On a team of ragged, bewhiskered veterans, rookie Xander Bogaerts’s modest goatee doesn’t command a lot of attention. But his inclusion in the bottom part of the order has been pivotal to Boston’s American League Championship.
Where some seasoned players were hopelessly whiffing on Max Scherzer’s offerings Bogaerts stood patiently, working walks or extracting extra base hits. He led off the third inning with a base on balls and Jacoby Ellsbury followed his example. Unfortunately Shane Victorino popped out on a bunt attempt and Dustin Pedroia grounded into a double play to end the early threat. Before the inning-ending twin killing Pedroia mashed the ball over the Monster but replays showed that the ball was barely foul.
The Red Sox didn’t have a baserunner again until Bogaerts batted in the fifth. Scherzer handily induced fly ball outs off the bats of Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew, using only five pitches between them. Bogaerts not only laced the ball to deep to center for a stand-up double but did so with the count full. As before Ellsbury followed Bogaerts’s example, this time with a line drive hit of his own. The center fielder notched a single to right to get the local nine on the board first.
Clay Buchholz’s gas tank seems to only be able to carry him to the fifth inning. In the sixth Torii Hunter led off with a walk and Miguel Cabrera sent a single through the hole to left field. John Farrell decided to bring in Franklin Morales to face Prince Fielder, a decision that in hindsight was disastrous. Fielder saw four straight balls and the bases were loaded.
Farrell stayed with Morales to face the Tigers’ biggest offensive menace this series, Victor Martinez. The former Red Sox catcher singled off the left field wall with a hit that gave even Cabrera enough time to score from second and Fielder to advance to third base.
The shot off the wall was enough to prompt Farrell to call on Brandon Workman to replace Morales. Along with Martinez, Jhonny Peralta was the other potent bat in Detroit’s lineup, but the method that bought him this puissance caused him to serve a 50-game suspension. With runners at the corners the visitors seemed poised to take a commanding lead.
But when Peralta tapped the ball to Pedroia and he faked as if he were going home with the ball, Fielder stopped instead of continuing home. Martinez was on his way to second so Pedroia tagged him and then tossed the ball to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Fielder, who has been a flop at the dish, also flopped on his way back to third.
Peralta reached second during the rigamarole and Jim Leyland had Don Kelly pinch run for him. The Tigers skipper wanted to manufacture a run with the ruins he had left, but Alex Avila struck out looking to end the rally.
Workman toed the rubber in the seventh to face the bottom part of the order. Omar Infante was dispatched with a can of corn to center but Austin Jackson singled to his counterpart. In another Detroit baserunning blunder Jackson was picked off by Workman. But the rookie reliever called to mind the 2007 Tigers pitching staff and their errors with his next two batters. He over eagerly chased down Iglesias’s grounder, deflecting it just enough to slow it down and allow the shortstop to reach first. Unlike Scherzer he failed to field a bunt properly and Hunter singled.
Junichi Tazawa is probably too modest to have a “Property of Junichi Tazawa” t-shirts made for Cabrera, but he should consider it. He gained a co-owner when Drew made a rally-killing play on Cabrera’s grounder up the middle.
Gomes just missed a home run with his leadoff at bat in the seventh and had to be content as he could be with a wall-ball double. Scherzer struck out Drew but couldn’t faze the unflappable Bogaerts, who earned a base on balls with the count full.
Just as Farrell made a questionable pitching call so did Leyland. Perhaps Scherzer could have gotten the next two outs, but he decided to have southpaw Drew Smyly face Ellsbury. Iglesias, who is usually a walking highlight reel, bobbled Ellsbury’s grounder up the middle.
Victorino faced Jose Veras with ducks on the pond. The right fielder’s failed bunt attempt in the third seemed to erase that stratagem from the playbook. Given his recent futility the most fans were hoping for was a hit by pitch. “Don’t worry about a thing,” they sang, but they were thinking, “Don’t ground into a double play.”
Instead Victorino powered a grand slam into the Monster seats that matched hits by the master of clutch, David Ortiz.
Koji Uehara earned the ALCS Most Valuable Player accolade, and even admitted that he came close to hurling, and not in the poetic sense of throwing the baseball.
Ortiz censored himself in his speech. While fans like me nitpick Farrell’s decisions, Ortiz spoke of the manager with deep admiration and respect, a sentiment echoed by a panel of baseball managers. The Sporting News named Farrell the American League Manager of the Year.
|ALCS Game 6: October 19, 2013|
||L: Max Scherzer (0-1)|
BS: Jose Veras (1)
|No extra base hits|
|Boston Red Sox
||BS: Franklin Morales (1)|
W: Junichi Tazawa (1-0)
H: Craig Breslow (3)
S: Koji Uehara (3)
|2B: Xander Bogaerts (3), Jonny Gomes (1)|
HR: Shane Victorino (1)