Young, Verlander and a little luck lift Tigers
October, 13, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Bring back the stories of Mickey Mantle playing through the pain of ravaged knees and a torn-up shoulder. The anecdotes of Sandy Koufax and his "atomic" balm, a concoction he applied to dull the pain in his elbow, but an ointment of such ferocity that teammate Lou Johnson once accidentally put on one of Koufax's shirts and ran off the field screaming in agony. Or remember Kirk Gibson hobbling around the bases.
OK, maybe I'm going a little too far. After all, Delmon Young has only an oblique strain, an injury that trainers seemingly invented a decade ago. Heck, guys such as George Brett probably played their entire careers with oblique strains and didn't even realize it. But it's 2011 and now an oblique strain sidelines a guy for a few days, a few weeks or leaves him off the American League Championship Series roster.
That was originally the decision the Tigers made with Young, who homered in the Game 5 division series victory over the Yankees -- his third home run of that series -- only to strain the oblique later in the game. "We thought he was going to be all right," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before Game 1. "He hit fine yesterday, wasn't too bad, then he went to the press [conference] and it stiffened up. It killed him when he raised his arm up. He had an MRI and it didn't show a whole lot, but with those obliques, you just don't know."
Only when Magglio Ordonez broke his ankle in the series opener was Young added back to the ALCS roster. He'd gone 0-for-8 in two games. But in Game 5 he hit a two-out home run off C.J. Wilson in the fourth inning to give Detroit a 2-1 lead, and then lofted a high fly that cleared the fence in left-center in the sixth for a two-run homer and a 6-2 lead in a game they eventually won 7-5. Call it luck or good fortune or true grit or just call it good hitting -- either way, Young became just the fourth Tigers player to hit two home runs in a postseason game, joining Ordonez (2004 ALCS), Gibson and Alan Trammell (both in the 1984 World Series).
That sixth inning did unwind in a quirky manner with real bits of luck: Ryan Raburn singled, Miguel Cabrera doubled when the ball hit the third-base bag and bounded over Adrian Beltre's head (followed by about 87 close-ups of the bag from Fox, Victor Martinez tripled to right on a ball that Nelson Cruz missed by an inch or three, and then Young deposited his home run off the dugout roof in the bullpen. It all happened in 16 pitches and maybe Texas manager Ron Washington waited too long to pull Wilson, but with a 3-1 series lead, it was understandable that he was reluctant to pull Wilson, and neither Cabrera's double nor Martinez's triple had been hit hard. Wilson's postseason struggles -- 16 runs in 15.2 innings -- are cause for concern for the Rangers, however, and represented yet another short start from the Texas rotation. The Rangers have yet to have a starter go more than six innings in the series.
Other than Young and the third-base bag, the other MVP of the game, of course, was Justin Verlander. And while everybody keeps trying to force the Justin Verlander storyline on us -- the announcers spend plenty of time talking about him even in games he's not pitching -- the fact is that he was again mediocre, throwing 7.1 innings and 133 pitches but allowing four runs. (He became the first pitcher to throw 130 pitches in a postseason game since the infamous Pedro Martinez start in the 2003 ALCS.) With Leyland saying before the game that he wouldn't use Joaquin Benoit or Jose Valverde, he needed Verlander to go deep into the game. The big guy did do that, to his credit. Verlander's clutch out came in the top of the sixth when he got Ian Kinsler to ground into a 5-3 double play with the bases loaded.
So, yes, give Verlander credit for getting his team into the eighth. But give his offense credit for scoring seven runs and hitting four home runs (Alex Avila and Ryan Raburn joined Young in the fun). Verlander gets credit for the win, but you can say luck was on his side. Before this game, there had been 65 games in postseason history in which a starting pitcher lasted between seven and eight innings and allowed four runs. The pitcher got the win in only 10 of those games, and one of those was Verlander against the Yankees in the ALCS.
Anyway, we're back to Texas with a Game 6 on Saturday. It's a series that deserves at least one more game.
But I'll take two.