Tigers Wild Ride in ALCS Continues

And this evening I gleefully eat crow.

Justin Verlander or no, I didn’t expect the Tigers to win Game 5. After Wednesday night’s deflating extra-inning loss, my typically optimistic self thought the Tigers had run out of gas and that the Rangers were just too hot to lose.

Texas was making the most of their opportunities — lord knows they (and the Tigers with much less success) have had plenty this series — and how long could Detroit’s worn out pitching staff keep Michael Young and Adrian Beltre, the only Rangers not scorching the ball these days, in check? Not long, at least in the case of the former.

When Young doubled in the first inning, that queasy feeling of doom washed over me. Then I got angry: No way Verlander wilts in this situation. He didn’t.

Despite what some wrote, Verlander was terrific. Untouchable? No. But he had enough stuff, grit and determination to get the outs he needed at just the right time.

These same observers are saying the Tigers were lucky to win this game. Well, yeah — and it’s about time a bounce went Detroit’s way. And an ice-cold hitter hit a home run. And a starter went deep into the game. And someone other than Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde got the final outs. And a packed Comerica Park trembled one more time.

If the Tigers go on to win this series, imagine how we’ll remember a beaten down Alex Avila at last delivering a key hit with an opposite field home run, or how iconic Miguel Cabrera‘s sixth-inning double off the third-base bag will become in Detroit sports lore. Or Victor Martinez‘s triple when the man can hardly walk. Or Delmon Young‘s two rockets to left-center that put him in elite company in the Tigers’ postseason record book.

With Max Scherzer going in Game 6 — the first time the Tigers have been in a postseason Game 6 since 1968 — you have to feel good, don’t you? My guess is that he feels he has some unfinished business after Game 2 and will be on a mission Saturday night.

For now though, I’m going to savor this win and the crow I was forced to eat after not so much doubting the Tigers’ grit, but recognizing the offensive buzz saw that’s the Texas Rangers right now.

And you know what? Jim Leyland seems to be having the time of his life in this series. Perhaps it’s time I stop fretting every pitch and just enjoy the ride too.

Who’s with me?

The Game 5 Non Sequiturs

Here we are, a couple of hours from the most nerve-wracking Tigers game since Game 163 and the club’s first winner-take-all game since the 1972 ALCS, as Lee Panas pointed out after Game 4. Let’s see what happens. (Not unlike to my approach to this post.)

Jim Leyland this afternoon explained why we’ll see Max Scherzer and not Justin Verlander should the Tigers need a long-man:

“I don’t think it’s a wise decision. Like I said, those innings he pitched the other night, all the innings he’s piled up this year, all the strikeouts, all the adrenaline, and the fact that he’s throwing 100 miles an hour in the eighth inning [on Monday night], if he comes in this game tonight, there’s no telling what he would be throwing with the way this crowd is going to be and everything. I just don’t think it makes sense.”

Tonight’s game marks the seventh time in the Tigers post-season history they’ve had a series go the maximum number of games. Detroit has compiled a 2-4 record in the previous six series.

  • Wins: Game 7 of the 1945 and 1968 World Series
  • Losses: Game 7 of the 1909, 1934 and 1940 World Series; Game 5 of the 1972 ALCS

Jerry Crasnick focuses on Doug Fister and Delmon Young in this ESPN.com story. Here’s one scout’s view on Fister:

“The gun doesn’t tell the story on him,” the scout said. “He’s a movement guy with good location, and velocity doesn’t matter that much. He’s so tall [6-foot-8] and he’s straight over the top, so he gets great ‘down’ plane. When he’s down in the zone, it’s like hitting a bowling ball.”

By the by, Fister surrendered five home runs over his final 19 outings of the season dating back to June 14, a stretch of 129 innings pitched. He allowed 0.46 home runs per nine innings this season, lowest in the American League.

On this date in 1945, a goat and its owner make an appearance at Wrigley Field for Game 4 of the World Series between the Tigers and Cubs. The pair is told to leave before the game ends, angering the owner (and presumably the goat). The Cubs lost to the Tigers, 4-1. The Tigers go on to win the Series in seven and the Cubs won’t win another National League championship for the rest of the 20th century. And thus was born the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Young’s two home runs during this ALDS matches a Tigers record. Both Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe hit two home runs for Detroit during the ALDS in 2006.

That’s all I’ve got. Except for this: Tigers 5 Yankees 2.

Enjoy the game.

The Monday Report: Power Rankings, Masao Kida and Johnny Cash

The Tigers embark on their final roadtrip of the season and Detroit fans can gleefully bid adieu to Ozzie Guillen and his band of jolly outlaws.

Leading Off: The Tigers beat the Twins 2-1 yesterday for the club’s ninth straight win — their first of that length since May 1984. Doug Fister shutout the Twins over seven innings for the win, while Jose Valverde posted his club-record 43rd save of the season. Delmon Young led the Tigers with two hits and an RBI.

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The Tigers are in first place, 10.5 games ahead of the White Sox.

The magic number is 7.

Today’s Game: Rick Porcello (13-8, 4.87) vs. John Danks (6-11, 4.09 ERA) | 8:10 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Porcello

With a win tonight, Porcello would match his career high established during his rookie season with the Tigers in 2009.

He’s compiled a 2-0 record and 2.75 ERA over his last three starts. And, he’s issued two-or-fewer walks in 23 of his 27 outings for the Tigers this season.

Notes on Danks

In his last start, last Tuesday in Minnesota, Danks suffered the third loss in his last 13 starts.allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits over six innings.

He became just the third pitcher since 1961 to go 0-8 before June 1. The 0-8 start was the first by a pitcher who won 15 games or more the previous season since Montreal’s Dale Murray in 1976 (also 0-8).

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ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume says that if there were a catchers draft, Alex Avila should be the easy number-one selection:

Avila has been the best catcher in baseball this season. Among the game’s everyday catchers — let’s say those who have started more than 100 games behind the plate — Avila leads the majors with a .300 batting average, .391 on-base percentage, .522 slugging percentage and .913 OPS. He’s No. 1 across the board. Remember, this hypothetical applies to catching actual games, not your fantasy league team, so forget about Victor Martinez or Mike Napoli — the guy you draft has to actually crouch down and catch for you every day. Avila has done exactly that for the Tigers.

Austin Jackson enters tonight’s game having hit safely in each of his last 15 games against the White Sox. He is hitting .403 with four doubles, three triples, three home runs and nine RBI during the 15-game stretch.

Looking for some autographed Tigers memorabilia? You’re in luck. MGOAuction.com, an auction site of primarily University of Michigan sports memorabilia, has several Tigers items up for bid. The items include autographed baseballs signed by Justin Verlander, Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez, Andy Dirks, Brandon Inge and other items signed by Alex Avila, Al Kaline and Todd Jones. Proceeds benefit a series of undergraduate scholarships at UM including the Bernard “Pat” Maloy Cancer Scholarship, the Shelly Kovacs Scholarship. Check out MGoAuction.com.

The Tigers have finally leap-frogged the Diamondbacks in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings this week and earned a spot a number four. (Though they couldn’t crack John Kruk’s rankings.) And, the Tigers are this week’s U.S. Army Team of the Week.

Eighty years ago today at Fenway Park, Eddie Durham and the Tigers Arthur “Red” Herring faced off in a 13-inning pitching duel. Durham won, 1-0.

The funny thing about this nine-game winning streak and 10-1/2-game lead? The anti-Jim Leyland crowd sure has been quiet.

Birthdays! Happy 71st to Mickey Lolich, Happy 55th to Mark Thurmond, Happy 52nd to Scotti Madison, and Happy 43rd to Masao Kida.

Finally, music legend Johnny Cash died on this date in 2003 at the age of 71. Let’s remember him with one of his classic songs, “A Boy Named Sue.”

The Friday Fungoes: White Sox, Geno’s First Homer, and Jimmy Connors

It’s Friday. It’s Labor Day Weekend. It’s the White Sox and Tigers at Comerica Park. What’s not to like? Besides the White Sox, of course.

Leading Off: The Royals continued their irritating ways yesterday, out-slugging the Tigers 11-8, to earn a split of the four-game series. Let’s face it, Kansas City could’ve very easily swept this series and probably should have. Overshadowed by the Royals’ plucky play was a tremendous day for Magglio Ordonez: a homer, two doubles and stole a base — his first of the year. Rookie Jacob Turner was rocked for six earned runs but thanks to the Tigers’ comebacks he avoided taking the loss. Austin Jackson hit his eighth homer of the year and is at last hitting above .250.

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The Tigers are in first place, 5.5 games ahead of the White Sox and Indians.

Today’s Game: Tigers vs. White Sox – Justin Verlander (20-5, 2.38 ERA) vs. John Danks (6-9, 3.63 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Tigers Lineup

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Magglio Ordonez, RF
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Ramon Santiago, 2B
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B

White Sox Lineup

  1. Juan Pierre, LF
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS
  3. Paul Konerko, 1B
  4. A.J. Pierzynski, DH
  5. Dayan Viciedo, RF
  6. Alejandro de Aza, CF
  7. Tyler Flowers, C
  8. Brent Morel, 3B
  9. Gordon Beckham, 2B

Notes on Verlander

  • He’s 11-1 with a 2.62 ERA in his previous 12 starts against division opponents this season.
  • In four starts against the White Sox this season he’s 3-1 with a 4.03 ERA. Lifetime, he’s 10-10, 4.45 ERA in 23 starts.

Notes on Danks

  • Danks is making his 14th career start vs. the Tigers and third in 2011. He’s 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 2011 and 4-5 with a 3.95 ERA lifetime.
  • In his last three starts in Detroit, Danks is 0-3 with a 4.76 ERA  and a .329 opponents average.

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Around the Central: The A’s smoked and blanked the Indians, 7-0, to salvage a game in that series … the White Sox and Twins were off. Tonight the Indians travel to Kansas City for the first of three against the Royals, and the Twins face the Angels in Anaheim.

The Tigers enter tonight’s game having won 15 of the team’s last 21 games over the White Sox dating back to Aug. 14, 2010. They’re hitting .293 with 115 runs scored, 35 doubles, four triples and 23 home runs over the 21-game stretch versus Chicago. Tigers pitchers have compiled a 3.33 ERA during the stretch against the White Sox.

This is the first time Delmon Young will face the White Sox as a member of the Tigers. It could be good timing: he’s batting .344 with 14 doubles, nine home runs and 35 RBI in 57 games during his career against them. However, Magglio Ordonez has the best lifetime stats against tonight’s starter Danks: he’s hitting .517 (15-29) with two home runs and seven RBI lifetime.

In case you were wondering, here’s how the Tigers have fared day-by-day through the first five months and one day of the season: Monday 8-9, Tuesday 13-6, Wednesday 10-10, Thursday 9-8, Friday 11-10, Saturday 10-11, Sunday 14-8.

Happy 27th Birthday to Dusty Ryan and Happy 59th to Nate Snell.

On this date in 1970, Gene Lamont homered in his first major league at bat, but the Red Sox beat the Tigers, 10-1, in the second game of a doubleheader in Fenway Park.

On Sept. 2, 1973, the Tigers fired manager Billy Martin. In many ways, I still can’t believe the Tigers — Jim Campbell’s Tigers — ever hired him.

On this date in 1987, Tom Candiotti pitched his second one-hitter of the season, but also walks seven batters and makes an error as the Indians lose to Detroit, 2-1. Matt Nokes’ single with two out in the eighth is the Tigers’ only hit.

The American League Cy Young race isn’t over, says Tim Kurkjian, but Justin Verlander will win it.

Finally, just in time for the U.S. Open (one of my favorite sporting events of the year) we wish a Happy 59th Birthday to Tennis Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors. He won the U.S. Open singles title in 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982 and 1983.

Have a great weekend and be safe.

Series Preview: Tigers @ Twins

twinsLogo.jpgThe Tigers are visiting Target Field for the second time this season and, just like on May 3, they enter play just a half-game behind the Twins. Three days later Detroit was 3.5 games back. Bygones.

Among the many differences between the Tigers of May and the Tigers of late June — an overhauled rotation, a new second baseman, a new shortstop — is that today’s Tigers also must contend with a surging White Sox club. Depending how this series and the Sox’s series against the Royals pan out, the Tigers could be in first, second or third.

Continue reading “Series Preview: Tigers @ Twins”