Commentary

It's awful ALCS had to end on sour note

Nine-run third inning the lowlight as Tigers' season came to an abrupt halt in Game 6

Originally Published: October 15, 2011
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- No offense to Rangers fans, but it's a damn shame the series had to finish like this.

The ALCS had been a tense, dramatic series filled with such heroic, cinematic moments, Brad Pitt should have been one of the general managers. Good Lord. Nelson Cruz hit a walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning of Game 2 and then hit a three-run home run in the 11th inning of Game 4. Delmon Young hit two home runs in Game 5, even though he wasn't in the Tigers' lineup when the series began due to injury. With the season on the line, Justin Verlander threw 133 pitches -- will the union file a grievance? -- to win Game 5 while Motown rocked and chanted "M-V-P! M-V-P!'' There was even a little Industrial Light and Magic special effects when an apparent double-play grounder bounced off third base for a game-changing double that day.

The better team won in the end, but this series deserved to finish with a one-run Rangers victory on a Cruz walk-off home run into exploding light towers while the Toreador song from "Carmen'' blared.

Instead we got Game 6.

The Tigers gave up nine runs in the third inning, one shy of the postseason record. They allowed 15 runs and 17 hits, walked eight batters, threw two wild pitches, made two errors and botched so many plays that Tom Emanski probably grimaced the whole game. The Rangers batted around in the third inning and sent nine batters to the plate in the seventh. And it could have been even worse. The Rangers stranded 11 baserunners.

How bad was Detroit's 15-5 loss? The Tigers even let Brad Penny pitch.

"Obviously it's disappointing,'' Verlander said. "It had been such a roller-coaster ride. Going into New York for Game 5 [of the Division Series], every game being so tightly contested here and then to see it slip away, it's just a helpless feeling.''

[+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
AP Photo/Paul SancyaTigers skipper Jim Leyland had to make too many trips to the mound. His starter, Max Scherzer, didn't make it out of the third inning.

While watching outfielders Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn run into each other, the Yankees must have been sitting home and thinking, "Good God. We lost to this team?''

And that's the shame because after battling through so many injuries and grinding out so many close victories this month, after upsetting the Yankees in the Division Series, the Tigers deserved to go out in better, more dramatic fashion than a 10-run defeat. Catcher Alex Avila's knees were already hurting, but they really ached as he squatted through 169 pitches thrown by Detroit pitchers in a loss that felt like it would never end.

"Given that it's an elimination game, it feels pretty bad,'' said starter Max Scherzer, who allowed six runs and didn't make it out of the third inning. "You never want to be in a situation where things unravel like this. You always want to be the guy who steps up and helps his team win. That's the most frustrating thing for me.''

Scherzer complained about a pitch first base umpire Tim Welke didn't call a strike when Cruz checked his swing with a 2-2 count in the disastrous third inning. The Tigers can't blame this one on the umpires, though. To say either that pitch or a call on a close play at second base two batters later is why Detroit allowed nine runs in the third inning -- or six more runs after that inning -- is ridiculous. "I think you would look awful foolish to be complaining about a call or so when the score ended up like that,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Would the series have played out differently had the Tigers not endured so many injuries, had Magglio Ordonez not broken his ankle in Game 1 or had Young been healthy? Perhaps. But the Rangers had their share of aches and pains, too. Adrian Beltre was limping around in pain for three games after he fouled a ball off his knee. Josh Hamilton had a sore groin muscle, but he hung in there to crash against the left field wall to make a catch in Game 6. Cruz appeared to strain a muscle swinging in the fourth inning on Saturday, but he stayed in the game and homered in the seventh.

[+] EnlargeMiguel Cabrera
AP Photo/Paul SancyaMiguel Cabrera and the Tigers suffered through a nine-run Texas outburst in the third inning.

In the end, the Tigers lost the series because they could not match the depth of either the Texas lineup -- Cruz set a postseason series record with six home runs and he's the Rangers' No. 7 hitter -- or its bullpen (Penny allowed more runs on Saturday -- five -- than the Rangers' relievers did the entire series). The Tigers played valiantly -- it was painful just watching Avila, Young and Victor Martinez -- but they just didn't have enough left in the end.

"I would probably have gone into the offseason more disappointed if we would have gotten beat by one run,'' Leyland said. "I'm not going to go into the offseason disappointed at all. … The only thing that really bothers me a little bit about this game is I'm sure some people are going to make fun of us because of the way this game ended, so it hurts a little. I hope people don't start making light of the Tigers or the series because it was a great series and this was just not a great game.''

He's right. Rather than remember the car wreck that was Game 6, Detroit and baseball fans should wish the Rangers well in the World Series and then spend this winter reliving that superb Game 5, when Tigers fans cheered on their team as Verlander fired pitch after pitch (133!), player after player overcame injuries and a bouncing ball kept a wonderful series -- and summer -- alive.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com