WPS recap: ALCS, 10/19/2013

The American League Championship series reaches a climax at Fenway Park, and there are enough heroes and goats to go around.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Tigers     0   0   0   0   0   2   0   0   0    2
Red Sox    0   0   0   0   1   0   4   0   X    5
(Red Sox win series 4-2)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Tigers    12   8  14   6  13  64  18   4   5  
Red Sox   11   5  25   6  24  58  76   1   X
WPS Base: 350.1  Best Plays: 71.4  Last Play: 1.3  Grand Total: 422.8

“Unless someone hits one back to the mound and knocks [Clay Buchholz] out, you’re gonna have a long night.”

I will grace with anonymity the person who told me this, very early in the game. Nobody hit the beard-finder at “Sundial” Buchholz, and this game turned out to be very long indeed, even if it wasn’t entirely his fault. The first inning took 33 minutes, which for this game wasn’t that long. The fifth and sixth were a combined hour and two minutes. The pivotal seventh took 47 minutes. The game itself clocked in at three hours, 55 minutes without a bottom of the ninth. Only because it turned out as exciting as it was will I limit my griping to this paragraph.

The shape of the WPS numbers follows the scoring fairly well. Moderate excitement through the first four shutout frames were followed by a fifth inning that tallied almost as much by itself as the four that preceded it. The Red Sox crusher in the home seventh was the biggest half-inning score, and with Detroit unable to make any threat against the big lead, the last two innings fizzled.

Boston appeared to have a strategy, and a set-up, in mind with Max Scherzer. The first 11 Red Sox to the plate took Scherzer’s first pitch. I was wondering when John Farrell would turn the batters loose, and it came at an excellent time, with two on and two out in the third. Dustin Pedroia ambushed Scherzer’s first pitch, deep into left field—and just inches foul. If it was a plan, it was well-conceived, and almost perfectly executed.

Scherzer did more than get lucky on a crushed pitch to wriggle out of the jam. He got the first out that inning racing in to make a sliding catch of a popped-up bunt by Shane Victorino, then induced Pedroia into a double play. Both players would make up for their failures.

Mr. McCarver finally came up with a Tim-ism worthy of the name. With Jacoby Ellsbury up in the third, Tim observed, “Ellsbury for the most part a .300 hitter this year: .298.” Yes, and for the most part Dustin Pedroia hit a home run in the third.

Boston fans continued to follow the example set by Pittsburgh in its Wild Card knockout game, serenading the Detroit pitcher with a Scherrrrr-zerrrrr! chant. It was a while before I could be certain this was what they were saying. Max’s name, with no sharp, popping consonants or strong vowels in it, is perhaps not conducive to taunting shouts.

Clay Buchholz and Max Scherzer had curiously parallel fates. Both starters left the game with a one-run lead, but the go-behind runs on first and second. Both times, those runs came home, leaving the pitcher on the hook for the loss.

Buchholz’s departure came in the sixth, after just 85 pitches. Franklin Morales came in and whipped up the fire he was sent to quench, letting Detroit move ahead 2-1 and putting runners on the corners with no outs. Then came a turning point. Jhonny Peralta hit a grounder to Pedroia at second, who moved to try to tag Victor Martinez in the baseline while watching Prince Fielder heading toward home. Fielder froze in his tracks. Pedroia got the tag on V-Mart, then threw home. Jarrod Saltalamacchia ran Fielder back to third, tagging him in a rear-ender collision.

Fielder made a terrible blunder. He needed to commit one way or the other, stay close to third or go unchecked to home, preferably the latter. Of all people, he cannot hang halfway with hopes of his speed getting him out of a pickle. Pedroia made a heady play that all but snuffed out the Tigers rally. (Peralta smartly got to second on the Fielder rundown, but was stranded by Alex Avila, playing again after his beating in Game Five.) It’s not the whole cause of the Boston win, but it sure helped.

Miguel Cabrera‘s diminished physical capacity hurt his team once again. With the Tigers piecing together a threat in the seventh to tack on, he hit a ball up the middle that Stephen Drew did very well to keep in the infield. With Cabrera slowed by his groin woes, what likely would have been an infield single loading the bases instead got Miguel thrown out at first by two steps. It was the last opportunity Detroit would have the chance to miss in 2013.

McCarver would, at the tail end of the game, decry how modern managers are “prisoners to pitch counts” in criticizing Jim Leyland’s decision to lift Scherzer in the Boston seventh. The criticism may be valid, but the example was not. Besides being at 110 pitches (when Leyland before the game had projected an absolute ceiling of 125), Scherzer that inning had given up a double to Jonny Gomes that missed clearing the Green Monster by a foot, and walked Xander Bogaerts on a full count. There’s ample reason to believe Scherzer was weakening without leaning wholly on pitch counts.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, their bullpen had been pretty weak itself. Even more unfortunately, their promising young shortstop Jose Iglesias, who impressed so many with nifty defensive plays in Game Five, booted a potential double-play ball that loaded the bases for Shane Victorino. On a night when a few balls had rapped high off the Monster, and one had passed just to its left, Victorino’s shot was over it all the way.

History will judge which of Boston’s two grand slams in this series will be longer remembered. My money is on Ortiz, for his playoff track record. People love narratives, and since I’m one of them, I can’t blame anybody. Victorino’s best chance is to have a big moment in a Series-clinching game, to make a narrative of his own.

The ALCS ended at 12:02 this morning, as Jose Iglesias endured the compound ignominy of striking out for the final out of the series. Boston and St. Louis begin their fourth World Series against each other on Wednesday night. If there is anything in it for me, it’s that a Shane is guaranteed to be a World Series winner in a couple of weeks, either Victorino or Shane Robinson of the Cardinals.

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