in the coming games.

The worst part, though, is the fact that Victor Martinez may now be hurt.  Considering that already two injuries have popped up for Tigers (Ordonez and Young), the last thing that everyone needs is for Martinez to be hurt as well.  It looked like he might have strained his oblique during the home run shot in the fourth.  Which really is the last thing this team needs.  It’s one thing for the injury to be a broken leg (like Magglio).  But when two of your better hitters just turned too sharply on hits, and that’s enough to keep them out of the lineup, something needs to be done about conditioning.  After playing for so many years, and having so many at bats, you would think those oblique muscles would be perfect for turning quickly on a ball.  Martinez better not be injured, or the Tigers are getting closer and closer to watching the World Series from home.

Of course, Alex Avila came up hitless again tonight.  You can tell he’s fatigued (although he’s still doing a remarkable job behind the plate, including throwing out runners), and he’s taken so many hits that he’s hurting as well.  But he could really use some hits or some rest, whichever will get him back in the right frame of mind and right place to do some damage for the remainder of the postseason.  At the rate this team is getting injured right now, the starting lineup for Game 5 is likely to be Jackson, Santiago, Raburn, Kelly, Dirks, Worth, Santos, Betemit, and Rhymes.  Granted, that lineup may be able to stay somewhat competitive for a few innings (and Raburn, Jackson, and Santiago would certainly be worth having in), but I would literally cringe in terror and refuse to watch the game if that was the lineup they were playing with.

Speaking of terrible players, it was nice to see everyone in Comerica last night chanting Don Kelly’s name…only to see him go hitless.  He had opportunity to earn that hero status everyone thinks he deserves right now, and he did not come through.  Oh well.

4.    Hitting Recap—Rangers

            The Texas Rangers didn’t do too bad hitting Fister, especially early in the game.  Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Josh Hamilton led off the game with singles that drove in a run.  Unfortunately, that would the only run they’d see until the eighth inning.  Yorvit Torrealba, in his first at bat in the ALCS, came up with a single in the second.  Kinsler added a second single to his night in the third, and Torrealba added a second one in the fifth.  Torrealba would stretch a single into a double in the eighth (which he was almost thrown out on), to end Fister’s night.   An RBI groundout by Kinsler would score him, and the final hit came on a Hamilton double in the ninth.  Altogether, the Rangers amassed eight hits.  They, however (just like the Tigers in Game 2), could not convert them into runs after being shut down by Doug Fister.

            a.     Hitting Final Thoughts—Rangers

            The Rangers continued to hit, and they really did hit Fister around a bit more than would have been comfortable in the early innings.  Luckily they weren’t able to do anything with those hits.  Kinsler was on base three different times (two hits and a hit by pitch), and Torrealba went 3/3 as well.  These Rangers are not shy with the bats, that’s for sure.  Everyone came to hit tonight, but the Tigers’ pitchers were just a little bit better tonight.  Although, the sheer volume of hits amassed by both teams (alone and together) makes me cringe at what we could see in the coming games.  Hopefully Porcello is on his game in Game 4 to shut down the hits.  It was a valiant effort by the Rangers, but to no avail tonight.

It’ll be interesting to see if Adrian Beltre is back in the lineup for Game 4, because he took three different balls off his left leg in his at bats tonight.  Specifically, one in the fourth inning was smacked right into his kneecap.  He looked hobbled after that, but continued to play.  Hopefully that wasn’t a mistake on Ron Washington’s part.

5.    Fielding Recap

There was plenty of worthwhile fielding tonight, including multiple double plays turned behind Doug Fister.  After three straight singles in the first, Michael Young grounded into a double play to at least give Fister a chance to end the inning with minimal damage.  Elvis Andrus erased a Kinsler single in the third by grounding into a double play as well.  This one was a bit better, since Kinsler was trying to steal second, so Peralta was already running to the bag to cover.  The ball was bounced back up the middle right to him at second base, and he had an easy catch and toss to first for the double play.

Alex Avila had a great night behind the plate, throwing out Torrealba trying to steal second in the fifth.  And everyone’s hero, Don Kelly, looked completely lost at third base tonight, as if his feet were glued to the ground or something.  It’s a shame that he didn’t feel like moving to get any of those ground ball singles that rolled between third and short.

Miguel Cabrera turned in the replay save of the night, though.  Sure, it wouldn’t have cost them the game or anything, but in the ninth he made an amazing dive to snare a ball ready to rifle into the right field corner for an easy double for Beltre.  So bravo by Cabrera for a fine performance all-around tonight.

6.    ALCS Game 3 – Final Thoughts

This was the performance that Detroit desperately needed in this series.  A statement game that makes sure Texas knows that they’re not going to go away without a serious fight.  And fight they will.  If the offense can stay alive tonight, and the injuries aren’t too debilitating just yet, then Rick Porcello could easily tie up this series.  But either way, a win tonight meant one very important thing: Verlander will pitch a Game 5 on Thursday afternoon.  Here’s hoping that the Tigers can get a win in Game 4 and play for the Comerica sweep, and series lead, come Thursday.

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