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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Two polarizing former teammates — Coke and Berry — could play big roles late in ALCS games

BOSTON — There have been any number of guys who’ve stoked emotions both ways among Detroit Tigers fans over the last handful of seasons.

Brandon Inge. Ryan Raburn. Jose Valverde. Chris Shelton. Don Kelly.

None of those more or less than a pair of players who could be key to the 2013 American League Championship series: Phil Coke and Quintin Berry.

After missing much of the second half of the season with a pair of ailments, Coke was the lone substitution to the Tigers’ playoff roster, after the conclusion of the AL Division Series.

Berry, who was in spring training with the Tigers after spending last regular season and postseason with them, spent most of this season in the minors with the Tigers and Royals. He’s now on his third organization in a year, coming to the Boston Red Sox in trade just before the deadline.

As he did with the Tigers, Berry could impact the ALCS with his speed.

And Coke will be a weapon for Tigers manager Jim Leyland against the BoSox’s cadre of lefty hitters, giving him a third southpaw in the bullpen.

The Tigers dropped Luke Putkonen from the roster to make room for Coke. Putkonen did not appear in a game in the ALDS.

There’s no guarantee that Coke will make an appearance, either.

But at least he’s a good weapon to have in the back pocket.

Boston has three switch hitters and five lefties among its 14 position players on the playoff roster. Five of those eight are regulars in the lineup.

Yes, the Tigers have lefties Drew Smyly and Jose Alvarez in the bullpen, but Boston DH David Ortiz is 3-for-4 with a home run against Smyly and 1-for-3 with a home run against Alvarez.

Ortiz is 2-for-18 ( a .111 average) with a double and four strikeouts off Coke.

Don’t be surprised if Coke comes into the game late, just to face a guy like Ortiz.

If Big Papi does get on base late, don’t be surprised if Berry runs for him, either.

Berry has appeared in one postseason game with the Red Sox, pinch running for Ortiz in Game 3 of the ALDS, getting into scoring position in a tie game, but was stranded there. The Sox ended up losing the game, 5-4, in the ninth inning.

“I saw him the other night steal a big base. It’s a weapon, it really is. It’s a nice weapon to have, and he’s really good at it. He normally doesn’t get thrown out,” Leyland said of Berry, who’s never been gunned out in 28 career MLB attempts.

“The reason he’s good is because he’s one of those guys that can steal the base when everybody in the ballpark knows he’s going to go, and he can still steal the base. That’s what I call a legitimate base stealer. A lot of guys can sneak one once in a while. But when everybody in the park knows he’s going to go and he still goes and makes it, that’s a legitimate base stealer.”

The Tigers have not done well slowing down opposing running games, either.

During the regular season, they threw out just 18 percent (29 of 157) of opposing base stealers. The A’s only attempted one steal in the ALDS, but were successful.

“Well, if you looked at our last couple of series with Kansas City, who is a real running team, you’ll find we did a good job of that. We picked them off about three times. I don’t know that we’ll be able to get (Jacoby) Ellsbury,” Leyland said.

“That’s kind of a Catch‑22. I think you actually have to — you can’t get consumed by that as a pitcher, because then you make too many mistakes with the hitter.

“We’ll have a plan. We’ll try to watch it close. We’ll try to contain them. It’s not going to be a perfect deal. But you know, I don’t know how much that will be a factor. I know they push a little bit more than the Oakland club, to be honest with you. It’s a great point, just an extra thing you have to be aware of. We’ll be prepared for that.”


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