DETROIT — David Ortiz, the Boston slugger who has made a living roughing up good pitching, says the Detroit Tigers’ starters have been doing it at “another level.”
His manager, John Farrell, said each night the Red Sox have picked up bats “there’s been a well-above-average starting pitcher; some of the best starting pitching this league has to offer, going against us.”
The Tigers sent Anibal Sanchez to the mound Thursday night in Game 5 of the American League championship series. He followed Doug Fister, who followed Justin Verlander, who followed Max Scherzer, who followed Sanchez.
This is the eighth time in 22 seasons as a big league manager that Jim Leyland has been in the postseason, including 1997 when Kevin Brown, Alex Fernandez, Al Leiter, and Livan Hernandez led his Florida Marlins to the World Series championship.
“We had a very good rotation in Florida in ’97 when we were fortunate enough to win the World Series, but it wasn’t as good as this one,” Leyland said. “This is the best postseason starting rotation I’ve ever had.”
Through the first four games, Detroit’s starters have pitched 27 innings, allowed just three runs (which translates to one run per nine innings) and struck out a whopping 42 batters. A lot of swings and a lot of misses.
But that was all the first time around, the first time through the rotation. The second time around can be different.
Thursday’s starter, Sanchez, threw six no-hit innings as the Tiger staff combined on a one-hitter in a Game 1 win at Boston.
Sanchez went six innings again this time, but it was far from flawless. Boston touched him for four hits — the first was a monster shot into the shrubbery in dead center by Mike Napoli — and scored three times in the top of the second inning. He then let another run cross in the third on a wild pitch.
Sanchez left trailing 4-2 after Brayan Pena, in at catcher for an injured Alex Avila, singled home a run in the bottom of the sixth. This time, Sanchez was touched for nine hits.
The Red Sox held on to win 4-3 and now the Tigers face sudden death, trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven series that shifts back to Boston. It’s a big hole on the road, but they can dig out with Scherzer and Verlander.
Does Scherzer, who goes Saturday in Game 6, expect it to be different the second time around, as it was for Sanchez?
“It changes because they’re familiar with what I did,” he said.
“Obviously, [the Red Sox] are going to be looking through the film and watching what I did, the sequences, the patterns, when I threw off-speed pitches, when I didn’t. Obviously, I’ve got to be ahead of the curve. There will be things I do differently.”
Prior to last night, Detroit’s four-man rotation had been every bit as dominating as in last season’s ALDS against the Yankees, when Tigers’ starters allowed two runs in 27 1/3 innings of work.
“This is the playoffs, everybody brings their best,” said Ortiz, whose lone hit in the first four games of this series was a game-changing grand slam off Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit. “But the way they’ve been pitching is a totally different game. They’re taking things to another level.”
Few appreciate that, and what it takes, more than Jack Morris, the workhorse starter who made his postseason reputation with Detroit in 1984 and with the Minnesota Twins in ’91 en route to a pair of World Series wins.
“These guys are great,” Morris said of the current Tigers starters. “Today’s generation, because of the pitch count, guys have become max effort guys and velocity is up there. It seems as though you see a lot more fastballs. And fastballs typically are the easiest pitch to hit, until they get to about 95 [mph] and then something takes over, that blink of the eye, that quick, split-second difference. Hitters have a tough time catching up or making good contact.
“I think it’s harder to be a hitter in the postseason than a pitcher. [There is] the adrenalin rush and the focus becomes a little easier for pitchers. Hitters, let’s face it, the good ones capitalize all year long on pitchers’ mistakes. They rarely hit the good pitchers when the good pitchers are on. And it seems in the postseason they’re all on.”
The Tigers can only hope both Scherzer and Verlander remain “on” the second time around.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.