American League Championship Series – Game 6 Recap

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

American League Championship Series

            10/15/11: Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers

            Max Scherzer vs. Derek Holland

 

This just hurts.  Everything that happened in this game makes me want to cry like a baby.  The hit that the Tigers took.  The fact that the Rangers are just an amazing team.  All of it is so heart-breaking.  So let’s just jump right in and let everyone enjoy or despise the beating that was Game 6.

Max Scherzer was looking to turn in the performance of a lifetime for his team.  A win tonight would have tied the series for the Tigers, and sent their arguably best postseason pitcher to the mound in Game 7.  On the other side was Derek Holland, who only lasted 2 2/3 innings in Game 2 of the series, with the Tigers driving up his pitch count early until he couldn’t be counted on anymore.  Both pitchers, especially Holland, were on short leashes tonight, according to their managers.  Neither Leyland nor Washington was going to take a chance and let a victory slip away.  Little did either expect that despite the short leash, Max Scherzer would still get beat up, in what would become the inning that decided the game.

1.    Pitching Recap—Tigers

            Scherzer started off very strong.  He wasn’t clean, but he was doing well.  Scherzer gave up a single and stolen base in the first, and a double and walk in the second.  The third, however, is when things got out of control for Max.  A walk, a single, an RBI double, an RBI singe, and two more walks—all in a row, without adding an out—would end Scherzer’s outing, and give the Rangers a healthy lead.

Daniel Schlereth would enter the game for the first time in the ALCS to relieve Scherzer.  Things would continue to decline for the Tigers, as Schlereth gave up a hit to the very first (and only) batter that he faced, which drove in two more runs for the Rangers.  Rick Porcello would enter the game after that, and was just about as effective as the two pitchers before him.  A double, an intentional walk, and a second double (with two batters reaching on fielder’s choice plays in between), with four RBIs, would put the Rangers up 9-2, and knock Porcello out of the game.

Ryan Perry was up next, and finally closed out the third inning.  Perry allowed a single and stolen base in the fourth, a bunt single in the fifth, and a sacrifice fly and RBI in the fifth.  Brad Penny would finally see some pitching action (after not pitching for the entire postseason) now that the game was out of hand.  He gave up a double, intentional walk, and two RBI singles in the sixth.  The seventh would be just as bad for Penny, as a solo home run, single, two-run home run, walk and single would chase him from the game.

Al Alburquerque would be the Tigers’ final pitcher, and surprisingly the best one of the night, only giving up a walk in the seventh.  The game finally ended after all that, giving the Rangers a 15-5 victory and the American League Championship for the second straight year.

                a.     Pitcher Final Lines—Tigers

                        Scherzer—2 1/3 IP; 5 H; 6 ER; 1 K; 4 BB

                        Schlereth—1 BF; 1 H; 1 ER; 0 K; 0 BB

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

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

                        Penny—1 2/3 IP; 7 H; 5 ER; 1 K; 2 BB

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

                b.    Pitching Final Thoughts—Tigers

            I don’t even know where to begin with how poor the pitching was for the Tigers tonight.  Or, perhaps that’s not fair.  I couldn’t really tell if the pitching was poor, or if the hitting was just spectacular.  Let’s say both, because it almost looked like someone had told the Rangers’ staff before the game exactly what pitches would be thrown, exactly who would come into the game, and exactly what needed to be done to just tack on run after run.  I mean, how is it that twelve straight batters reach base in one inning?  When four different pitchers take the mound?  It’s unbelievable.  And pretty pathetic, especially considering the gravity of the game.

Scherzer, like I said, started out pretty okay.  The couple of hits in the first two innings were unfortunate, but hardly a problem for the Tigers.  I just don’t understand how the Rangers made such an unbelievable adjustment the second time through the lineup.  After the first out of the inning by Kinsler, things looked pretty good.  Then everyone else reached base.  It was an infuriating sight, and I can’t believe Scherzer was any happier.  It was not the kind of outing that was expected of Max.  And, I’m not even sure that Bad Max actually showed up.  The Rangers were just that good tonight, and nothing was going to stop them.

I do wonder what was going through Leyland’s mind when Schlereth came into the game.  As I said during the ALDS, to me, Schlereth comes into the game and I lose interest.  Why?  Because it would seem that Leyland is conceding the game.  I know that things were grim, with the Rangers up 6-2, but considering both of the Tigers’ runs to that point were home runs, the bats were ready to roar again.  Which seems to me more than enough reason to bring in someone you can really, really count on to shut down the opposition.  If he was looking for that lefty-lefty matchup, why not get Phil Coke throwing?  Then Porcello could have come in to start the fourth and kept the game close.  Instead it was Schlereth, and the game continued to unravel.  Like I said, I don’t know what was going through Leyland’s mind.  Maybe he’s seen something in Schlereth that I do not, because he certainly called his number in a very make-or-break situation in this game.

Speaking of Porcello, I think Rick could have used a fresh inning, and not gotten involved in the midst of that third inning bloodbath.  He was about as good as everyone before him in the game, and that’s truly unfortunate, because he certainly hadn’t pitched poorly in the postseason thus far.  But getting knocked around like that after you were supposed to stop the bleeding certainly can’t be good for the psyche.  Even if you did want Porcello to pitch, give him a chance to make a clean start in the next inning.  Let Perry come out first and finish things out in the worst inning of recorded history, ever.

Brad Penny hasn’t seen any action during the postseason.  He was the number five starter in the rotation, at best, and was never anything special during the regular season.  You never knew if you were going to get a solid outing, or a less than stellar performance.  Plus, a solid outing for Penny was really five innings, not the six or seven you’d expect from a starter on even a mediocre day.  Tonight was just awful, no matter what way you look at it.  Maybe it’s because he hasn’t seen game action since the regular season ended.  Or maybe it’s because no matter who came into the game, the Rangers were going to beat the life out of him.  But five runs on seven hits in not even two innings’ worth of work is just beyond unacceptable.  Granted, at the point Penny came into the game, the Tigers were down 10-4.  But even that isn’t totally out of reach just yet.  It’s close, but not quite out of reach.  Then Penny made some bad pitches.  Actually, I think Penny is probably the only Tigers’ pitcher that actually threw bad pitches.  With the others, it was just the Rangers being able to hit what was given to them and play small ball for run after run.  With Penny, there were two home runs given up.  Home runs are often given up on bad pitches.  The simplest mistake (especially to Michael Young and Nelson Cruz, who hit the home runs) will cost you dearly.

Al Alburquerque did, however, look like all he needed was a no-pressure situation to get his mojo back.  After all of those high intensity relief appearances, coming into the game so far down that it can’t possibly matter what you do really helps a guy get back to normal, apparently.  Alburquerque was the only pitcher with a fairly clean outing.  Too bad it came way too late to be of any use.

It was a wonderfully poor job by the Tigers’ pitching staff tonight, and a just plain wonderful job by the Rangers’ hitters in this game.  That’s all there is to it.

2.    Pitching Recap—Rangers

            The Rangers staff came out tonight looking for a starter to finally go deep, and the bullpen to continue the amazing work they’d done thus far.  Holland was looking for a bounce back from Game 2…and didn’t quite get it.  A single and solo home run would greet Holland in the first, and a second home run would follow in the second.  Holland would only allow a single in the third and a single in the fourth, but in the fifth he would be met by a two-run home run.  That home run would end Holland’s evening, and bring in Scott Feldman to clean up the fifth inning.

To start off the sixth, the Tigers would have to face Alexi Ogando.  Up 10-4, however, it didn’t matter what kind of performance Ogando turned in.  Yet he still came up big.  A single in the sixth would be the only damage before Adams would relieve him in the eighth.  Adams gave Tiger fans just a glimmer of hope, giving up a solo home run and a single, but that was to be short lived.  Neftali Feliz would enter the game in the ninth and finish off the Tigers once and for all, giving the Rangers the 15-5 win and the American League Pennant.

                a.     Pitcher Final Lines—Rangers

                        Holland—4 2/3 IP; 7 H; 4 ER; 5 K; 0 BB

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

                        Ogando—2 IP; 1 H; 0 ER; 3 K; 0 BB

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

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

                b.    Pitching Final Thoughts—Rangers

            Honestly, Holland wasn’t all that great tonight either.  The Tigers were ready to hit against him…they just didn’t do it nearly enough, and certainly didn’t get any breaks on the other side of the ball.  But still, Holland gave up three home runs and seven hits.  That’s not all that much better than Scherzer’s performance.  Holland was even bounced before he could pick up a win.  That’s not the kind of outing you want from a starter, even if it isn’t a situation like Game 6 of the ALCS.  Holland probably has a lot of work to do during the offseason and spring training if he’s going to help out his team in 2012.

Of course, when you have a bullpen that’s as great as the Rangers’, then it doesn’t matter what your starters do, because you’ll still win the game.  I’m actually amazed that the Ranger bullpen isn’t gassed by about the all-star break.  With as many innings as they had to pitch this postseason, they must work an unbelievable amount during the regular season.  Of course, the clear number one in that bullpen, Alexi Ogando, was a starter this year.  So having him as a starter probably helped considerably.  I guess that actually brings up an interesting question: Why didn’t Ogando make the postseason rotation?  I know that he was great out of the bullpen in the 2010 postseason, and he certainly fit in nicely there during 2011.  But he was just so lights out coming out of the pen that I can’t believe he was the obvious guy to drop to the pen for the postseason rotation.  Given the way things have developed, C.J. Wilson, the “ace” of the Rangers’ staff seems like the better choice to only be pitching one or two innings a game.  Holland did nothing of any real merit in the ALCS that makes it seem like he belonged in the starting rotation.  It really seems like Ogando got shafted on his chance to start.  I’d rather see Ogando pitch seven or eight innings every fourth day in the postseason than see Holland and his dirty mustache come onto the field.

It was the Rangers’ series to win or lose tonight, and their team came through.  The hometown fans in Arlington had to love what they saw, and were undoubtedly proud of their team.  It was another stellar outing by the bullpen, even though the starter did a less than adequate job.  Good luck to the Rangers in the World Series.  (Go Cards/Brewers.)

3.    Hitting Recap—Tigers

The Tigers were ready to come out tonight and hit, that much was obvious.   Austin Jackson led the way in the very first inning with a single.  After that was erased on a double play by Ryan Raburn, Miguel Cabrera made an early statement with a solo shot to right-center field.  Things looked good, as the Tigers rolled into the second with a solo home run by Jhonny Peralta.  Even in the third Ramon Santiago hit a single.  It really did look like they were going to bounce Holland early, with a solid lead for the team.  Victor Martinez added a single of his own in the fourth, and a Brandon Inge single in the fifth was followed by a two-run home run by Jackson.

Even when the bullpen came into the game, the Tigers didn’t stop hitting.  Martinez added a single in the sixth, and another in the eighth after a second solo home run by Cabrera.  If only it had been enough, but it wasn’t and the Tigers fell 15-5.

            a.     Hitting Final Thoughts—Tigers

            As I said, it really did seem like the Tigers were going to come out and make a statement.  They came up with two home runs in the first two innings, and added a few more hits as the game progressed.  If not for the Rangers’ third inning, it would have been likely that Holland would have been chased in the fifth down 4-0.  That would have been exactly the kind of game that the Tigers were looking for.  In fact, the offense did exactly what it was supposed to when it came to Holland.  Too bad the Rangers’ offense did more, and did it better.  Overall, a five run, ten hit night is certainly not bad.  But when compared to a seventeen hit, fifteen run night from the opposition, it is a terrible effort.  The only complaint would be that this was the offense desperately needed in Game 1, Game 2, and Game 4.  It was too little too late, and when you become so hot or cold with your offense you may win battles, but you will lose the war.

4.    Hitting Recap—Rangers

            The Rangers were certainly on their hitting game as well, tonight, and even more so than the Tigers.  Elvis Andrus got things rolling in the first with a single, after which he stole second.  Nelson Cruz continued to own the Tigers with a double, and David Murphy continued with a walk.  The third inning was the true turning point of the game, however.  After an out to start the inning, Andrus came up with a walk.  Josh Hamilton singled, Michael Young hit a two RBI double, and Adrian Beltre an RBI single.  Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz walked, Murphy added a two RBI single, and Gentry reached on a fielder’s choice.  Ian Kinsler hit a two RBI double of his own, Andrus reached again on a fielder’s choice, Hamilton was intentionally walked, and Young hit another two RBI double.

Things didn’t stop there, as Murphy came up with a single in the fourth, and stole second.  Kinsler reached first base on an error, Andrus laid down a bunt single in the fifth, and Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly for an RBI.  Into the sixth, Beltre hit a double, Murphy was intentionally walked, and Gentry and Kinsler both hit RBI singles.  The seventh inning saw a solo home run from Young, a single by Napoli, a two-run home run by Nelson Cruz, a walk to Murphy, a single by Gentry, and a walk to Kinsler.  When it was all said and done, the Rangers racked up 15 runs on 17 hits to rout the Tigers and end the Championship Series.

             a.     Hitting Final Thoughts—Rangers

            Good grief.  How does a pitching staff allow a team to bat around in two different innings in the same game?  That’s just asking for trouble.  I think what I disliked most about this Rangers team (and what ultimately gave them the series) was the fact that there were no weak spots.  There were no players in the lineup that could help a pitcher out of a jam.  For instance, the Tigers have Brandon Inge, Omir Santos, Wilson Betemit, Austin Jackson, and Don Kelly.  All of these guys are almost guaranteed to be outs.  That’s what makes an inning where the eight, nine, and one hitters are up for the Tigers so worthless.  Also, the fact that the Rangers play small ball really annoys me.  Granted, that’s how you just keep the pressure on and destroy the confidence of an entire pitching staff.  But it’s just so annoying to have to deal with, and is certainly unkind to a pitcher.  Jerks.

I don’t understand why Leyland continued to pitch to Nelson Cruz.  Honestly, he should have been intentionally walked every time he came to the plate.  Of course, he just had to add another home run to his playoff numbers tonight.  There was an article posted on the “Sports Day DFW” Rangers blog before last night’s game about how the Tigers, and trades made by former Tigers’ General Manager Randy Smith, were indirectly responsible for bringing Nelson Cruz to the Rangers, and thus being the instruments of their own demise more than a decade later.  (Thanks to DesigNate Robertson for the link to the STORY.)

5.    Fielding Recap

            Fielding was atrocious on the whole, judging from the lopsided score.  But there were a few good plays.  The Rangers managed to turn two double plays, both instigated by Ryan Raburn.  Brandon Inge made a great diving stop in the third that robbed Kinsler of a single (and made it seem like the third inning was going to be much better than it turned out to be).  Both Al Alburquerque and Brad Penny threw wild pitches, and Penny’s turned into an RBI opportunity for the Rangers.  Ryan Raburn committed a costly error in the fifth, but Alex Avila managed to throw out Elvis Andrus while he was trying to steal second.  It was not the best played game on the defensive end for the Tigers, and the Rangers were fairly solid by comparison.

6.    ALCS Game 6 – Final Thoughts

            This one hurts.  Growing up, I was never much interested in sports.  In college, I began liking college football, and certainly got invested into my Michigan Wolverines.  But even that experience wasn’t that big of a deal, because there are so few games during the season.  It’s hard to get really emotionally invested in a team when they only play twelve games, and one loss can be difference between a postseason or not.  With baseball, it’s much different.  I started watching the Tigers on T.V. during the 2006 postseason and got hooked.  Since then, every summer I’ll sit down and watch at least 150 of the 162 games played.  That’s a lot of baseball, and a lot of time to really get to know the players on the team.  To seem them succeed, to see them fail, to see them bounce back from slumps—it’s a lot of time and energy for a fan to invest in one team.  It’s nice to be rewarded for loyalty with a trip to the postseason, and a potential World Series championship.  But it hurts just as much to watch your team fall apart when they need to hold it together the most.  Game 6 was a tough loss, and I know every Tiger fan is disappointed that things had to end now, in this way.  But it was a great season, and I know I’m certainly looking forward to 2012.  After all, almost all of the Tigers’ players are under contract next season.  Which means that this team will come right back and look to make a loud statement in the A.L. Central and beyond.  Let’s go Tigers.

As for the World Series, expect to see a couple of updates, but not this level of analysis.  I’ll be interested to see who wins, and will probably turn on a game now and then.  But I won’t be giving it the attention I would if my Tigers were there.  I hope no one can fault me for that.  But keep checking back for more baseball analysis during the offseason on trades, contract negotiations, and the big names looking for new homes.  And in just four short months we’ll have spring training, as well as the third World Baseball Classic, which I will be keeping a close eye on.  After all, when most of your favorite MLB team comes from one country, and will likely be called on to play for that country against the world, you’ve suddenly got a second team that you’re rooting for to succeed.

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