American League Championship Series – Game 4 Recap

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

American League Championship Series

            10/12/11: Game 4 – Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers

            Matt Harrison vs. Rick Porcello

 

            If you’re a Tigers fan, the time to openly weep may be fast approaching.  After lighting up Comerica Park to the tune of ten hits and five runs—with three home runs—on Tuesday night in Game 3, the roar was silenced by the Rangers on Wednesday.  After going five nearly perfect innings, Rick Porcello lost it, and the Rangers jumped all over it.  It was a heart-breaking loss for the Tigers in Game 4, which means that the end is in sight for their season.  With a 3-1 series lead, Texas needs only one more to claim the American League pennant for a second straight year, and take a return trip to the World Series.

1.    Pitching Recap—Tigers

Game 4 started out with similarities to Game 1 of the ALDS and Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS: Rain.  A two-hour rain delay met these teams for Game 4’s start.  Luckily, all the pitchers came out as fresh as possible.  You never know how a rain delay will throw off the routine of a pitcher, or how cold he may get after spending the day warming up to pitch at a certain time.  Porcello was unaffected, though, as he came out with a mission.  Porcello went two perfect innings, with three strikeouts, before the Rangers put up any offense.  After giving up a hit in the third, though, Porcello got back in his groove, throwing a perfect fourth.  A single in the fifth would be the last easy inning Porcello would have, however.  Back-to-back-to-back hits in the sixth left Rick with a man on first and two runs in.  One out later, another hit would drive in the third run, putting the Rangers on top.  Rick would return in the seventh, hoping to make amends for his one rough inning.  Unfortunately, Rick would give up two more runs, and get bounced from the game after that.

Al Alburquerque came in with men on first and third.  He has not been good with trouble on the bases this postseason, and a walk loaded things up.  With serious trouble looming, Alburquerque managed to get the final out, ending the threat in the seventh.  Benoit would be out for his third straight game, but the wear and tear certainly didn’t show.  After pitching a clean eighth, he would give up a walk in the ninth.  With no damage otherwise, Valverde would make an appearance in the tenth.  With the game on the line, and no save situation in place, Valverde shockingly pitched a clean tenth inning.  But, the eleventh inning saw the end of all hope.  A double, RBI single, and three-run home run put the game out of reach, and the Tigers would take a 7-3 loss.  Phil Coke would make an appearance to clean up the eleventh, but it was too little too late.

                a.     Pitcher Final Lines—Tigers

                         Porcello—6 2/3 IP; 8 H; 2 ER; 6 K; 0 BB

                        Alburquerque—1/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 1 BB

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

                        Valverde—1 1/3 IP; 3 H; 4 ER; 2 K; 1 BB

                        Coke—2/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 0 K; 0 BB

                b.    Pitching Final Thoughts—Tigers

This loss was simply heart breaking.  There’s no other way to describe it.  Rick Porcello pitched five fantastic innings, and racked up six strikeouts along the way.  He had a great sinkerball, was getting groundouts galore, and was just doing everything right.  Until the sixth.  Then he lost it.  Why he lost it, I have no idea.  I’d be inclined to give a lot of credit to the Rangers’ offense, though.  They have just been unstoppable as a whole this series.  No matter how many runs they actually put on the board, their hit numbers are always high.  A pitcher has to be as good as Porcello was through eight, not five, if he wants to keep this offense at bay.  Credit definitely goes to David Murphy, however.  He sat last night due to Torrealba’s numbers against Fister, and came out swinging tonight.  He claimed the first hit off of Porcello in the third, and the first of the rally in the sixth that just caused everything to go to hell.  Actually, considering how many hits Rick gave up, it’s sort of surprising there weren’t more runs to go with it.  He did a great job of limiting the damage when he was in trouble.  Too bad the offense didn’t show up…again.

Alburquerque just keeps coming into trouble this postseason.  And before last night, it never ended well.  Buck and McCarver made a comment during the telecast about how Leyland wanted to give him a low-pressure situation to come in and get some of his confidence back.  Yeah, this wasn’t it.  If that was his plan, then Alzheimer’s must be settling in or something, because he clearly forgot.  Personally, Alburquerque got lucky tonight.  Things could have gotten ugly in a hurry (ask Robinson Cano).

Benoit has just been spectacular in relief.  And he keeps coming in for more, even though his arm has to be ready to fall off by now.  That’s three straight days of multiple-inning relief appearances, and he’s been great in each and every one.  If only he were protecting a lead, instead of keeping the game tied in two of those contests.  Either way, he’s been worth every penny of that 3-year, $16.5 million contract that he got last offseason.  Another great job by Benoit.

Which brings us to Valverde.  Once again, for a guy who likes to play the numbers and the lefty-righty matchups and all that other stuff when it comes to hitting, Jim Leyland often just completely forgets about one very important statistic: Jose Valverde has a 5.81 ERA and .282 opponent batting average in non-save situations.  If he weren’t so great in save situations, I don’t believe he would actually be on a major league roster.  Because if you are putting up numbers like that all the time, then you have no business pitching in major league baseball.  What’s worse is that after one smooth inning, he was put back out for a second!  Yes, he pitched two innings in relief in Game 2 and did much better than expected.  Yes, he got the save in Game 3.  But he’s not invincible.  And with numbers like that in non-save situations, it was going to catch up with him eventually.  Coke would have probably been a better choice for the entirety of the eleventh inning.  Of course, if this offense could have put up just one run in the eighth, then the whole course of the game would have been different.

Speaking of Phil Coke, I was so upset by the Valverde choice that I forgot Coke even pitched.  Of course, he did great in his two-thirds of an inning.  Why he wasn’t out there for the whole inning, I have no idea.  But hey, hindsight is 20/20.  What started as a great outing by Porcello, and a pretty impressive outing by the middle relief/setup, turned into a disaster.  This one was a really tough loss, and I can only hope that this team bounces back in the games to come.

2.    Pitching Recap—Rangers

The Tigers needed to get to Harrison early and often in this game to make sure that they had a solid lead built up going into the late innings.  Once that bullpen comes in, it’s pretty much lights out.  Harrison got into some trouble early, with two walks in the first, but he got out of it and pitched a clean second.  The third inning, however, was when the tide looked to be turning.  Two singles and an RBI double met Harrison, and the Tigers were quickly up 2-0.  But that would be the end of any offense for the Tigers against Harrison.  A walk in the fourth would do nothing, and Harrison would pitch five strong innings before turning things over to the outstanding bullpen.

Alexi Ogando was out to meet the Tigers in the sixth, and things started to look bad.  A walk in the sixth was easily pitched around, and it looked like Ogando would put together yet another multi-inning outing of just sheer dominance.  Fortunately for the Tigers, perfection never lasts (unless it’s Valverde in save situations this season), and Ogando gave up a solo home run to tie the game in the seventh.  Adams followed up Ogando’s performance with another strong inning, giving up only an intentional walk and a single.  Darren Oliver looked to make amends for the damage against him in Game 3 by pitching a clean ninth.  Scott Feldman made a return appearance after 4 1/3 innings of relief work in Game 2, and only hit a batter.  Finally, Neftali Feliz would finish off the game, giving the Rangers the 7-3 victory and a 3-1 series lead.

                a.     Pitcher Final Lines—Rangers

                        Harrison—5 IP; 3 H; 2 ER; 3 K; 3 BB

                        Ogando—2 IP; 1 H; 1 ER; 2 K; 1 BB

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

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

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

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

                b.    Pitching Final Thoughts—Rangers

This is just getting sad.  These starting pitchers for the Rangers have not been going very deep into games, and yet the Tigers have done nothing about it.  So many wasted opportunities to knock some runs in off of these starters.  Harrison had three walks that were wasted.  He only struck out three, which means the other 12 outs were lazy fly balls or weak groundouts.  Give him credit, though, for hanging tough for five innings.  I don’t know how much any given game is actually pitcher vs. pitcher (even though the game is always advertised as such), but if there is that mental component to it, and a need to stay right in step with the opposing starter, then Harrison did a great job.  No one could have known that Porcello would get hit around in the sixth, so through five innings Harrison was almost as good.  He only gave up three hits, he only gave up two runs, and the walks never turned into anything.  So it really was a nice, strong outing by Harrison.

Then, of course, there is the Rangers’ bullpen.  By now everyone in the Tigers’ dugout has to know that that bullpen is going to shut them down completely.  And yet they try to do nothing against the starter.  Before the home run in the seventh, Alexi Ogando had gone eight straight innings of postseason relief work without giving up an earned run.  While that number certainly wouldn’t be as impressive during the regular season, in the postseason it’s a killer.  If you have a reliever like that who can just come into the game for two innings, pick up the slack for your starter, and keep the other team off the board (almost guaranteed), you are going to win baseball games.  This shouldn’t have been a pitching duel, but the Rangers’ offense turned it into one, and Alexi Ogando kept everything nice and close.  Even with the home run given up, he still pitched fantastically.  I’d say that there’s now hope that he will not pitch in Game 5, but it wouldn’t matter anyway (as Verlander will be pitching for the Tigers in that game).  But he will be ready to go in Game 6 at the very least.  And in Texas, in what could be the series-clinching game, there’s no one I’d rather have in relief for a couple of innings than Alexi Ogando.

Adams, Oliver, and Feldman simply needed to bridge those one-inning gaps and get to the closer (if he was needed).  The only tricky part for Oliver and Feldman was that bridging those gaps came in the bottom of innings where one mistake meant the end of the game.  Yet they kept their cool and pitched perfect innings.  One thing the Tigers could learn is how to do this offseason is go after some relievers that will provide stability no matter what the situation.  Perhaps they can steal some from Texas.

Neftali Feliz should be giving Valverde lessons on how to pitch.  Or, how to pitch consistently.  Whether it’s a save situation or not, a closer should be bringing his best stuff.  He shouldn’t be phoning it in to the tune of a 5.81 ERA.  While I know it’s likely the Tigers pick up Valverde’s option for 2012, I’d personally rather have a guy who is going to pitch well no matter what, even if he blows a couple of saves, rather than a guy whose pitching depends on the situation he’s brought into.  Feliz is the way a closer should be.  Valverde is the way a closer who needs a save should be.  You can argue about which one is better.  My opinion: Feliz.  Anyway, another wonderful outing for the Texas bullpen that has continued to put down the Tigers’ hitters.

3.    Hitting Recap—Tigers

The Tigers managed only five hits during this game, a night after they had put together ten hits.  Things looked like they’d get rolling early, with first inning walks to Jackson and Cabrera.  The offense didn’t get rolling until the third inning, though, when two singles by Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn brought up Miguel Cabrera.  Things looked like they’d turn out well when Cabrera blasted a two-run double off the left-center fence.  Unfortunately, that’s where the offense stopped until the seventh.  A walk by Jhonny Peralta in the fourth would do nothing, and the Tigers would take a 3-2 deficit into the seventh.  The hero was Brandon Inge, who knocked a solo home run off of Alexi Ogando to tie the game up at three.  The eighth would see an intentional walk to Cabrera and a single by Victor Martinez, but that would be it for the Tigers’ offense.

          a.     Hitting Final Thoughts—Tigers

This was a poor showing by the Tigers’ offense tonight, after they had done so well in Game 3.  Five hits are not going to win you a ballgame.  Yet that’s all they could manage.  I know that both Delmon Young and Victor Martinez are now nursing sore/strained oblique injuries.  And Alex Avila’s knees are hurting.  But Cabrera is healthy, Peralta is healthy, Raburn is healthy, Jackson is healthy, and Santiago is healthy.  Yes, two of your bigger bats are aching right now.  But everyone else needs to step it up.  Your best hitter is completely healthy, and he can barely put together any offense.  He’s perked up a little bit the last two games, but he’s going to need to get back in the mindset of carrying the team on his back for a couple more days.

There is also a desperate need for production from the less-prominent players.  Yes, Inge came up big with a home run last night.  Yes, Jackson had a three-hit game in Game 3.  Yes, Raburn had the 3-run home run in Game 2.  But one of those guys stepping up per game is not nearly enough.  Right now, at least two per game are going to have to get it done.  If not, then this series will be over shortly.

4.    Hitting Recap—Rangers

The Rangers, on the other hand, managed to put up quite a bit of offense, even if they couldn’t get it rolling until late in the game.  David Murphy got things started in the third with a double.  Mike Napoli managed a single in the fifth, and then Murphy got things really rolling in the sixth.  Murphy started with a single, which was followed by an Ian Kinsler RBI double.  Kinsler stole third base, and Elvis Andrus singled to score him and tie the game at two.  Two batters later, Michael Young hit a single that scored Andrus, giving the Rangers the 3-2 lead.  The seventh inning was more of the same, with a Murphy single, a Torrealba single, and a Kinsler walk.  Fortunately for the Tigers, none of those base runners scored.  But the Rangers would come back with some more offense in the deciding eleventh inning.  Josh Hamilton doubled, Adrian Beltre was intentionally walked, Mike Napoli hit an RBI single, and finally Nelson Cruz, the man of the series, hit a three-run home run that sunk the Tigers for good.

          a.     Hitting Final Thoughts—Rangers

All the Texas Rangers seem to do is hit the baseball.  Even when a team puts up a masterful pitching performance for more than half of regulation.  It’s amazing how they make adjustments between at bats, and then every single one of them just comes out and hits.  It wasn’t just Cruz’s three-run home run, either.  They manufactured runs the old fashioned way.  They combined singles and doubles to drive in runs.  And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be done.  Good teams will hang around and keep on pelting you with hits, not just hit long balls.

What worries me most about this team (especially now that the Tigers are down 3-1 in the series) is the fact that they can do that kind of picking away at even the best pitcher.  And with the best pitcher in baseball throwing in Game 5, they’ll have that chance.  Not even Verlander is safe from the onslaught.  I just hope that the Tigers can build a lead and protect early on.

5.    Fielding Recap

There was a lot of great fielding in this game.  That made a lot of the difference in the early goings.  Whether it was double plays, diving stops, or great catches, they were present in abundance.  In the very first inning, Brandon Inge proved why he’s better than Don Kelly at third base by making a very Inge-like dive that stopped what would have otherwise been a single.  The bottom of the first saw a Jackson walk erased on a double play behind Harrison erased it immediately.  Santiago continued the fielding action in the second with a diving stop of his own to take away another hit and keep Porcello perfect through two.

Rick Porcello had both the best and worst fielding plays of the night.  In the fifth, he fielded a Nelson Cruz ground ball that was shot back at him, getting the double play at second and first.  However, in the sixth, he tried one too many times to keep Elvis Andrus at first and threw away the pickoff.  Elvis Andrus made a great leap at short stop to snare a ball that would have dropped into left field just behind him otherwise.

Jhonny Peralta made a very Inge-like bare-hand grab on a slow roller to get the out at first in the eighth.  Miguel Cabrera was thrown out at home by Nelson Cruz when he tried to extend Martinez’s single into an RBI.  The ninth inning saw Nelson Cruz picked off second by Benoit while he was trying to steal.  Finally, in the tenth, Austin Jackson was thrown out trying to steal second.  Plenty of wonderful fielding by both teams tonight, keeping their pitchers and offenses in the game.

6.    ALCS Game 4 – Final Thoughts

This was a tough loss for the Tigers, and a great win for the Rangers.  Even if they’re beat by Justin Verlander in Game 5, the Rangers only need one win in order to move onto the World Series.  The Tigers, on the other hand, now must win the last three games of the series.  It’s a tough task, and I’m just not sure they can do it.  Two of the big bats are hurt, our all-star catcher is banged up, and no matter how well the starting rotation pitches, Texas finds a way to stay in games and win.  I hope that the Tigers can win.  But I will not be surprised at all if Game 6 turns into the last hurrah of 2011 for the Tigers.  (Of course, with J.V. going in Game 5, it’s a lock…I hope.)

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