Prince Fielder is on the verge of not being remembered fondly by Detroit Tigers fans this season.
The first baseman went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Tigers' 2-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of the World Series Saturday night (Oct. 27). He is now hitting 1-for-10 in his past three games, failing to produce when the Tigers need it most.
Fielder became a Detroit sports fan favorite the moment he signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers in late January. He further endeared himself to Tiger Town by bringing some joy to the team by sharing jubilant postgame handshakes and celebrations with Miguel Cabrera.
Oh, and Fielder also hit .313 with a .940 OPS, 30 home runs and 108 RBI. That made him pretty popular with Tigers fans.
All of that is quickly being forgotten with Fielder's feeble postseason performance—especially with how poorly he's played in the World Series. Including his hitless Game 3, Fielder is now batting .188 (9-for-48) in the playoffs with one home run and three RBI.
Considering how he's playing when the stakes are highest and a World Series championship was within reach, Fielder might have the dreaded "choker" label affixed to him after this season is finished.
Personally, I'm not a fan of saying an athlete "choked" or calling him or her a "choker." It seems harsh, maybe even cruel, to me.
But there are instances in which the term applies. For instance, if a basketball player misses a game-tying free throw in the final seconds. Or if a golfer misses a putt in the late stages of a tournament. Perhaps it fits a hockey player who dekes a goalie out of position but then can't put the puck in an open net. In the heat of the moment, he seized up.
Yet if "choker" is the label used to describe someone who collapsed under pressure, then perhaps it's appropriate for Fielder and his postseason failures.
Hitting into a double play with two runners on to end the first inning in Game 3 could be called a choke.
Not sliding to the outside of home plate in the second inning of Game 2 when Giants catcher Buster Posey wasn't blocking his path—and getting tagged out as a result—could be called a choke.
If Fielder provided any sort of run production at the plate for the Tigers, their division series against the Oakland Athletics likely wouldn't have been extended to its full five games. And if he came through with a big hit—preferably a home run or extra-base hit that drove in a run—Detroit might not be facing elimination and a four-game sweep in the World Series.
Such harsh scrutiny probably shouldn't directed solely at Fielder, however.
However, in the Tigers' three games in this World Series, Cabrera is 2-for-9 with one RBI. In Game 3, he had an excellent chance to boost those RBI totals during the fifth inning. The bases were loaded—albeit with two outs—but Cabrera popped up a high fastball to shortstop to end what was arguably Detroit's best scoring threat of the game.
So is Cabrera a choker? Popping up to the shortstop—a puny result in a crucial RBI situation—might deserve that label.
The batter in front of Cabrera, Quintin Berry, could also be criticized for striking out in that bases-loaded situation. His 0-for-3 performance with two strikeouts should warrant a benching for Game 4. In a do-or-die game, Tigers manager Jim Leyland can't afford to have such an ineffective hitter near the top of the order.
But Berry isn't expected to be a major run producer for this team. Cabrera and Fielder are.
If this was the regular season, a 1-for-10, 2-for-9 or 9-for-48 stretch would be called a slump, not a choke.
So this is all about the surrounding circumstances and the stakes that come with them. Fielder and Cabrera's failings are happening at the worst possible time for the Tigers, when the most is on the line for them.
Tigers fans won't hold a grudge against Cabrera. He has five seasons worth of goodwill established with Detroit, during which he's been one of the best hitters in MLB. He has two batting titles and now a Triple Crown among his career accomplishments in a Tigers uniform.
Fielder obviously has a strong résumé based on his seven seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. That earned him his $200 million contract. But he hasn't yet earned the same affection from Tigers fans, if for no other reason than he hasn't been in Detroit as long.
The poor World Series performance will linger over Fielder through the offseason and perhaps into spring training. With a new season, his poor postseason will become a bad memory—especially if he puts up another year of 30 to 35 homers and more than 100 RBI. But if the Tigers are in this position again, Fielder will need to produce.
For his sake—and the Tigers'—he'll have to redeem himself at some point during the next eight years of his contract.
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