October 11, 2011
Painful victory for Tigers
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
DETROIT - If there is an image that perfectly captures the star-crossed nature of this American League Championship Series experience for the Detroit Tigers, it happened in the fourth inning Tuesday night.
Trailing the series 2-0 and the game 1-0, the Tigers had nothing going on against Texas starter Colby Lewis as DH Victor Martinez stepped up to the plate to lead off the inning. For three innings, hitting against Lewis had been like eating soup with a fork.
Martinez fouled off a pitch, looked at two balls out of the strike zone, then ripped Lewis’ next pitch into the right field seats to tie the game. The ball had not even cleared the wall, however, when Martinez grimaced in pain as he started to circle the bases, obviously having pulled or strained — or done something worse — to a muscle.
So, for a team so recently accustomed to calamity, what should have been a “Yeah, Baby!” moment, as they tied the game 1-1, turned into yet another “Oh, Noooooo” moment in a series filled with them for the Tigers.
Not this time, however. The Tigers, who have already lost Delmon Young and Magglio Ordonez to injury in recent days, responded with their best offensive show of the series.
Martinez’s blast opened up the floodgates as the Tigers scored runs in each of the next four innings on their way to a 5-2 victory and a chance to tie things up Wednesday.
It is still not yet clear if Martinez’s injury is significant. Leyland said the injury was to an intercostal (ribcage) muscle but he came to the plate twice more Tuesday. With runners on second and third and two outs, he did not offer at a pitch in the fifth inning as the Rangers pitched around him. In the eighth, he hit a high fly ball to centre field and did not appear to have any pain.
“I’m very concerned,” said Leyland. “We’ll see. I think he’ll be okay. He got through it tonight and hopefully he’ll be able to get through it (Wednesday).
“And if not, you know what, we’ll play somebody else. That’s who we are. That’s what you do at this time of year.”
But amid the uncertainty, all around him the Tigers seemed to come alive after Martinez’s home run.
Miguel Cabrera had an RBI double and then a long solo home run in the seventh. Jhonny Perlata also homered, leading off the sixth. Even light-hitting Austin Jackson got into the act with three hits, a run and an RBI.
Meanwhile Doug Fister, who gave up three straight hits and a run before he got an out in the first inning, allowed only four more hits the rest of the way, pitching into the eighth inning for the victory.
The first three Ranger hitters in the first inning had base hits against Fister, producing a run on Hamilton’s RBI single. Fister got out of the inning without any further damage, and he seemed to get stronger as the game wore on.
“I was just out there, using my defence,” said Fister. “I’m not trying to blow it by anybody, I’m not looking for strikeouts. I’m looking for contact, let my defence do its job and let’s get deep into the game.”
“I thought he put on a pitching clinic out there,” said Leyland, “working in and out, moving the ball around, bothj sides of the plate.”
This game projected to be a Tiger feast against Lewis. In six career starts against Detroit, Lewis had pitched 27.2 innings, allowed 40 hits and 23 earned runs. This year alone, in two starts, the Tigers had drummed on Lewis for 20 hits and 13 earned runs in just 7.1 innings.
Over the first three innings, however they managed only two singles and no Detroit baserunner advanced past first base. That all changed with the Martinez homer in the fourth.
From that point until he was dismissed from the game with two outs in the sixth, Lewis gave up six more hits including the Martinez home run, a Cabrera RBI double and another homer by Peralta.
“That’s what big players do,” said Leyland, of Cabrera. “That’s what guys like him do at this time of year.”
The Tigers may have gotten their ship righted somewhat in this game, but they’re not exactly out of hazardous waters. They still trail the series 2-1 and it’s not yet clear if Martinez’s injury is at all significant.
If Martinez is forced to miss even a game or two, it would leave yet another gaping hole in their offence. Even though others picked up the slack in Game 3, Detroit can ill afford to lose another bat of Martinez’s calibre.
“The only way I won’t play tomorrow is if I wake up and I’m dead,’’ Martinez said.