The Detroit Tigers used a breakout game from their hitters to tie up the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox at two games apiece after a commanding 7-3 win at Comerica Park on Wednesday night.
The Tigers didn't need to rely on their starting pitcher throwing a gem in Game 4. Instead, the offense set the tone early and gave Doug Fister a nice cushion to work with.
The offensive explosion came in the bottom of the second inning. Victor Martinez singled and then Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila walked to load the bases with nobody out against Jake Peavy. Odds were that Detroit was going to get some runs out of the situation, it was just up to Peavy to limit the damage.
He was able to get Omar Infante to fly out to center, but then walked Austin Jackson, allowing Martinez to jog home for the first run of the game.
The Boston Globe's Chad Finn noted just how uncharacteristic it was for Peavy to have the kind of control issues he did in the second inning:
Jose Iglesias grounded into a fielder's choice, allowing Peralta to score, making it 2-0. The grounder looked to be a possible double play, but Dustin Pedroia mishandled the ball, leaving him with only the out at second. And even that out shouldn't even have counted, as Stephen Drew was a good foot off the bag when he made the throw to first as Jackson went sliding into second.
Peavy was laboring by this point. He allowed a double to Torii Hunter that scored Avila and Iglesias to put the Tigers up 4-0. Hunter then came around to score on a Miguel Cabrera double. And just like that it was 5-0. Via Major League Baseball's Instagram page:
This is a team that had scored just six runs through the first three games and change, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The importance of that inning wasn't lost on MLB:
The Tigers weren't done, either. They added two more in the bottom of the fourth. Jackson drove in Infante on an infield single—leading to Peavy's hook for Brandon Workman—then Jackson came around to score on a single by Cabrera after stealing second. Detroit had a 7-0 lead, and there wasn't anything their bullpen could do to spoil this night.
Lions running back Reggie Bush wanted to support his Detroit brethren:
Boston was able to cut into the deficit in the top of the sixth. Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to center, scoring Mike Napoli from second, making it 7-1. With one out and runners on first and second, this could have been an opportunity for the Red Sox to get back into the game with a crooked inning.
Instead, Fister struck out Drew and got pinch hitter Mike Carp to ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning. Unlike Peavy, he was able to get out of a jam without giving up too many runs.
From the seventh inning on, the game was in the hands of the Detroit bullpen, which was a scary prospect for Tigers fans after Game 2. Things didn't start off too well, as Jacoby Ellsbury singled off Phil Coke to start off the seventh.
Coke made way for Al Alburquerque, who promptly surrendered a double to Shane Victorino, scoring Ellsbury and making it a 7-2 ballgame. After he got Pedroia out, Alburquerque was done, and Drew Smyly came in.
Smyly struck out David Ortiz and forced a Mike Napoli groundout. So once again, Boston's bats failed to come through. After Smyly's 1-2-3 inning in the top of the eighth, Joaquin Benoit came on to finish off the game.
Because nothing can ever come easy with the Tigers bullpen, Benoit gave up a leadoff, ground-rule double to Xander Bogaerts and then a triple to Ellsbury to pull the Sox to within four runs, 7-3. But Benoit was able to strike out Victorino and Pedroia and get Ortiz to fly out to end the game, evening the series at 2-2.
Key Player Grades
Doug Fister, Detroit Tigers: B+
Doug Fister did a great job of scattering hits against the Red Sox. He gave up eight hits, yet in only one inning did Boston get more than one base hit. That was in the top of the sixth, when the Sox were able to get on the board for the first time.
Fister was done after six innings, with one earned run against him. He struck out seven and walked just one. While it wasn't a transcendent performance, he did more than enough.
Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers: A
Deciding to experiment a bit, Jim Leyland opted to drop Austin Jackson to eighth and moved everyone else up one in the batting order.
Cue the sarcastic tweets from sabermetrics advocates. First up, we have Grantland's Jonah Keri:
Then there's MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince:
We'll finish up with ESPN's Keith Law:
It doesn't matter when he did it—Leyland wasn't afraid to tweak with his lineup in a major way in a pivotal game. Had it not worked out, he would have been looking at a lot of second-guessers. Instead, those changes worked out great, and Leyland looks like a supreme strategist.
Jake Peavy, Boston Red Sox: D
Nobody was expecting to see Jake Peavy circa 2007 on Wednesday night; he just needed to give the Red Sox five or six good innings before handing things over to the bullpen. Instead, Peavy couldn't even record an out in the fourth.
He gave up seven earned runs on five hits, with three walks and a strikeout. It was a poor performance all around. Peavy couldn't locate his pitches, and he dug himself a deep hole that he couldn't climb out of.
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox: C-
Take out Game 2 and David Ortiz has been really bad in the ALCS. This is the third game in which he's gone hitless. In fact, that grand slam is his only hit through the first four games.
Granted, that was a huge hit, but you have to expect more out of Ortiz. He hit .303 with 30 home runs and 103 runs batted in during the regular season. And yet, he's been largely silent for the majority of the series. More production out of Big Papi is a must for the Red Sox going forward.
The series will stay in Detroit for one more game before moving back to Boston. Jon Lester will be facing off against Anibal Sanchez. First pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Thursday.