Tigers' lineup change does the trick
Jim Leyland reshuffled his regulars to punch things up; they responded with a win
DETROIT -- Of all the moves Jim Leyland made Wednesday night, this is the most shocking: He did not put his Game 4 lineup card on eBay.
"I'll throw it away. Unless I can sell it at some bar on the way home," Leyland said after Detroit's 7-3 victory over the Red Sox evened the American League Championship Series at 2-2. "I'm not really one of those guys who save stuff. I don't even ask for an autographed ball anymore by anybody because you can't read the names on them. I have all these autographed baseballs and I don't even know who (signed it) unless they put their numbers on it. So what good is it?"
Seriously? Jim, you're missing a tremendous opportunity here. Depending how the rest of this postseason plays out, that lineup card could generate enough money to lift Detroit out of bankruptcy. Or, at the very least, cover Prince Fielder's meal money for a couple months.
With his team down 2-1 in the series and struggling for offense -- particularly from leadoff hitter Austin Jackson -- Leyland knew he had to do something. He talked it over with his coaches and further mulled over the possibilities while watching the NLCS on his couch Tuesday night. And then he made up his mind and wrote out a surprising lineup card Wednesday.
He moved Jackson down to eighth in the order, but that wasn't the surprising part -- everyone pretty much expected Leyland would either do that or simply bench the center fielder. No, the surprising part is that Leyland moved everyone else up in the order. Torii Hunter moved to leadoff, Miguel Cabrera to second, Prince to third, and so on.
"I thought long and hard about this, and I think it makes a lot of sense, I really do," Leyland said before the game. "I mean, we scored one run and no runs in two of the games. It certainly can't hurt. We're going to take a shot. If nothing else, when guys look at the lineup card they kind of look at it and maybe it wakes you up a little bit. Not that they've been sleeping -- they've been great games. It's just a little something to, you know, churn up the butter a little bit."
You don't often hear a manager say he hopes to churn up the butter, but remember, Leyland is as old school as the D on the Tigers' jerseys.
The lineup changes were sufficiently unexpected -- Hunter had not batted leadoff since Clinton was president, while Cabrera had batted second only three times in his career -- that Leyland had batting coach Lloyd McClendon text the players early in the day so they wouldn't be too shocked when they got to the ballpark.
"I was actually in bed when I got the text," said Jackson, who wound up sparking a five-run second inning. "I was asleep and that's what woke me up. That's kind of weird to wake up to that text message."
Hey, it was better than waking up to a text saying you were going to spend the night on the bench, because for Jackson, a benching had seemed probable. Leyland had to do something about his center fielder, who had three hits and 18 strikeouts in 33 at-bats this postseason. That's not good even in the pitcher's spot in the order. It's horrendous for the leadoff hitter. Leyland thought about replacing him with Don Kelly but decided he didn't want to do that "because there is nothing like being benched in the postseason."
"I think I'm actually doing him a favor," Leyland said. "I am sticking with him, just a different spot. The strikeouts so far, it's got to get to you a little bit. And like I said, anybody can kick somebody when they're down little bit. I just wanted to refresh him, put him lower in the lineup, and hopefully that will relax him a little bit."
Naturally, because this is baseball, Jackson's first plate appearance was with the bases loaded and the game scoreless in the second inning. The outcome of the entire game could be influenced by this at-bat, by a batter who had already struck out 18 times this October and been dropped from first to eighth in the order.
And so … Boston starter Jake Peavy walked Jackson on four pitches. Because, after all, you have to pitch very carefully to the No. 8 hitter.
That gave Detroit a 1-0 lead. By the time the inning was over, the Tigers had scored five runs, with Hunter providing the biggest hit, a two-run double. And by the time the game was over, Jackson had two hits, another walk and two RBIs. He reached base all four times he batted.
"After the walk, it definitely made me relax a little more," Jackson said. "It was a big situation right there to try to get something done. And I think after I had seen a couple pitches I was able to just take some deep breaths and relax a little bit. And not worry so much about the result -- just try to get a good pitch."
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The second inning provided all the runs needed by Doug Fister, who kept Detroit's run of good starts going. While Detroit starters had taken no-hitters into the seventh, seventh, sixth and fifth innings their previous four games, Fister gave up a hit in the first inning, as well as each subsequent inning, but limited the damage to just one run before handing the ball over to the bullpen in the seventh.
Other than his starting pitcher -- Anibal Sanchez goes again Thursday -- Leyland said he plans to stick with the same lineup for Game 5, including Fielder, who was hitless and still doesn't have an RBI this postseason. "I really think you have to [stick with the lineup]" Leyland said. "A lot of people contributed tonight and that was a good thing."
We'll see how that lineup does in Game 5, when one team will wind up taking a 3-2 lead back to Boston. In the meantime, let's just hope the janitor made sure to scour the wastebasket before taking out the garbage. Depending on what Leyland really did with the lineup card, that guy could pay for his kids' tuition.
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