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BOSTON — Jhonny Peralta heard the sing-song chant loud and clear as he batted during the sixth inning of Saturday night’s AL championship series opener.
“Ster-oids! Ster-oids! Ster-oids!”
Then, Peralta did what he’s done all postseason. He blooped a single into center field to drive in the only run of the game, the latest series-swaying hit in a clump of them from the Tigers’ complicated October star.
Three weeks after returning from a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis doping scandal, Peralta has been the most potent hitter in one of baseball’s most feared lineups. He batted .417 (5 for 12) in the division series against the A’s — a stretch that included the game-tying three-run homer in Game 4 — and was 3 for 4 with two doubles and the game-winning two-out single Saturday.
“I don’t try to pay attention to what the fans doing or whatever,” Peralta said of the Fenway Park crowd. “I think it’s better for me to go to home plate and try to keep working hard every day.”
It is an unlikely return to grace. When Peralta was suspended in August, most figured he had played his last game for the Tigers. Detroit had already acquired his replacement — shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox — and Peralta would be a free agent after the season.
Yet in September, as the Tigers’ offense slumped, general manager Dave Dombrowski welcomed the All-Star back — a decision that provided ample talk radio grist.
Manager Jim Leyland was unwilling to address any moral questions involving Peralta’s return.
“Like I said, that was a decision that Dave made,” he said.
Peralta was expected to return as a reserve left fielder, but his bat has not cooperated with the plan. After sitting the first two games of the division series, he has started every contest since. Peralta, who returned home to work out in the Dominican Republic during his suspension, replaced the punchless Iglesias at shortstop Sunday for the second time in three games. Don Kelly started in left.
“If you know Jhonny, he’s soft‑spoken, the nicest guy in the world,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “If you dig in everybody’s closets, we’ve all made mistakes. ... If you got to know him, you wouldn’t boo him. He made mistakes, he’s been punished for them, and now he’s here to help us win a championship."
BY THE NUMBERS: A day later, baseball continued to buzz from an October night unlike any other in the 101-year history of Fenway Park.
Here’s more fun with the numbers from the Tigers’ near-no hit win in Game 1:
■ The 1-0 margin marked the first time the Red Sox were shut out in a home postseason game since the 1908 World Series while Anibal Sanchez’s 12 strikeouts was a playoff record against Boston. Pirates right-hander Deacon Phillippe held the previous mark in Beantown with 10 strikeouts against the Boston Americans in Game 1 of the first modern World Series in 1903.
■ Sanchez’s 12 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher before allowing a hit in a postseason game, surpassing the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax’s mark of 10 Ks without a hit against the Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series.
■ Sanchez is the third Tigers pitcher to strike out 12 hitters in the playoffs, joining Joe Coleman and Bill Donovan. Coleman struck out 14 in Game 3 of the 1972 ALCS against Oakland while Donovan struck out 12 in the 1907 World Series against the Cubs.
■ At 3 hours, 56 minutes, it was the longest 1-0 nine-inning postseason game. The Tigers and A’s blew past the previous mark days earlier in Game 2 of the division series (3:23).
ON THE OUTS: Could Scherzer’s Game 2 start Sunday have been among his last with the Tigers?
There is a “very good chance” Detroit will trade its Cy Young Award favorite this offseason before his price rockets in free agency, according to a report by CBSSports.com.
How could this be possible? Consider: Scherzer is one year away from free agency; the Scott Boras client is unlikely to sign an extension before testing the open market, and his salary will jump from $6.7 million this season to about $20 million because of arbitration next year, pushing the Tigers’ already club-record payroll $152.9 well beyond $160 million.
A trade of Scherzer would not be the only upcoming blockbuster. The Tampa Bay Rays are likely to trade former Cy Young winner David Price under similar circumstances this winter. But while the Tigers have more resources and a committed owner, the report cited sources in saying there is “uncertainty if they’ll continue to spend as much in the years to come.”