Cabrera out at home, Avila dazed at home and Tigers on the brink

by | Oct 18, 2013 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

You go through a stop sign, you get pulled over. The Tigers began this night with a bad baseball play – Miguel Cabrera fruitlessly running into an easy tag at the plate – they continued it with a violent baseball play – Boston’s David Ross plowing into catcher Alex Avila like a bull slamming into a phone booth -and they ended it with a demoralizing double play, Cabrera deflating a two-on, no-out rally in the seventh with a tepid grounder. It was seven straight outs after that. Game over.

Out at home. It was not the Tigers’ finest night and not Cabrera’s finest night, this misty, cold, sometimes-rainy Game 5 at Comerica Park. But then, this was no longer the first episode of the movie, the one where nobody knows nobody and every Tigers starter throws five hitless innings.

This was the follow-up, the sequel, second time through the rotation, best-of-three to the pennant. And Anibal Sanchez, who was so mystifying to Boston in Game 1, seemed as familiar to them now as Indiana Jones’ fedora.

Last Saturday, Sanchez threw six innings, no hits, no runs.

Thursday night, he threw six innings, nine hits, four runs.

Out at home.

“I think there’s something to be said for that,” manager Jim Leyland had said before this 4-3 defeat when asked about the Red Sox seeing Sanchez for the second time in a week. “In the Oakland series, we had not seen Sonny Gray, and the first time around he chewed us up pretty good. The second time around… he wasn’t as good and we had seen him.”

Sanchez had not faced Boston all season, and he was stellar on Saturday, but solved on Thursday. He had to do some slick pitching just to keep Boston within reach. The Red Sox ran better, sacrificed better, defended better. All the little things. The Tigers did their best to keep it close. But playing from behind can wear you down.

Detroit clawed from 4-0 to 4-1 to 4-2 to 4-3. But it stopped there. And now it’s on the road for the rest of this series – however long that is.

Out at home.

A difficult start

“It was another good game,” Leyland said afterward. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Still, if this proves to be the Tigers’ final game in Detroit this season, there were parts you want to forget. Cabrera – who never has to apologize for anything baseball-wise – nonetheless will try to do a lot of forgetting this morning. He hit into a double play during a seventh-inning rally. He bobbled a ball that led to an unearned run in the second. But his baserunning gaffe in the first set the “missed-chance” theme of the night.

It happened at a bad time, karma-wise. Two men on, two out, crowd jazzed up. Jhonny Peralta delivered again, a single to leftfield and Cabrera left second base and kept going past third. Maybe a speedy guy, if he gets a jump, if he’s building steam, if the outfielder has a notably bad arm, can race home and beat a throw from where Peralta hit it. But none of that fit this moment. For one thing, Cabrera is so banged up, he needs to hit it over the wall to achieve more than a single. Besides, he had no great jump and has no real speed.

Yet here he was, coming stiffly around third.

Third-base coach

Tom Brookens initially waved him on, then put his hands up. Stop! But Cabrera kept going right past him, leaving Brooky like that guy at the end of “Animal House” who keeps yelling “Stay calm! All is well!” as the entire town runs over him.

Cabrera headed toward catcher Ross, who had enough time to draw a sign, “Welcome Home, Miggy!”

Carbrera was out by 10 feet, the Tigers were out of the inning – instead of bases loaded – and the karma was pointing south. Afterward, Leyland partially blamed Brookens.

“With Miggy, you pretty much have to hold him up right away,” Leyland said. “(Brookens) probably held him up a little bit late. … He probably made a mistake.”

Moments later, in the top of the second, Sanchez gave up a solo home run to Mike Napoli, then Cabrera botched a grounder, allowing Jonny Gomes to reach first. Gomes would eventually score, the Red Sox eventually would put up three runs, and the Tigers would be playing catch-up the rest of the night.

Miggy out at home

Still, here they were, trailing only by a run in the bottom of the ninth. But Brayan Pena, Austin Jackson and Jose Iglesias went down 1-2-3, and Game 5 ended one run short, and the Tigers, down three games to two in this American League Championship Series, are officially out of wiggle room.

It was a night where fortunes reversed, where the Red Sox had the superior starting pitcher, Jon Lester, where the Red Sox had the first six innings with one run allowed, where the Tigers kept hitting into double plays, and where Peralta in leftfield looked as clunky as Leyland feared. “Playing short for him is like an old shoe,” Leyland said earlier in the day. “I’m not sure he’s as comfortable in leftfield, and I’m not either, to be honest with you.”

Finally, symbolically, it was a night where Avila, the backbone of the Tigers, had to leave the game after taking a beating just about everywhere except his rear end. Avila took a throw in the second inning and braced for Ross racing in from third. Ross went into him like a linebacker trying to jar the football loose. The two collided violently with Avila bent at the knee, and while he held onto the ball and earned wildly appreciative applause, he wasn’t right from that moment on.

He lasted a few more innings, but he was like the guy sitting in the splash tank. After taking Ross to the chest, he took a Sanchez pitch that knocked off his facemask, took a ball in the dirt that bounced away for a wild pitch and a run, and took a seat, finally, too achy to continue.

The official explanation was a “left knee patella tendon strain,” but you almost could have picked a body part, including his head. He may or may not be ready for Game 6.

Reason for hope

It was that kind of scrappy night for Detroit. Bounces didn’t go their way. Close calls didn’t go their way. Collisions. Double plays. Wild pitches. Stolen bases. Baserunning in general – all went to Boston, which seemed, on this night, to have the edge in general baseball execution. The Tigers may kick themselves for several botched chances Thursday, but the best thing they can do is look at their roster and see the names Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who are well-rested and ready to be called for Game 6 and 7.

It’s the second reel. No surprises now. Every night is a mural. Every inning a can of paint. The Tigers head to Boston, where they will need their bats to be ready, their minds to be heady, their gloves to be steady and… enough rhymes already.

You go through a stop sign, you get pulled over. The Red Sox may look like ZZ Top, the Amish or a bunch of bearded lumberjacks on a month-long hunting trip, but they are relentless. They make you pay for mistakes. And the Tigers will have to find a way to whack them back again Saturday night, to make this a one-game pennant grab, with Verlander as their lead warrior.

Out at home. Tigers hit the road. We’ll soon see enough if it rises up to meet them.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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