DETROIT — The Tigers return to the Motor City stunned, staggered, and ... in just the position they once hoped.
Sure doesn’t feel that way, does it?
Despite swiping home-field advantage from the Red Sox, the Tigers left Boston short of breath from Sunday night’s roundhouse kick to the gut. They will look to their big-game headliner today at Comerica Park to reestablish control of this best-of-7 AL championship series.
"Obviously, that was a tough one," Game 3 starter Justin Verlander said of the Tigers’ 6-5 loss. "At the same time you know this series is going to be a dogfight. Nobody is going to walk over anybody. These are the two best teams in the American League. This is baseball, you've got to reset, and come ready to play the next game."
An optimist — and, maybe, realist — will tell you the Tigers remain in favorable position. Their next three games are on friendly turf, starters Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have proven indomitable, and Verlander is in position to start Game 7 at Fenway Park if necessary.
The glass-half-empty crowd, meanwhile, will say Detroit missed an ice-the-champagne opportunity to bury the Red Sox, and David Ortiz’s game-tying grand slam Sunday had the feel of a series-swaying swing. Four outs from taking a two games to none lead — an advantage that all but three teams in either league have finished off since 1985 — the Tigers were suddenly in a daze.
Manager Jim Leyland tried to put it all in perspective.
"It's pretty simple. We let one get away," Leyland said. "I think the way you have to look at it in my opinion is we probably should be 1‑1 and that's what we are. They're probably scratching their head trying to figure out how they didn't win the first game and we're scratching our head saying how we let one get away last night.
"We're used to being able to turn the page."
Which may be as easy done as said with the ball going to Verlander.
In a sport where the old saw suggests momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, the Tigers have the right one going to redirect course.
Further distancing himself from an uneven regular season, Verlander has not allowed a run in his last four starts and been as good as ever in October. The former MVP held the A’s to four hits over seven innings in Game 2 and turned in a legacy-burnishing near-no hitter in the Game 5 clincher, in all striking out 21 over 15 innings.
Verlander will start opposite Boston right-hander John Lackey, who looks to be the series’ most vulnerable starter. The 34-year-old right-hander allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Rays in the division series and is 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA in road starts this season.
Of the Tigers, Boston manager John Farrell said, "That's a veteran team in its own right, and one that's very confident."
"I'm sure every time they write ’Verlander’ in that starting spot on the mound, they're going to gain a lot of confidence," he said. "We don't expect the tone or the pace or intensity of tomorrow's to be any different than the first two games."
Leyland hopes Verlander will serve as the starter and closer today. Otherwise, the manager will turn to his bullpen — and not, if you believe him, with the held breaths of fans.
Leyland expressed confidence Monday in his relievers — the long-known Achilles’ heel of a team constructed to win a title — going so far as shouldering the blame for Ortiz’s blast off closer Joaquin Benoit. Ortiz, one of the game’s all-time clutch performers, sent Benoit’s first-pitch changeup screaming over the right-field wall.
"I made a mistake that I take full responsibility for," Leyland said. "I should have just reminded him that we didn't want Ortiz to really beat us. He tried to make a great pitch. He tried to get it low and away out of the strike zone, but he didn't get it there. We were going to try to get him to swing at a ball if we could. And I should have reminded him about that and I did not. We talked before the series about that. David is one of those guys that he's been born for those magic moments."
As for how long the sting will take to shake off?
"For me, it’s already off,” Benoit said. “Nothing we can do about it right now. The game is over, we start fresh next time, and we’re going to be home. … I’ll see [Ortiz] next time.”