Monday, October 17, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 6 of the ALCS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 15-5 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 6 of the ALCS:

OK, you've had a couple days to chew on this. Thoughts?

I'd actually rather talk about the burning questions this spawns for the off-season in general, rather than re-hash Game 6. How much can you say about a 15-5 shellacking?

Fair enough. First, how about an overview of the ALCS overall?

The Tigers, in the end, were simply outgunned and too hurt to compete with a team as deep and robust as the Rangers. The Tigers would have needed almost perfect pitching performances from Max Scherzer and Doug Fister to have a shot. But Scherzer was just blown out.

The other thing that strikes me is how old and mediocre the Tigers looked against Texas. In fact, I can't believe our boys got by the Yankees in the ALDS.

Too many guys from Detroit failed to show up: Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Victor Martinez to a degree, and the starters beyond Verlander and Fister were so-so.

Also, the Rangers drove runners in, while the Tigers didn't, so much. Too many wasted opportunities. Game 2, early, in Texas against Derek Holland stands out.

Let's face it: the Rangers were the better team, by far.

Was series MVP Nelson Cruz the only reason the Rangers won?

Of course not. Cruz was amazing, but the Rangers' attack was more diverse and more guys got into the act than did on Detroit's side.

Looking ahead to the off-season: what do the Tigers need to take the next step toward a World Series title?

I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know, most likely. But I'll say it an yway!

The Tigers need a second baseman and probably even a third baseman. Too much revolving door stuff going on at those positions. It's amazing that a team in the ALCS didn't have a regular starter at the so-called "keystone position."

The third base situation isn't much better. You can win the whole thing with a revolving door at one infield position (read: the 1984 Tigers at 3B), but not two.

It's also time someone took Austin Jackson aside and made him a reclamation project. AJ regressed from his rookie year, and not insignificantly, either. His average dropped over 40 points, and his strikeouts didn't go down at all.

Defensively he was brilliant in the regular season but pedestrian in the playoffs.

The Tigers can't put Jackson at lead-off; he should be batting ninth---at least for now.

Ideally, the Tigers will acquire a second baseman who can also bat lead-off.

This may sound crazy, but the Tigers might want to consider Brennan Boesch to bat lead-off. The California Angels, in the mid-to-late 1980s and into the 1990s, used DH Brian Downing at the lead-off spot quite a bit. Downing was certainly not a "traditional" lead-off hitter, but it worked for the Angels.

The Tigers just need someone to get on base, and if it's someone with some power, all the better. Boesch isn't a great OBA guy, but I have greater confidence in him starting a game off on the right foot than I do with Jackson.

How deflating is it to constantly see Jackson start games by trudging to the dugout, a strikeout victim?

How about the pitching?

I'd like to see a lefty starter, as I'm sure everyone would, including manager Jim Leyland. Not sure if Andy Oliver, the youngster, is ready for that role, however.

The bullpen is a question mark, before Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. Al Alburquerque's post-season meltdown, which actually began after he returned from his concussion, suddenly makes him an unknown entity again. Which Al-Al is he, anyway?

The rotation seems otherwise set, except for maybe Brad Penny's slot. I wonder if he'll be back in 2012.

Anything else?

Yeah. I don't think we'll see Magglio Ordonez or Carlos Guillen back, either. They make too much money and their bodies are too unreliable.

Brandon Inge comes back, but not sure about Wilson Betemit---which is ironic, since the Tigers acquired Betemit to essentially replace Inge!

Final thoughts?

It was a great year. By the end, the Tigers were put together with glue and bailing wire. I believe Justin Verlander tired out. Avila was broken. The Tigers didn't have Boesch, Guillen and Ordonez by the end.

It's a shame. Too bad the Tigers couldn't field their best, playing at their best, against the deep Rangers lineup.

But the Tigers WILL be heard from again in 2012. This team is young enough that it's not going away anytime soon. This wasn't a one-year wonder thing.

(thanks to everyone who faithfully read "Burning Questions" during the post-season and "Monday Morning Manager" during the regular season! You guys [and gals] rock!)

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cabrera's Ricochet Might Bag Tigers a World Series Berth

I’d like to be writing this after Game 7 of the ALCS, after the Tigers completed their comeback from a 1-3 deficit to oust the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers. But I do not have a crystal ball, so I write it now.

This is going to be either something you chuckle at and shake your head, filing it under another one of Eno’s silly rants, or it’s going to be wonderfully prophetic.

First, some background.

The 1968 World Series was becoming a St. Louis Cardinals field day. After four games, the Cards led the series 3-1 and twice they had vanquished the Tigers’ 30-game winner, Dennis McLain.

Then the Cardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the very first inning of Game 5 at Tiger Stadium. The World Series was turning into a laugher.

But the Tigers had clawed to within 3-2 whenSt. Louis’s Lou Brock stood at second base in the fifth inning. What happened next is something any Tigers fan worth his salt knows of—and I don’t care how young you are.

Julian Javier singled to left field and Detroit’s own Willie Horton, who grew up playing baseball on the sandlots on the city’s west side, fielded the ball at his waist on one hop. Willie fired the baseball toward the plate, the speedy Brock tearing for home.

The ball and Brock arrived at almost the same time. Catcher Bill Freehan, who was one of the best at blocking the plate, stood his ground. Brock, perhaps with too much hubris, eschewed a slide. Freehan tagged Brock as Lou zipped by.

Brock’s problem? He missed the plate, by a sliver of dirt.

Home plate umpire Doug Harvey got it right, as so many of them do, without the benefit of TV replay, like their football counterparts so often need.


The series, they say, turned on the Horton-to-Freehan erasure of Brock.

The Tigers went on to win Game 5, 5-3, and then returned toSt. Louisto complete the stunning comeback.

If the Tigers pull off the barely thinkable—swiping three straight games from the Rangers to advance to the World Series, I submit that a square, white hard pillow that sits in manager Jim Leyland’s office will be looked at as the turning point of the ALCS.

It was another Game 5, another series where the Tigers trailed, 3 games to 1.

Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers’ best hitter and maybe the best hitter in all of baseball, was at the plate in the sixth inning. There was a runner, the much maligned but vindicated Ryan Raburn, standing on first base.

Only due to a Houdini act by Tigers starter Justin Verlander in the top half of the inning, in which Verlander escaped a bases loaded, one-out jam with a double play, was the game still tied, 2-2.

So it was, that when Cabrera stood in the batter’s box, where just minutes earlierComericaParkhad turned library-esque as the Rangers threatened, the ballpark was rocking.

Cabrera swung and sent a hard grounder toward third base. Literally, as it turned out.

Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, one of the slickest glove men in the game, awaited Cabrera’s worm killer. If you’d have been able to freeze the baseball and read it, next to Bud Selig’s signature you would see, “DOUBLE PLAY.”

But then the baseball hit third base. Not dead on, but enough to cause the ball to skip unnaturally over Beltre’s head. Beltre stood stunned, looking like someone out of the audience of a magic show whose shirt had just been removed.

The baseball bounded into the left field corner and caromed around long enough for Raburn to score easily, breaking the tie.

Cabrera’s shot off the third base bag was the domino that caused the Rangers to fall. After Cabrera’s double that was disguised as a double play ball, Victor Martinez tripled to right, his opposite field drive eluding Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz.

Martinezruns like a car on blocks, so to misplay a ball that enables Victor to steam into third base standing up isn’t an easy feat. But Cruz pulled it off. Cabrera scored, and it was 4-2,Detroit.

Delmon Young was next, and he tomahawked C.J. Wilson’s pitch over the left-center field wall for a 6-2 lead. The Tigers went single, double, triple, home run—in that order—and turned a tenseComericaParkinto a carnival.

Of course, the Rangers and their ferocious offense made a game of it, falling by the uncomfortably close score of 7-5, leaving two men on base in the ninth inning.

Leyland, after the game, made no bones about the part third base played in the Tigers’ go-ahead rally.

“I have that bag in my office right now,"Leyland told reporters after the game about the base itself. “And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point.”

Could Cabrera’s ricochet off third base be the turning point of this year’s ALCS?

Could it join the Horton-to-Freehan play? Could it be in the same category as Nick Lidstrom’s goal from center ice againstVancouverthat jump-started the Red Wings in the first round of 2002?

Both the ’68 Tigers and the ’02 Red Wings won championships in their respective sports.

It’s too early to tell, of course, whether Cabrera’s baggie will mean a hill of beans in this series. It could just be an isolated incident in a series whose breaks have gone mostlyTexas’ way.

But if the Tigers come back and steal this series, it would be derelict to look at the sixth inning of Game 5 as a whole—and Cabrera’s groundball specifically—and say that it had nothing to do with sparking the comeback.

It’s part of the magic and mystique of playoff baseball—when in a flash moments can occur that have an impact on a series in ridiculously inverse proportions.

It may sound nuts to say that a ground ball off the third base bag in Game 5 will determine who wins the 2011 ALCS.

But this is baseball, and that kind of play is just crazy enough to turn a series upside down.

We’ll see, won’t we?


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 4 of the ALCS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 7-3 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the ALCS:

This game was a second guesser's dream. Let's look at some decisions. First, how about Jim Leyland bringing in Al Alburquerque in the seventh inning?

He didn't have much of a choice, unless Leyland wanted to run Brad Penny out there. It's a tough call but I think Leyland was trying to find out if Al-Al could be counted on, once and for all. Because as you know, Al's performances against the Yankees left a lot to be desired.

The four-ball walk to Ian Kinsler wasn't good, and when Al fell behind 2-0 to Elvis Andrus you could hear the 37,000+ guts churning inside Comerica Park. A bases loaded walk looked imminent.

But Alburquerque recovered to get Andrus on a weak grounder.

OK, how about Rangers manager Ron Washington and his decision to walk Miguel Cabrera in the eighth with one out and nobody on base, in a tie game?


Yes, Cabrera is the Tigers' best hitter, but why put the go-ahead runner on base if you don't have to? If Cabrera gets a hit in that situation, more power to him. But you should always make the go-ahead (in this case, potential winning run) run earn his way on base.

The move almost backfired, as Victor Martinez followed with a base hit, putting runners on 1st and 3rd with one out.

Then Delmon Young hit a would-be sacrifice fly to Nelson Cruz in right field. Cabrera was out by six feet at home plate. Another second guessing opportunity here; actually, two of them: a) pinch-run for Cabrera; and b) hold him at third base?

OK, let's take "a" first.

If Cabrera was on second base, I'd have considered the pinch runner. Why? Because a base hit likely scores a pinch-runner but not as likely Cabrera.

But with Cabrera on third, if you remove him for a runner, you're essentially removing your best hitter for one shot: Young hitting a deep enough fly ball. Anything else, you don't need a pinch-runner. A base hit scores him, an error scores him. So you're basically taking Cabrera out just so Young can hit a fly ball. I don't like that.

Now, as for sending Miggy, I don't have a big problem with it, and I know I'm in the minority.

It has to do with who was up next: Alex Avila.

Avila is basically a pitcher at the plate right now---an automatic out. Holding Cabrera would have then necessitated Avila getting a clutch, two-out hit. That was as likely as Cabrera beating the throw.

By sending Cabrera, at least you force Cruz into making a good throw. Who knows? Maybe he throws it up the line or gets too anxious, seeing the slow-footed Cabrera on the run, and grips the ball too tight and he skips it home. Maybe catcher Mike Napoli fumbles the throw. Any number of things can happen. The ball was hit, in my mind, deep enough to take the chance.

The end result looked bad, but I have no problem sending him---mainly because Avila was up next.

OK, how about sending Austin Jackson to steal on the first pitch in the 10th inning?

I probably wouldn't have done it, but that's not a no-brainer. Plenty of base stealers run on the first pitch. As it was, Napoli had to make a perfect throw because of the location of the pitch. He did, and Jackson was out. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat, you know?

Finally, Leyland ordered Adrian Beltre walked in the 11th, with the score tied and first base open with one out, to face Napoli. Thoughts?

Well, clearly Jim was thinking double play. But anything shy of that and the red-hot Nelson Cruz would come to the plate. Beltre is banged up. Maybe going after Beltre and Napoli, straight up, would have been the better decision. That would have left Cruz in the on-deck circle.

That move couldn't have backfired any worse, sadly; Napoli singled home Josh Hamilton, and Cruz crushed his fourth homer of the series to salt the game away.

So this series is over, right? How come?

Well, you know better than that; teams have overcome 1-3 deficits before. Witness our 1968 Tigers.

But frankly, the Tigers are simply outgunned right now. They are being decimated by injuries at the worst possible time. The team even admitted that Avila is battling a sore knee.

It's too bad that the Tigers can't be fielding a healthy lineup, because when they're on all cylinders, they can compete with anyone.

But you look at who Leyland is running out there, and that half the guys are either slumping or hurt or out altogether, and he just doesn't have the weapons.

Justin Verlander is good enough to pitch the team into a Game 6 in Texas, but it's hard to fathom a three-game winning streak right now.

So I was right! It's over!

I said "hard to fathom." I didn't say impossible.

In fact, see ya in Arlington on Saturday night.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 3 of the ALCS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the ALCS:

The key to this one?

Why, it came in the very first inning. The Rangers, despite not hitting the ball very hard, put the first three batters on base and had a 1-0 lead before all the fannies were in their Comerica Park seats.

It could have gotten really ugly at that point. The crowd was already out of the game---a game the Tigers needed desperately. And here were the Rangers, on the heels of their walk-off win in Game 2, with a run in and looking for more.

But Tigers starter Doug Fister limited the damage---getting Michael Young to ground into a difficult 6-4-3 double play, then striking out Adrian Beltre. The Tigers had escaped, down just 1-0.

Yeah, but the offense looked sluggish again. Did you have bad thoughts, despite Fister's escape act?

Well, sure. The Tigers have been scuffling since Game 4 of the Yankees series. Miguel Cabrera was looking ordinary again. The crowd was still lifeless. The Tigers got men on base in the second inning and stranded them. It looked like an act that we're growing weary of.

I smell another key, right?

Well, not so much a key as maybe a sign that the breaks would finally go the Tigers' way.

It happened in the top of the third inning, with Ian Kinsler on first base. He was running on the pitch, and Elvis Andrus bounced one up the middle. But Jhonny Peralta was covering second on the steal attempt, and was Jhonny on the Spot, fielding the grounder, touching second base, and throwing to first to complete the DP.

Had Peralta not been covering, Andrus' grounder goes into center field and the Rangers have runners on the corners and another rally brewing.

At that point I thought, "Maybe the breaks will start to go the Tigers way now."

And the next inning, Victor Martinez snaps out of his slumber and slugs a game-tying homer. But he got hurt, it looked like. Maybe the breaks weren't done going against the Tigers?

The Fox cameras caught V-Mart hurling his helmet down the runway in the Tigers dugout, indicating that he was in some pain, as was evidenced by his oh-so-slow home run trot. But we'll just have to wait and see how serious his injury is.

The Tigers hit three home runs and got some hits with runners on base, eventually. Is the offense back?

The Tigers better hope so. Their fortunes look less bleak now, but as I said after Game 2, baseball and momentum have a tempestuous relationship.

But it was nice to see Cabrera and Martinez bust out a bit, and Peralta slamming a third home run. Maybe this will settle the team down---they had to have been pressing a bit.

Then there's Alex Avila. Are you sick of being asked about him?

Well, it's not a pleasant discussion but it needs to be discussed. The Tigers can't really give him a blow right now---even with a day game after a night game. Jim Leyland isn't going to start Omir Santos, that's for sure.

The Tigers are the only playoff team that doesn't really have a viable no. 2 option at catcher. Now, with Avila possibly worn out from a long year, the Tigers are stuck.

Surprised to see Jose Valverde in the game, after pitching two innings the day before?

Yeah, a little bit, with two more games on successive days on the docket.

I thought Leyland might try to pitch Joaquin Benoit in the eighth AND ninth, frankly, giving Papa Grande a day's rest. And Leyland might have, if the Tigers had a four-run lead headed to the ninth---the dreaded non-save situation.

Is this a new series now?

Sure, but in less than 24 hours it can be a new series again---the wrong way. The Rangers can still take a 3-1 series lead on Wednesday, which would pretty much cancel out tonight's Tigers win.

Any words about Doug Fister?

Like all top drawer starters, Fister proved that if you don't get to him early, you could be in for a long night. Jack Morris was a classic example of this. The Cat was noted for having rough early innings then settling down.

After wriggling out of the first, Fister was terrific. Just what the doctor ordered for the Tigers on a night where their offense arrived late but as they say, "Better late than never"!!

One more for you. Did you miss Terry Francona in the Fox booth, as Tim McCarver returned following his heart procedure?

I'm going to surprise you and say no. After all, the Tigers are 0-2 with Tito as Joe Buck's partner and 1-0 with old "Second Inning" behind the mike.

"Second Inning"?

Um, yeah. Apparently that was McCarver's nickname when he was briefly with the Red Sox at the end of his career. Seems every game he played, in the second inning, McCarver would head for the clubhouse restroom and, um, relieve himself in a no. 2 kind of way.

Too much information!

Good thing Game 4 is a day game, to take your mind off it quickly!

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 2 of the ALCS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 7-3 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 2 of the ALCS:

What got into Nelson Cruz? He didn't do a thing against Tampa Bay in the ALDS.

Just goes to show you that momentum does NOT carry over from series to series. It rarely does day by day, frankly.

In 2006, Placido Polanco was the ALCS MVP and didn't even get a hit in the five-game World Series that followed.

Cruz has been poison to the Tigers in just two games.

More blown opportunities by the Tigers, especially early on against starter Derek Holland. What's up?

Just a really bad time to hit a team-wide batting slump. The Tigers can't buy that key hit right now.

When a guy walks four in the first two innings, as Holland did, and none of those walks score, that's certain to haunt you in the later innings. They say walks will kill you. But walks that never come around to score can be a death knell to an offense.

So Delmon Young is back. What the hell?

It's called desperation. I'm not comfortable with bringing Young back, just a couple days after he was declared done for the series. I mean, what if he reinjures his oblique and is done for the season?

Of course, the way this series is going, that could be moot.

But the Tigers are desperate. They've already lost Brennan Boesch and now Magglio Ordonez is done with a broken ankle. The options are few, especially for a right-handed batter.

Speaking of Maggs, is he done---forever?

Well, he admitted to some reporters a few days ago that he contemplated retirement mid-season because his ankle wasn't responding. So yeah, this could be it---if he doesn't want to put himself through anymore rehab.

This was almost worse than the initial injury, which occurred in July 2010, because no one saw this one coming. Ordonez had recently gone on record as saying how great he felt. It's a big blow, and maybe a sad one. We'll see.

Complete this sentence: "After two games, the story of this series is...."

...the Rangers stars are showing up, and the Tigers' aren't.

Guys like Cruz and Adrian Beltre have come up big for the Rangers, along with Ian Kinsler and David Murphy.

Though he had a double in Game 2, Miguel Cabrera has been mostly invisible this post-season, as has been Victor Martinez. Twice, V-Mart had bases loaded opportunities to wash away his bad post-season, and both times he failed.

I hate to say it, but Cabrera/Martinez are making me recall the struggles of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira for the Yankees in the ALDS.

The Tigers need the big bats to start bopping, and quick.

Did you feel some relief when Ryan Raburn smacked his three-run homer?

Kinda. But see above.

Tigers get out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the bottom of the ninth. Usually that comes back to haunt the scoreless team, doesn't it?

You're right---except when that scoreless team is up against one whose offense is in the toilet right now. The Rangers somehow got themselves back into the same position in the 11th, and Cruz then launched his no-doubter.

The game-winning rally was aided by some confusion between CF Austin Jackson and newly-inserted RF Andy Dirks. What happened out there on Mike Napoli's drive to right center?

Not sure, but it looked like the two of them played, "I got it, you take it," as Red Wings analyst Mickey Redmond would say.

Frankly, the Rangers may have scored anyway, but that horribly timed miscue didn't help the Tigers' cause, that's for sure.

In the Tigers 10th, leadoff man Raburn walked. Jhonny Peralta was up next and bunted. Right call?

Well, I can see the logic, except that with a slumping Alex Avila and then Dirks coming up next---Dirks' first post-season AB---maybe you swing away Peralta and hope for some action.

As it was, Jim Leyland was basically asking an .050 hitter and a rookie in his first post-season AB to get a big hit in extra innings. That's a tough request. I might have hit away with Peralta there. But the "Baseball for Dummies" handbook says bunt in that situation, so there you have it.

So are the Tigers done?

So much seems to be working against them right now---the injuries, the slumps, the heating up of Nelson Cruz at the worst possible time. The baseball gods' sense of timing isn't helping the Tigers right now.

But you know what? We've all seen post-season series change in a heartbeat. And sometimes a change of venue does the trick.

It doesn't look good now, but in 48 hours this series could be much, much different.

Yeah, or OVER!

Hey---that wasn't a question. No fair.


Apology accepted. Enjoy Game 3.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 1 of the ALCS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 3-2 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the ALCS:

Another post-season start by Justin Verlander curtailed by rain. How much of a factor was this?

Hard to tell. The Tigers bullpen did a damn fine job but the offense was miserable. And since JV threw 82 pitches, I don't see how this changes anything rotation-wise. Jim Leyland's original game plan should hold up.

You said the offense was miserable. When was it the most miserable?

I can't get past two at-bats: Magglio Ordonez's weak 5-5-3 double play in the first inning with the bases juiced and C.J. Wilson maybe picking up where he left off in the ALDS; and Alex Avila's HORRIBLE at-bat in the sixth inning against Mike Gonzalez with the bases loaded, when AA failed to take a strike against the sometimes-wild Gonzalez.

Maggs' AB could have at least gotten the Tigers a 1-0 lead, and Avila's could have tied it. But I think Avila's was worse because of his ridiculous lack of plate discipline.

Thoughts on Verlander?

Meh. He looked ordinary, but he wasn't helped by HP umpire Tim Welke's strike zone, which squeezed JV so much I thought Justin was going to be juiced like an orange.

In fairness, Welke was bad to Wilson, too---but JV didn't bring his "A" game, which would have canceled out Welke's bizarre strike zone, which apparently begins at the thigh, not the knee.

Not enough first pitch strikes from Verlander tonight. The command was just a little off.

Yet another rain delay---actually TWO in one inning. Did they play a key role in the outcome?

Well, yes and no. After the first delay, it looked like Texas' Wilson lost some of his sharpness, and the Tigers took advantage, scoring two runs. The second delay gave way to Avila's aforementioned bad at-bat.

Meanwhile, Verlander was done but Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Ryan Perry were excellent.

These delays, while long and essentially making Leyland's pitching change for him, didn't have nearly the impact on Game 1 as it did in Game 1 of the ALDS, and nor does it affect the series going forward.

Porcello, Game 4's scheduled starter, pitched two innings tonight. Is he still a go for Game 4?

Absolutely. His two innings were stress-free, and Game 4 is still three days away.

The Tigers have now scored six runs in their past 28 innings. Concerned?

You're damn right I am. You can talk all you want about the Tigers' potent offense, but until they start scoring runs again, it's all talk. Thank goodness this isn't a five-game series.

What is the impact of the loss of Delmon Young due to his oblique strain?

Well, judging by tonight, significant.

I did like the bump up of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez hitting 3-4, as opposed to 4-5. But Young's absence seemed to make the batting order look far too pedestrian.

I just didn't know what to make of the Tigers' approach tonight. They watched pitches go right down the middle---often for called third strikes---and they swung at pitches out of the strike zone. They were patient and impatient at all the wrong times. Just an ugly performance, and on a night when the bullpen really gave them a chance to win the game.

Speaking of the lineup, any concerns?

Yes. Alex Avila, who's been awful in the post-season, batting sixth against a left-handed starter. I would have put Jhonny Peralta there and moved Avila down to eighth or ninth. When a guy is going very good or very bad, it seems clutch situations find that guy. But clutch situations would have been more UNLIKELY to find Avila had he batted lower in the order.

After Ramon Santiago got on base with a drag bunt in the ninth, should the Tigers have bunted?

Jim Leyland had Wilson Betemit (another who's been awful) in the on-deck circle, ready to bat for Brandon Inge. Had Leyland wanted a bunt, he would have let Inge hit. So based on who was at the plate, swinging away was the right call. Sadly, the one swinging away was Betemit.

Leyland, I'm sure, was hoping Betemit could run into one, but against Texas closer Neftali Feliz, that thought was mere fantasy.

Feliz totally overmatched the Tigers with pitches in the high-90s to 101 MPH. What did you think?

That anyone can look good against Betemit-Austin Jackson-Ryan Raburn.

I'm only partly kidding; after all, those guys aren't exactly a Murderer's Row. But Feliz's arm is electric and the Tigers must simply not be at his mercy again in this series. At least, no more than twice the rest of the way!

What is wrong with Alex Avila?

I wish I knew. He is simply a confused young man right now who is looking nothing like the guy who finished the year so strong. Trouble is, in the ALCS you don't exactly have a lot of time to figure things out.

But here's a good omen, perhaps. When the Tigers won the 1968 World Series, catcher Bill Freehan went 2-for-24 with eight Ks. It's a reach, but what the hell?

Same question re: Austin Jackson?

Here's where I have some serious reservations. Last year I pouted that Jackson should have been ROY instead of Feliz. But AJ has taken a giant step backward in his development as a hitter this year---a regression that is only getting worse in the post-season. He's totally overmatched by too many big league pitchers.

So, what are you saying?

I'm saying that Jackson ought to be the no. 9 hitter next season. But for now, it's the same as Avila---just hope Jackson can battle his way to some hits or walks. Because when AJ is on base, good things tend to happen.

Should Miggy Cabrera ALWAYS bat third?

It's a thought, but the only reason he hit no. 3 in Game 1 was because of Delmon Young's injury.

But it's a definite thought, because I like the idea of Cabrera batting in EVERY first inning. A hitter of that magnitude ought to bat in the first inning.

Cabrera isn't just a classic, power-hitting cleanup batter. His talent is more suited for no. 3 than no. 4, truthfully. It didn't work in Game 1, but I wouldn't mind seeing it the rest of the series.

Victor Martinez had some shockingly bad at-bats tonight. Just one of those nights?

Sure. Even with a BA of around .400 with RISP this season, that means he still fails to get a hit 60% of the time. But don't worry; I look for V-Mart to rebound nicely the rest of the way.

So this makes Game 2 a must-win, right?

Well, you tell me. If the Tigers lose, they have to go 4-1 the rest of the series. HAVE TO.

So you tell me.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Tigers Win Over Yankees Nice, But Not the Brass Ring

It’s tempting to say that this is as good as it gets—that the moment is so savory as to be incapable of being eclipsed.

The problem with beating the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs—on the Yankees home field in a do-or-die game that boils down to the fate of the last batter, indeed the last strike—is how easy it is to feel like nothing can be tougher.

Or that nothing could be better.

As sweet as the Tigers’ 3-games-to-2 victory was over the Yankees in the American League Divisional Series (ALDS), it doesn’t change the fact that the Tigers are still just one-third of the way toward their post-season goal.

Only now are they in Major League Baseball’s version of the Final Four.

You’d think there’d be a bigger payout to beating the vaunted Yankees than to merely be 33% of your way to the garish trophy with all the pennants on it.

Tigers-Yankees, 2011 ALDS was finesse vs. brawn. It was the jabber against the slugger. The Tigers pulled some Rope-a-Dope on the Yankees.

In the two Yankees wins, they outscored the Tigers, 19-4. The Tigers, meanwhile, managed just an aggregate 13-9 margin in their three victories.

The Yankees won big and lost small.

But the Tigers won the biggest of them all—the series, and now they move on to Step 2 in this three-step process to becoming World Champions.

Actually, it’s a four-step program; you have to make the playoffs, first. But in the post-season there are three distinct levels, and the Tigers did nothing more than clear the first hurdle.

There’s a danger, in my mind, that maybe they think they’ve done enough already.

The Tigers beat the Yankees, at Yankee Stadium, with 50,000+ pairs of leather lungs bellowing. The mighty Yankees, with their perennial, it seems, Murderer’s Row lineup. But the Tigers beat more than Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and the rest.

Isiah Thomas, while in the prime of his NBA career, spoke of how difficult it was for the Pistons to beat the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. This was in the late spring of 1988, while the Pistons and Celtics duked it out yet again in the Conference Finals.

The quote is lifted from Jerry Green’s marvelous book, The Detroit Pistons: Capturing a Remarkable Era.

“To beat the Celtics,” Isiah said, “you have to beat more than a team. You have to beat a mystique.”

He was right. The ’88 Pistons weren’t just going up against Bird and McHale and Parish; they were also up against the creaky Boston Garden and its ghosts. The Pistons, like it or not, were also playing Havlicek and Russell and Cousy—even the smoke from Red Auerbach’s victory cigars.

That’s why there was such a rollicking celebration that night in June ’88 at the Silverdome, when the Pistons finally—FINALLY! —put away the Celtics for a right to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

The court flooded with fans, delirious in the moment. It wasn’t clear what they were happier about—their team making the Finals, or beating the Celtics. I wouldn’t take that bet.

The 2011 Tigers have done more than beat this year’s Yankees in the ALDS. They’ve done something that only two teams in the history of baseball have done—beat the Yankees twice in a row in the playoffs.

2006 seems like a million years ago in a way, yet it also can be recalled vividly.

But the 2006 Tigers eliminated the Yankees in Detroit, in the so-called “friendly confines” of Comerica Park. It’s one thing to beat the Yankees when there are no ghosts and when all the leathered lungs are on your side.

Thursday night’s series-clinching win in New York had even the staid manager Jim Leyland in tell-all mode.

At the podium afterward, while his players whooped it up down the hall, Leyland pulled something from the now-it-can-be-told file.

“I would be lying,” Leyland said, “if I said that beating the Yankees in New York wasn’t something special. And I mean that with no disrespect; I mean it with respect.”

Moments later, Leyland added, “This is one of those games that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Then Leyland got emotional as he spoke of utility man Don Kelly and the memories Kelly created for himself after slugging a home run in the first inning that got the Tigers started and was the best of icebreakers.

“It couldn’t have happened to a better kid,” Leyland said, choking up.

Tigers President/GM Dave Dombrowski told FSD in the locker room after the game that beating the Yankees in New York to win a playoff series was “special.”

Owner Mike Ilitch, 82 and still with an unquenched thirst for a World Series title, sidled up to Dombrowski, amidst the celebrating and, according to the Detroit Free Press, told his Prez/GM that Thursday was “one of the greatest days of my life.”

The hierarchy was giddy with the moment, from Ilitch to Dombrowski to Leyland. The button-downed brains had popped.

Yet the Tigers have done nothing more than give themselves a chance to play for the World Series, let alone win it.

There are still eight victories and two teams standing between the Tigers and their fifth World Championship.

This post-season run is just one-third finished.

Yet here you have the owner, president and manager, no less, each putting a premium on the series victory over the Yankees that surely wouldn’t be placed on any other vanquished team.

The Tigers beat the Yankees in the ALDS, in New York. Congratulations.

That’ll get them an “attaboy” and a date with the Texas Rangers, another ferocious team, less than 48 hours after eliminating the Yankees.

That’s all.

These are the playoffs, not charity.


Friday, October 07, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 5 of the Tigers-Yankees ALDS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 3-2 win over the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the ALDS:

Did you ever think three runs would be good enough in Yankee Stadium?

Absolutely not, and what's worse, the Tigers left some runners on base early, then couldn't even get a base runner late. It just had the makings of a come-from-ahead loss.

How much of a relief was it to score two runs in the first inning?

It was great---for about an inning. Then the Tigers had a runner on third base with less than two outs in the second and didn't score. From that moment on you just knew that this would be no laugher---the Tigers would have to gut one out.

Speaking of the first inning, how about DON KELLY?

What's the Michigan Lottery slogan? "Play a hunch, win a bunch"?

That was Jim Leyland with Donny Kelly tonight. In the post game presser, Leyland said that "sometimes these things just work out." Well, yeah, but he also knows that Kelly has been swinging a clutch, if inconsistent bat since Labor Day. Kelly's average may not be great, but he seems to get hits when they matter most.

Don't forget---Kelly hit a homer in Oakland the night the Tigers clinched the division, too.

Besides, Wilson Betemit looked God awful in Game 4 and with a right-hander starting (Ivan Nova), Leyland was unlikely to start Brandon Inge at third base. As for hitting Kelly second, that may have been the hunch part. That, and Ramon Santiago belongs at the no. 9 spot, anyway.

Surprised that Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulled Nova after two innings?

Of course, and I'm not sure I buy the "his forearm was tight" thing, not that it really matters.

I think Girardi wanted to empty his well-rested bullpen before the game started and give the Tigers a lot of different looks. But that's my take in retrospect. So, yeah, I was very surprised when I saw Phil Hughes take the mound in the third inning.

And doesn't Girardi know what Victor Martinez's batting average is this season after a Miguel Cabrera walk? Yet Girardi walked Miggy in the fifth inning anyway.

But still the right move. As good as V-Mart has been this season, the old adage is that you never let the other team's best player beat you, if you can prevent it.

Look at it from the other side: had Girardi pitched to Cabrera with first base open, and Miggy burned him, Girardi would never have lived it down.

Sure, V-Mart came through (again) with what ended up being the winning RBI, but you NEVER let an MVP candidate hit with first base open.

The Yankees loaded the bases twice with only one out and only came away with one run, on Joaquin Benoit's walk of Mark Teixeira. Think they'll be talking about that in New York for awhile?

As well they should talk about it. The Yankees don't leave runs on the field like that very often, especially at home.

This game sort of reminded me of an underdog NHL team, on the road, trying to sit on a one-goal lead for the entire third period.

The Tigers played dump and chase with the Yankees from the sixth inning on. The Tigers at-bats were short and the Yankees would come back with pressure-packed half innings. It was unreal.

What can you say about Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner?

You mean besides, "Good riddance!"?

Posada was amazing, and so was Gardner. That's how it goes sometimes in the playoffs. It wasn't Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez who were poison---it was Posada and Gardner.

The Yankees got all sorts of infield hits in this series, and would have had another if Posada didn't have square wheels. The Tigers finally got him out in the nick of time, but the pesky Gardner slapped one more hit in the eighth and was moving on Derek Jeter's fly out to end the inning.

That ball that Jeter hit would have been a routine out at Comerica Park, right?

A routine fly ball just about ANYWHERE.

That new Yankee Stadium is ridiculous in right field, but so was old Tiger Stadium, I suppose, with that 10-foot overhang.

But Jeter hardly smacked the ball, yet it took Don Kelly to the warning track.

How ironic that Jose Valverde had a 1-2-3 ninth against Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, huh?

Yeah, because Papa Grande catches grief for not having very many stress-free saves.

The ball that Cano hit to center field went as far as I've seen any broken bat hit go; I was sure it was destined to drop in for a hit.

The key, of course, was getting Granderson out, and after that it just felt like everything would be OK, even with Cano coming up.

As for A-Rod, I wasn't worried at all. Just as in 2006, Rodriguez was a non-factor the entire series. I'd have been more worried to see Posada or Gardner up in that situation.

So did you think Valverde was going to strike A-Rod out to end the game?

I certainly wasn't surprised.

OK, the series is over. What was the key to the Tigers' victory?

Pitching in the clutch. The Yankees' two victories were blowouts, and the Tigers' three wins were by a combined four runs. That tells me that the Tigers pitchers made more big pitches than the Yankees did.

Game 5 was a perfect example. First Doug Fister---who was pretty good, by the way---then Benoit wiggle out of bases loaded jams with just one run scored total. Max Scherzer makes a rare relief appearance and is effective. And Valverde does what he does best---close games.

Real quick: right decision NOT to use Justin Verlander out of the bullpen?

Yes. If he pitches he can't throw Game 1 of the ALCS. And the Tigers didn't need him, frankly, with Scherzer available and rested more.

Have you given any thought to the Texas Rangers yet?

Only this one: the player who scares me the most isn't Josh Hamilton; it's catcher Mike Napoli, who had a monster year and followed it with a good series against Tampa Bay.

Worried about Delmon Young's tweaked oblique?

That sounds cute, actually.

But seriously? Sure; Game 1 is Saturday. But he told FSD Detroit's John Keating that he expects to give it a shot. So we'll see

Who's your series MVP?

Young. He had three homers and two of them mattered: the solo shot to regain the Tigers' lead in Game 3, and the follow-up to Kelly's dinger in the first that gave the Tigers a two-run lead early.

Ready to do this all over again come Saturday?

Do I have a choice?

Didn't think so. See ya in the ALCS.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game---played or not---to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 4 of the Tigers-Yankees ALDS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 10-1 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the ALDS:

Any silver linings?

Maybe. The Yankees would love to play tomorrow. You always do after the bats wake up. The Tigers, on the other hand, get to regroup and by the time the first pitch is thrown on Thursday night, Game 4 should be a distant memory for them.

Hard to find a key to a 10-1 game, but was there any?

Sure. If Curtis Granderson doesn't recover on Don Kelly's drive in the first inning with the bases loaded, the Tigers might have jumped out to a 3-0 lead against A.J. Burnett, which would have been a huge blow to Burnett and the Yankees' psyche, given all the dissing Burnett received prior to the game.

The other was Austin Jackson, who's made some terrific plays in center field this season, coming up inches short of catching Derek Jeter's two-run double, which opened the scoring.

After four games, what stands out to you?

The Yankees' lower third of the order is killing the Tigers. The trio of Jorge Posada (almost left off the playoff roster), Russell Martin and Brett Gardner have been getting on base with ridiculous frequency---much more than 7-8-9 batters should be doing.

That threesome canceled out the poor performances of the heavy hitters above them, which negated any advantage the Tigers gained by retiring the A-Rods and Teixeiras of the Yankees.

Also, and I know I said it last night, the collapse of Alex Avila at the plate has been complete and stunning. He's nowhere near the same player as he was in the regular season.

Jim Leyland started Don Kelly in RF and batted him sixth. Thoughts?

They're not fit to print here.

Kelly is a good guy and has come up with some clutch hits here and there, but Cabrera/Martinez/Kelly just doesn't work for me. I would have batted him behind Jhonny Peralta, in the seven hole.

Ironically, it was Kelly who could have broken the game open for the Tigers in the first inning. Still, I like the experienced playoff bat of Magglio Ordonez in the lineup. But the Kelly decision was hardly the reason the Tigers lost.

What's with Wilson Betemit and swinging at balls in the dirt?

For whatever reason he loves that curve ball that breaks into his ankles. Horrible at-bats from Betemit tonight. He wasn't too swift in the field, either, aside from that throw he took from Rick Porcello on Derek Jeter's bunt.

In fact, Betemit was so bad, fans on Twitter were clamoring for Brandon Inge, who they tried to run out of town in July.

Yankees starter A.J. Burnett was supposed to crash and burn in Game 4. Why didn't he?

TBS announcers Ron Darling and John Smoltz---two former pitchers---noticed that Burnett and pitching coach Larry Rothschild had a private chat in the runway after the rough first inning, in which Burnett walked the bases loaded. They said Burnett had a mechanical flaw while throwing his curveball.

Well, apparently Burnett corrected that flaw. And the Tigers helped him out with some bad ball chasing.

Plus, it's not like Burnett hasn't done this before. Witness what he did in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series.

And sometimes isn't this the way things work out, when NO ONE gives you a chance? For the 21 hours after Game 3 ended, we've heard how bad Burnett is and how the Yankees are toast. In the back of my mind I was fearful that Burnett would do what he did tonight---especially after the Tigers failed to score in the first.

And Rick Porcello?

Not bad. Stung by Jeter and Granderson's two-run doubles. But other than that, I thought Porcello gave the Tigers a solid start. Certainly enough to allow for a win, given the Tigers' usually potent offense.

The Yankees put this one away with a six-run eighth inning. Only a matter of time, huh, when their offense poured it on?

Well, they DID score nine runs in Game 1. But I know what you mean. Seems that since then, the Yankees have been below par, but mainly because A-Rod, Teixeira and Nick Swisher have been relatively quiet. Tonight, everyone got into the act. Besides, Game 1 was the Robinson Cano Show.

So does this mean the Tigers ought to be fearful heading into Game 5?

I think you should always be fearful against the Yankees. You can't keep them down forever.

But the Yankees only needed two runs to win tonight. The other eight don't carry into Game 5. In other words, new game, fresh slate. Momentum is the next game's starting pitcher.

Which brings us to Doug Fister---Justin Verlander Lite. Are the Tigers in good hands?

It's funny. I'm inclined to say yes, but that would be the same as everyone saying the Yankees were in bad hands with Burnett going in Game 4---and look how that turned out.

In other words, I don't want to jinx Mr. Fister. But truthfully, yes, I like Fister in Game 5---as long as Justin Verlander isn't available, which he isn't.

It's the same matchup as in the resumption of Game 1---Fister vs. the rookie Ivan Nova. I like Fister rebounding in the rematch, and I don't think Nova will shut the Tigers down two starts in a row.

Finally we have a day off in this wild ALDS. What are you gonna do on Wednesday?

Long for the days of the 1960s, when studs like Sandy Koufax and Mickey Lolich pitched their teams to World Series victories on two days' rest. But obviously Verlander is too prized a possession to try something like that nowadays.

If only.

Meanwhile, here's to Doug Fister. May the Force be with him against the Evil Empire.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game---played or not---to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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Burning Questions After Game 3 of the Tigers-Yankees ALDS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 5-4 win over the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS:

Was this an "instant classic"?

It was certainly one of the most exciting post-season games the Tigers have played, that's for sure. It had the feel of an Ali-Frazier boxing match.

The resilience of the Tigers offense is something to behold. The TBS announcers, particularly John Smoltz, talked a lot about "shutdown innings," i.e. innings a pitcher throws immediately after his team has scored runs.

Justin Verlander passed that test in the eighth inning after Delmon Young's home run gave the Tigers the lead again.

And Rafael Soriano of the Yankees failed the test, surrendering Young's homer immediately after the Yankees scored two runs off Verlander in the seventh to tie the game.

But beyond that, from the gutsy performance of Verlander to Brett Gardner's clutch two-run double to Young's homer to Jose Valverde's stressful save, it was a beauty.

What were you thinking after Verlander's rough start (single/triple)?

I was a little concerned that JV was finally going to have that bad start that he's overdue for. But he calmed down and really cruised until the seventh. As he told Tom Verducci after the game, "I lost it (rhythm), regained it, then lost it again for three batters," referring to the two-run seventh.

But truthfully I wasn't terribly concerned because if anyone can bounce back from that kind of a two-batter start, it's Justin Verlander.

With all the talk of these two power-packed lineups, it was Brett Gardner and Ramon Santiago who had the big hits tonight (save Young's homer). What gives?

The beauty of baseball, that's what gives.

In the 1978 World Series, light-hitting reserve infielder Brian Doyle filled in for the injured Willie Randolph and went ballistic, batting over .400 for the Series. You just never know.

But aside from the sheer odds, Gardner and Santiago are both smart, disciplined hitters. Their respective hits were no flukes. They're not, well, Brian Doyle.

What's wrong with Alex Avila?

The announcers said that Jim Leyland said Avila is a little lost. And that's why Leyland dropped Avila to the no. 8 spot in the order. That, plus the matchup against CC Sabathia is a tough one for the young catcher.

But there's no question that Avila isn't swinging with any authority, i.e. confidence.

It's unrealistic to expect ALL nine guys in your lineup to hit at all times, but it's uncomfortable to see Avila look so uncomfortable at the plate after the fine year he had.

Ron Darling said catchers are prone to wearing down in the post-season. If any of the eight catchers in the playoffs deserves to wear down, it's Alex Avila.

Hence the importance of players like Santiago---and Brandon Inge, who had two hits---coming through. It cancels out the struggles of a guy like Avila.

Speaking of Inge, he's looking OK out there, isn't he?

He sure drove Sabathia into the left field alley, which got the Tigers started in the third inning.

And he looked very comfortable at third base and loosey goosey on the field, chatting up Yankees players and the umps. Basically, having fun out there. The Brandon Inge of old.

If Inge can be remotely the player he was before this year's travails, what a shot in the arm for the Tigers.

Did you know Don Kelly had a "cannon," according to TBS' Brian Anderson?

Well, he DID make a great throw from right field in the ninth inning to keep the runner (temporarily) at first base. A lot better than Magglio Ordonez would have made.

Speaking of TBS, John Smoltz kinda called Delmon Young's homer, didn't he?

Yeah. Smoltzie said, "Be careful with the first pitch," and seconds later Young is jogging around the bases after hitting Soriano's first pitch for an opposite field homer, his second such dinger of the series.

Alex Rodriguez is hitless. He was booed a bit in New York yesterday. Thoughts?

You want me to say that he's falling back into the A-Rod of old, right? The one who couldn't produce in the post-season?

He's had a tough year and he's not hitting now, but you always think those types of guys are going to bust loose at any moment. Same with Frank Thomas for the A's in the 2006 ALCS. He was awful but I kept waiting for him to bust out of it. He never did.

But it's not just Rodriguez; Mark Teixeira and A-Rod combined are 1-for-21 in the series, according to Darling.

What's gotten into Jorge Posada?

I don't know; he's the Magglio Ordonez of the Yankees---a guy who was thisclose to being written off, or at least off the playoff roster, earlier in the season. But now he's hitting as well as he has all year. And when he's not hitting, Posada is being patient at the plate, drawing walks. The walk he coaxed from Verlander in the seventh inning was epic.

So it's A.J. Burnett for the Yankees in Game 4 with their season on the brink. Are you comfy if you're a Yanks fan?

Um, no.

But again, who knows? Maybe Burnett twirls a masterpiece and the series returns to New York.

So are you saying we're headed for a Game 5?

Nope. In fact, I have a feeling the Tigers are going to lay into Burnett and win a laugher.

But don't hold me to it.

Typical you; never willing to be held accountable!

Which makes me the same as every other blogger/sports writer out there.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game---played or not---to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Burning Questions After Game 2 of the Tigers-Yankees ALDS

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 5-3 win over the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS:

What was the story of this game?

The Tigers' big boys showed up. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez each had clutch RBI hits in the sixth inning, stretching the Tigers lead to 4-0. Cabrera muscled a two-run HR to right field in the first inning. It's always huge to score first at Yankee Stadium, especially after the Tigers got routed in Game 1.

How about Max Scherzer?

What can you say? A no-hitter for 5.1 innings, and his start was just what the doctor ordered. Even more impressive was that it came on the road, where Scherzer has been less than brilliant.

Max did a great job of pounding the strike zone and keeping the Yankees hitters off kilter. What a breath of fresh air following an ugly Game 1.

Do you feel better about the Tigers' offense?

Yes and no. The two-out RBI single by Don Kelly in the ninth inning was encouraging, but after two games not too many bats have shown up. The Tigers need more from Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila, especially. But it was good to see Cabrera get the team off to a good start after he was a non-factor in Game 1.

But a win is a win and the Tigers are going home, where they won 50 games this season.

Were you surprised to see Joaquin Benoit in the seventh inning?

Not really. These are the playoffs. Benoit has the stamina to pitch two innings, and if that's what Jim Leyland needed to bridge the gap between Scherzer and Jose Valverde, so be it. Regardless, Benoit gave the Tigers two good innings, despite surrendering the Curtis Granderson homer.

How about that ninth inning, with the rain and the almost rally?

Just another day at the office for Valverde, who entered the game in one of his notorious non-save situations.

The bomb by Nick Swisher didn't bother me, and neither did the triple by Jorge Posada. But the walks to Russell Martin and Granderson made things extra dicey.

What was your take on Avila's slip and fall on Granderson's foul popup?

That Brandon Inge should have called Avila off and made the play. TNT analyst Ron Darling---who's very good, by the way---correctly pointed that out. Once Inge saw Avila ambling dangerously close to the dugout and that rubber circle (where they hit fungos from, by tradition) with the Yankees logo on it, that was the time to take charge. As Darling said, the ball dropped mere feet from where Inge was standing.

How big of a win was this?

Huge. The winner of Game 2 in any best-of-five series is usually in good shape. In the Tigers' case, it means a 1-1 series with the best pitcher in baseball set to throw the next day---before his home crowd.

It was one of those games that, had the Tigers blown it, it would have been as bad of a loss as it was a gargantuan win---maybe more so.

Anything else you'd like to talk about?

Leyland started Magglio Ordonez---righty vs. righty---against Yankees starter Freddy Garcia partly due to Maggs' 16-for-50 career mark against Garcia.

Ordonez went 3-for-3, making him 19-for-53 (.358) against Garcia. Sometimes that stuff the computer spits out comes in handy.

The Tigers are in the driver's seat now, right?

It would seem so, but who can predict playoff baseball? The Yankees have lost six of their last eight games in Detroit, and the Tigers went 2-0 against them at Comerica Park in the 2006 ALDS.

So what?

All that goes out the window, but if the Tigers feel like that gives them a mental edge, then they should go with that notion. Anything you can do to feel good about yourself. Who knows? Maybe the Yankees don't relish two games in Detroit given their recent history there. Then again, maybe that gives them added incentive.

You just don't know.

But coming home 1-1 is a helluva lot better than being down 0-2.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game---played or not---to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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ALDS Burning Questions After Game 1

Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers' 9-3 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS:

Was the game as lopsided as the score indicated?

No, not that it changes anything; the Tigers are still down 1-0 in the series.

But essentially one bad inning did them in---the sixth, when the Yankees scored six time---as the Yankees had too much two-out bingo for the Tigers to handle.

That frame broke open a close game and made the final score look ugly.

What did you think of Doug Fister's performance?

Again, one bad inning did him in. At one point, the righty retired 10 straight Yankees as the game looked to be a pitching duel between Fister and rookie Ivan Nova. But Fister's failure to close out Brett Gardner on an 0-2 pitch was the linchpin of the Yanks' big sixth inning.

Overall, I thought Fister had pretty good command and for much of the game he looked like the Doug Fister of the past month or so. But the sixth inning killed it, obviously. When he got out of a jam in his very first inning (runners on second and third with nobody out) without a run being scored, I thought that was a good sign. But not good enough, sadly.

So many things went wrong for the Tigers, including things we rarely see, like Austin Jackson failing to nab a long drive to center field and Al Alburquerque surrendering a grand slam. What gives?

That's playoff baseball, sometimes. You forgot to mention the terrible break the Tigers got in the fifth inning, when Austin Jackson took off from first on a hit-and-run and Magglio Ordonez hit a ball up the middle that normally would have been a single. Instead, 2B Robinson Cano (who was blessed the whole game) was waiting for the grounder right at the bag and turned it into a double play. And that was when the score was 2-1.

In the Yankees' big inning, Derek Jeter hit a ball to a spot just abandoned by 2B Ryan Raburn, who went to cover second base on a hit-and-run. So when the Tigers try it, they hit into a double play. When the Yanks do it, they hit the ball into the hole for a single. Them's the breaks.

The slam by Cano was the first homer hit off Alburquerque all year. Sigh.

Where was the Tigers' offense?

Good question. Nova looked like Bob Gibson until the ninth inning. The Tigers need to wake their bats up, and in a hurry. They really didn't hit the ball all that hard off Nova all night.

Your thoughts on Nova?

He was just wild enough to be effective. When he missed, he missed badly (balls in the dirt, behind hitters, high and outside). But when he had to make pitches, he pretty much did so.

He's been a good pitcher for the Yankees, but the Tigers made him look better than he really is.

Should Tigers manager Jim Leyland re-think things and start Justin Verlander in Game 2?

Absolutely not. It's not panic time---yet. If the Tigers win Game 2, they'll have their best pitcher on the mound in a 1-1 series---at home.

So the Tigers aren't in trouble?

Not yet. The beauty of baseball is there's always tomorrow. The Tigers have the bats to do some damage off Freddy Garcia in Game 2. In less than 24 hours (it's a 3:07 start), they can wash their mouths of this ugly Game 1.

Any final thoughts?

Let's hope Game 2 acts like Scope for the Tigers.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game---played or not---to read me answer the "Burning Questions")

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