Monday, October 14, 2013

How To Blow a Playoff Game in Eleven Easy Steps

Prince Fielder Sucks at Defense pic via The Detroit News

No less than a dozen people approached me today with some sort of “What happened to the Tigers last night?” comment. By the end of my work day, I was ready to stab someone in the throat for even mentioning baseball. This is the down side to being known as the obsessed Tigers fan at the workplace.

But the question remains. What happened to the Tigers last night? Well, everything that could go wrong from the eighth inning on did go wrong. The Tigers suffered the most soul-crushing defeat I’ve ever seen, with the exception of Game 163 a couple years ago. Blame whoever you want…it doesn’t matter. What happened, happened.

And here’s what happened, through this Tigers fan’s eyes, in eleven painful steps.

1. Max Scherzer was taken out of the game after seven great innings. In the seventh, he recorded two strikeouts and a weak grounder. He did not look tired, yet Leyland ended his day at 108 pitches. He has pitched more than 108 pitches multiple times this year. After the game, Max said he was spent and supported his manager. Despite Max supposedly being the staff ace now, I can’t see Justin Verlander ever doing this. JV would have been back out for the 8th. Whatever…I’ll give Max and Leyland the benefit of the doubt and say he was gassed.

2. Jose Veras relieved Scherzer. Good. This is what Dave Dombrowski acquired him for. Veras closed for Houston most of the year. Jose is supposed to be the setup man. He was the right call. Veras retired the leadoff man before allowing a double to Will Middlebrooks. These things happen. But then Leyland came out with the quick hook for Veras. I hated this move at the time and I hate it even more now after what followed.

3. Drew Smyly was called on to face Jacoby Ellsbury. Personally, I would have let Veras continue and saved Smyly for if/when David Ortiz got to the plate. It’s not like Jacoby’s a huge threat to take Veras deep. But for some reason, Leyland hasn’t seemed to trust Veras much. And as we all know, Leyland is obsessed with lefty/righty or whatever matchups. Smyly walked Ellsbury and Tony LaRussa Junior wandered out again, this time making the call for Al Alburquerque.

4. AlAl struck out Shane Victorino, just like Leyland was hoping for. Then Dustin Pedroia singled to right, loading the bases for Ortiz. If you’re like me, you were Googling for the closest noose store.

5. Leyland came out again and made the call for Joaquin Benoit to face Papi. Phil Coke was warm, too, and has held Ortiz to a 2 for 19 mark in his career. In fact, we were told Coke was added to the roster just for this moment. Yet Leyland went with his best reliever, something you can hardly fault him for, especially when the alternative is Gas Can Coke.

6. I was screaming at my TV to walk in the run. Don’t give him anything resembling a strike. Yet Benoit grooved a meatball right down the middle and horrible racist Red Sawx Nation erupted in cheers as Ortiz belted a grand slam to tie the game. I sat in silence knowing that like me, thousands of Tigers fans had been preparing for the worst for a reason. We’ve come to expect it. (Ugh, I sound like a pre-2004 Sawx fan.)

7. Don Kelly was allowed to bat in the 9th. Like always, he was easily retired. Kelly is now 2 for 9 in this year’s playoffs with both knocks being infield hits against Oakland that would have been outs if Oakland knew how to play defense. This is on the heels of a 6 for 39 September (.154) and an overall season of .222/.309/.343. For his career, he’s a .229/.290/.344 hitter. It is criminal that Kelly is starting games in the outfield over Andy Dirks or Jhonny Peralta at this point and I'll never forgive Leyland for it.

8. With the cupboard bare and in a tied game in the 9th, Rick Porcello was brought in to pitch. Leyland had the defense set up in “no doubles” defense, something I hate. Jonny Gomes hit a grounder to right where Cabrera would normally be positioned. Instead, with Miggy guarding the line, the ball got by. Jose Iglesias caught up to it and made a foolish throw to first. Despite the ball being on a bounce, it was an easy pick for a first baseman. But Prince Fielder did his "world's largest matador" impression and the ball got by. Gomes advanced to second on the error that was charged to Iggy because baseball isn’t fair.

9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia then fouled a pop up that Prince Fielder had bounce off his glove and into the crowd. Ridiculous. I’ve never seen such a poorly fielding first baseman in my life.

10. Porcello followed this up with a horrible wild pitch that advanced the runner to third.

11. Now the infield was pulled in, a necessity after the wild pitch. Salty took advantage of it with a single to score the winning run.

In hindsight, you can put the blame in a lot of places. As I pointed out, I hated the pulling of Veras so early. But who’s to say he wouldn’t have continued to get hit? Maybe playing a normal defense in the ninth would have prevented the final run. Maybe not. Maybe Don Kelly shouldn’t have started. No. DEFINITELY Don Kelly shouldn’t have started.

Blame Jim Leyland if that’s what makes you feel better. But the reality is, Joaquin Benoit is the one that threw David Ortiz the worst pitch I’ve ever seen thrown. I doubt Leyland said to put it on a tee for Big Papi.

So, we return to the question from the beginning that I’ve been getting asked all day. What happened to the Tigers last night?

Baseball happened.

You move on. The Tigers now need to win 3 out of 5. They have Verlander pitching twice, and Sanchez and Scherzer pitching one time each. And Doug Fister is pretty good, too, for the other game. 3 of the 5 remaining games are in Detroit. Keep you heads up, Tigers fans. Despite last night, we’re still in a good place.

Until the next disaster…ha.

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