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Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: October 8, 4:22 PM ET
Punchless in Detroit

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Here's the important takeaway from Monday's bench-clearing non-brawl in Game 3: Many Tigers fans probably went home from American League Division Series Game 3 cursing so profanely that even Grant Balfour would demand ear plugs.

@#%$& me! Our miserable @#%$&-ing offense is hitting like absolute @#%$&-ing &@#$!!!

And they would be correct. The Tigers ranked second in the league in runs scored this season but following Monday's 6-3 loss to the Athletics, they are on the brink of elimination and wondering what has happened to their once-potent offense. Detroit has scored in only two of the 27 innings played this series and has scored only 10 runs in the past seven games including the regular season. In the past four games, the Tigers have been no-hit by a rookie and held scoreless for eight innings by another rookie (Sonny Gray in Game 2).

Martinez-Balfour
A's closer Grant Balfour and Tigers DH Victor Martinez exchanged pleasantries in the ninth inning -- and the benches quickly emptied.

After going 20 consecutive scoreless innings in the series, Detroit rallied for three runs in the fourth inning in Game 3 to tie the game at 3, only to see starter Anibal Sanchez give up home runs to Brandon Moss and Seth Smith the very next inning to fall behind by another three runs.

And that, pretty much, was that. The only noise Detroit made the rest of the way was in the ninth inning when designated hitter Victor Martinez and Balfour started an NC-17 debate that led to a bench-clearing non-brawl.

Earlier this season, a poll of players determined that the Oakland closer has the filthiest mouth in the majors. Balfour repeatedly curses so loudly between pitches that Josh Reddick says he can hear him clearly in right field. Asked how he would describe Balfour's choice of language, Reddick said, "I guess not very age-appropriate."

"He goes to a totally different place to get himself fired up and ready to go," Oakland reliever Sean Doolittle said. "On some level, it's only a matter of time before somebody takes it the wrong way."

That moment was in the ninth inning after Martinez fouled off a pitch to make the count 1-2. Why a foul ball would start a rumble was unclear. Either Balfour angered Martinez by cursing, or Martinez angered Balfour by glaring at him. Whatever the cause, the two were very upset with each other.

"He said a bad word and I don't take that s---," Martinez said. "I'm not a rookie to be intimidated with little stuff like that. I'm not going to take that. If he doesn't want a hitter to stare at him, then get off the mound. It's simple as that. I don't have any problem with pitchers staring at me. Because this is a battle."

"He gave me the death stare," Balfour said. "He had the eyes locked on me like he wanted to come to the mound. So I said, 'Hey, man, you want to stare me down like that, you got a problem, then come on out.'"

Fortunately, there was no fight. The Tigers were literally punchless Monday as well as figuratively.

What resulted instead was not quite the notorious Red Sox-Yankees 2003 fight when Don Zimmer wound up knocked to the ground. First, Martinez and Balfour jawed at each other. Then the dugouts emptied. Then a little later the bullpens emptied. And then both teams stood near the pitching mound looking at each other and wondering what all the fuss was about.

"After everything calmed down we were like, 'What happened. Why are we out here?' Both sides. The A's and the Tigers, 'Why are we out here?'" Detroit right fielder Torii Hunter said. "But Balfour is a fiery guy. Victor is a fiery guy. Balfour sometimes talks to himself and hitters think he's talking to them. I've seen Balfour do that for years. He's actually a good guy; he just gets fired up on the mound."

When the game resumed, Martinez lined out to right field and the Tigers went down quietly. Again.

Part of Detroit's hitting woes is attributable to some outstanding Oakland pitching; the Athletics' bullpen has yet to allow a hit while striking out nine. Part of it might be due to the layoff since the regular season ended; the Tigers have played only three games in the past eight days but so have the Athletics. And part of it is undoubtedly due to the assorted injuries that are slowing the game's best hitter. Miguel Cabrera hit 44 home runs this season but only one after Aug. 26. He has only two extra-base hits in that span.

Seth Smith
Seth Smith's two-run homer in the fifth inning knocked Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez out of the game and gave Oakland a 6-3 lead.

Cabrera gave fans hope with a long drive to deep right-center in the fourth inning but the wind, and perhaps his recent lack of power, held the ball in for a flyout. @##%!

Manager Jim Leyland was so desperate for offense that he played shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who missed almost the entire final two months of the regular season while suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs, in left field Monday. On the plus side, Peralta singled home two runs to tie the game in the fourth inning. On the negative side, his very weak throw home allowed a run to score from third on a sacrifice fly.

The Tigers start Doug Fister against rookie Dan Straily in Game 4, but they will need more than a strong pitching performance to keep fans from cursing this winter about another punchless postseason. They also will need their bats to speak at least as loudly as Balfour.