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Published: Friday, 10/14/2011

Gut feeling doesn't work for Texas

DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

DETROIT -- Baseball is a game that makes sense. There is no clock. Decisions are mostly unhurried. Batting orders are match-ups and pitching staffs are chess pieces. Sure, there are hunches and gut feelings. But the game is mostly dictated by the book. It makes sense. Usually.

Justin Verlander, in the midst of a gutsy, MVP-type performance, had just escaped a bases-loaded jam with a third-to-first double play and yesterday's Game 5 of the American League Championship Series headed to the bottom of the sixth inning tied 2-2 at Comerica Park.

It was then and there that sense scrambled out the window.

Ryan Raburn singled to lead off for the Tigers, down 3-1 in games and facing elimination.

C.J. Wilson, a lefty, was on the mound for Texas, whose manager, Ron Washington, had made two things apparent through the first four games of the series -- his starters are on a short leash ahead of a versatile and almost untouchable bullpen, and throwing anything good to Miguel Cabrera is to be avoided at all costs.

Even the Tigers' right-handed slugger was peeking at the dugout from the corner of his eye, waiting for Washington to emerge and lift Wilson for a righty, but the Rangers' manager never moved a muscle.

Cabrera hit a grounder that might well have been a double play, but the ball hit the third base bag, flipped high into the air and over the waiting fielder Adrian Beltre and when the dust settled Raburn had scored from first and Cabrera was on second.

Victor Martinez tripled down the right-field line, barely out of the reach of a diving Nelson Cruz. The next hitter, the suddenly immortal Delmon Young, smashed his second home run of the game and fifth of the postseason.

Two relievers were warming up throughout, but Wilson kept pitching.

"C.J. was throwing the ball well," Washington said later. "He made it through Cabrera. He did what he had to do. He got the ground ball. When the ball was hit I said, 'double play.' Ball hits the bag. We had an opportunity in the top of the sixth with the bases loaded and didn't come through. Their ball hits the bag. They caught a break. From that point on, you know, boom, bam.

"He makes a pitch down on Martinez. You have to tip your hat to Martinez. He reached out there and did what good hitters do; put the ball in play. When you put the ball in play sometimes good things happen. Good things happened there. Then [Wilson] got a ball up to Delmon Young. He's been on a tear and he caught it."

To sum it up, Washington made it sound as if Wilson, over 100 pitches and seemingly laboring, had thrown one bad ball. Maybe he's right. Wilson also became only the second Texas starter in nine postseason games this year to finish the sixth inning. Washington has not hesitated to come with the hook. He didn't yesterday. So there was a little second-guessing.

Tigers' manager Jim Leyland knows it comes with the territory. Hours before the game started he said his team would be without top relievers Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. Leyland stuck by his guns and stuck with a dogged Verlander for 133 pitches and then chewed on his nails as Phil Coke gutted it out through a tense ninth inning for the save and to force a Game 6.

"That's just the way it had to be today," Leyland said. "It was a no-brainer for me. We did exactly what we felt we had to do to give ourselves any chance to win the series. Now we go to Texas with [starters Max] Scherzer and [Doug] Fister and both of the big guys at the tail end of the bullpen are ready to go.

"[We] lose today and you leave yourself open to second-guessing. You just have to be ready for the criticism and second-guessing part of that [and] know you're going to get it if things don't work. I don't have any problem with that."

Presumably, Ron Washington doesn't either.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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