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DETROIT — Jhonny Peralta said he wondered if fans would cheer his return to Comerica Park on Monday afternoon.
Did they ever — and the ovations continued for much of the day.
Though the Tigers moved to the brink of an early postseason exit in a 6-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics, the shortstop’s cameo start in left field went as well he hoped.
Fans applauded Peralta during pregame introductions, grew louder when he chased down a wind-aided fly ball at the warning track in the second inning, and roared two innings later when his two-run single briefly tied the game. The only evidence he had not played the outfield before last month surfaced in the fourth — his weak throw to the plate from shallow left allowing a successful sacrifice fly.
Peralta finished 1 for 4.
“He did fine,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “He knocked in the two runs, and that’s why we put him out there, hoping he would get a little punch. He did fine in the outfield. When you put a guy out there that hasn’t been out there, you’re saying you’re willing to accept what you get defensively for what you might get offensively. That’s as simple as it is. There’s no tricks to it.”
Peralta, who made the AL All-Star team before serving his suspension, returned for the last three games of the regular season as a left fielder. With the Tigers acquiring Jose Iglesias to replace him at shortstop and Don Kelly and Andy Dirks providing surer defensive options, he sat the first two games of the division series.
Of the deep fly ball that twisted Peralta around, right fielder Torii Hunter recalled thinking, “Oh my God, here we go.”
“But he had some good footwork,” Hunter said. “Jhonny’s a good hitter, and we missed him. We’re excited.”
OCTOBER ROULETTE: Is postseason baseball truly becoming a flip-a-coin lottery?
Tigers manager Jim Leyland — the man in charge of a $152.9 million force once projected to make a mockery of the game’s growing parity — thinks so.
The team with the better record is 6-10 in postseason series the last two years while just three teams with the most regular-season wins have won the World Series over the the last 22 years (the 1998 Yankees, ’07 Red Sox, and ’09 Yankees). Though the A’s finished with 96 regular-season wins to the Tigers’ 93, few would argue which team looks better on paper.
“When you have expectations like we have, it’s tough,” Leyland said. “But you have to learn to embrace those expectations and make it good pressure. ... I’m very proud of this club. I think we’ve done a good job. Basically, to be honest with you, when you get into the playoffs, it’s a crapshoot. That’s the way it is.
“People can say all they want about who is favored, who should win, who shouldn’t win. When you’re in the postseason, it’s a crapshoot."
SIGN STEALING?: Anibal Sanchez’s wildly out-of-character performance again cast a spotlight on Oakland’s strange — and, perhaps, cunning — success walloping the ball at Comerica Park.
The A’s also blistered the Tigers for 34 runs in a four-game August series in Detroit, which led to veiled suggestions the visitors had to be stealing signs. Leyland said at the time it was “like they were sitting in on our pitchers’ meetings.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin’s response:
“I wish we were stealing signs,” he said before Game 3. “You’re watching third-base coaches. You’re watching first-base coaches. Anytime there’s a number of guys on second base, you have the ability to steal some signs. But it didn’t happen in that series. We just had our best offensive series of the year. Against these guys, you wouldn’t have expected that."