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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.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Anatomy of a loss: Tigers made the key mistakes in Game 6, creating their own undoing

BOSTON — There was no margin for error.

Considering how the first five games of the American League Championship Series had gone to date, you almost knew the first team to crack and make the one big mistake might lose Game 6.

Yet, here were the Detroit Tigers, making a number of miscues, and surviving.

• Walks from starter Max Scherzer, one of the things he’d limited so spectacularly in his potential Cy Young season.

• A hanger from Scherzer that Dustin Pedroia blasted just inches wide of being a home run.

• A blunder on the bases by Prince Fielder, running the Tigers out of an inning, right after they’d taken a lead.

• Austin Jackson getting picked off first.

• Then the coup de grace, having the most sure-handed fielder on the team, shortstop Jose Iglesias, boot a ball that might have been a game-changing double play. Instead, it loaded the bases.

You can only dodge so many bullets.

The last one proved to be the one that they couldn’t dodge.

One batter — and three pitches — after Iglesias’ error, set-up man Jose Veras hung a curveball that Shane Victorino banged for a grand slam.

“Your heart just drops. ... It was like a pop-up. The ball just barely getting over the (Green) Monster, in most stadiums that’s probably an out. But here’s it s a homer and he got the job done. He came through when they needed him and got the big hit. That was a crushing blow,” Torii Hunter said. “They made the big pitches when they needed to, and capitalized on our mistakes, in the field, or on the basepaths.

“What can you do?”

It was certainly not the Tigers’ finest hour.

“You work so hard, you work your whole offseason, all the way through your whole season, to be able to pitch well in that moment. Try to execute as a team. We just came up short today,” Scherzer said. “It’s just frustrating.”

And the blame was more than enough to go around.

Start with Scherzer, who shouldered his share of the load.

He walked five in the game, and plunked another, the total of free passes matching his highest of the season. In fact, he only had four starts in the regular season with more than three free passes.

He’d only walked six combined in three postseason appearances before Saturday.

“I was making mistakes by walking guys, and giving them free passes. You just can’t do that. Even though I was able to find my way out of some of those jams, you put yourself in enough of those situations, you’re going to get beat,” Scherzer said.

“For me, I was able to avoid some of the big innings, by pitching out of some jams, but eventually, you just can’t walk as many guys as I did tonight, against a quality team like that. When you’re giving them as many free passes as I did, you’re asking for trouble. I was able to handle some trouble, but I can’t withstand it all.

“That’s my own undoing.”

Hanging a slider to Pedroia almost proved his undoing in the third inning.

One pitch after making a spectacular, sliding play to catch a popped-up bunt by Victorino, Scherzer found his head whiplashing around to follow the flight of the ball off Pedroia’s bat. He grimaced as it flew closer to the foul pole, then tried to will it wide, waving like the iconic image of former Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk trying to wave his homer fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

Fisk’s homer hit the foul pole, giving the Red Sox a 7-6 win in 12 innings.

Pedroia’s missed that same pole by inches, video review showed.

“I looked over at my bench, and they acknowledged it was a foul ball,” Scherzer said. “I just dodged a bullet, because I hung a slider. I was inches away from giving up a home run.”

Four pitches later, Pedroia grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Bullet dodged.

Fielder’s miscue was a bit harder to swallow.

After walking, and going first-to-third on Victor Martinez’s bases-loaded, two-run single, giving the Tigers the lead, Fielder ran the Tigers out of the sixth-inning rally. He started off third on Jhonny Peralta’s ground ball, but stopped.

After Pedroia tagged Martinez out between first and second, he threw home to keep Fielder from scoring. Fielder turned to retreat to third, then dove, but came up several feet short of the bag.

“I was trying to keep us out of the double play and, once I saw Pedroia tag him, I kind of got stuck there — and it ended up being a double play anyway,” said Fielder, admitting he probably should’ve held up. “Yeah, probably. But it’s over, bro.”

It wasn’t the Tigers’ only out on the bases.

Jackson was picked off first in the top of the seventh inning, after a one-out single. Iglesias beat out on an infield single behind him, then Hunter reached on an error, when pitcher Brandon Workman tried to field his surprising two-out bunt.

The inning — which might have been different, had the bases been loaded — ended when Xander Bogaerts made a spectacular play to get Miguel Cabrera on a groundout back up the middle.

Bogaerts would factor prominently in the rally in the bottom of the inning, too, as he drew a one-out walk on a borderline 3-2 change-up, ending Scherzer’s night.

“Is it a strike? Probably, but it never gets called. Catcher’s setting up inside, he has to reach across his body. Umpires just never call that. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. You gotta give him credit for taking that pitch, because that pitch is in the zone, moving downwards, and he still had the composure not to be aggressive in that situation, and take that pitch. You gotta tip your cap to him, for his selectivity, and not expanding the zone in that situation,” Scherzer said.

“It’s probably a strike, it’s probably in the zone, but it never gets called. I’m not here to criticize (home plate umpire) Dan Iassogna about that pitch. That’s just the way it goes. If you don’t hit your spots, you don’t get calls.

“Even though it might’ve been in the zone, I didn’t hit my spot exactly.

“That’s just the way it goes.”

Catcher Alex Avila saw it the same way.

“It was very close. I’m not sure what it looked like on TV, but I thought it might’ve been a strike. Dan, he’s always been very honest, a very good umpire, and he said he thought it was low,” Avila said. “Live with it. Make another pitch after that.”

Drew Smyly replaced Scherzer, and faced the left-handed Jacoby Ellsbury with one out and two on. He made the pitch he needed to, getting a ground ball up the middle.

Iglesias tracked it down behind the bag, and tried to gather it up to make the flip to start a potential double play.

Instead, he dropped it.

“We probably finish that inning there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it done. It would be a huge double play if we turn that one but we didn’t,” Iglesias said.

“You turn that double play, the inning will be completely different. Maybe it was over. They just got some momentum and Shane hit a grand slam so that was huge. I feel bad but I gotta continue to turn the page and move forward for next year.”

Jose Veras replaced Smyly, and started Victorino off with a curveball. Called strike.

Then he threw another. Foul.

Then he threw a third. And hung it a bit.

“Well, 0-2, and Victorino hasn’t really looked good on breaking balls this year. He’s gotten out a lot on them. Veras threw a decent breaking ball,” Avila said. “Maybe wanted it a little bit lower, but in the end, he was trying make a great pitch. It was a little up, and he just got it over the wall. Give credit to Victorino for making adjustment.”

Mistakes finally caught up with the Tigers.

All of a sudden, they trailed 5-2. The game would finish that way. And the season.

“Just wish we could’ve played better as a team. We fought so hard to get to this position, and came up short. The Boston Red Sox beat us. That’s how it went down, and that’s how you should write it,” Scherzer said.

“They were the better team in this series.”

Because they made fewer critical mistakes.


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