January 13, 2017

Classic Baseball - "Senor Smoke" Silences Sawx for Series Win

The Tigers went into Game 5 pinning their hopes on Juan Berenguer, who did not pitch in the 1984 World Series, and he was fabulous holding Boston to a single run in seven innings of work to lead the '84 Tigers to an ALDS victory over the 2017 Boston Red Sox. Berenguer was tagged with the monicker "Senor Smoke" during his days in Minnesota due to his sneaky mid nineties heater. His role had shifted to the bullpen during his tenure with Minnesota, where he picked up a second World Series ring with the 1987 Twins. In 4 seasons with Detroit, Berenguer amassed a 25-21 record with a 3.87 ERA primarily as a starting pitcher.

The Tigers' offense was led by the legendary double play duo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Both Tiger stalwarts spent a combined 39 years with Detroit, coming up to the big club together in 1977. The following year, Whitaker snared the AL Rookie of the Year honors while Trammell finished 4th in the voting. Trammell would have a slight leg up on Whitaker in a few other areas though. In his two decades in Motown, Trammell was a 6 time all-star to Whitaker's 5 selections, and Trammell also had one more Gold Glove honor than Whitaker, receiving 4 for his fielding excellence.    

Detroit was down 2-1 in the series, and the offensive presence from the top of the lineup was virtually non-existent. This all changed in the last 2 games of the series with the contributions of "Sweet Lou" and Trammell. Both men batted a combined 10-20 in the final two games with  2 homers,  2 doubles, 1 triple and 6 RBI. Trammell ended the series as the top hitter for Detroit with a .409 BA. 

It would be Boston's offense's turn to disappear in the final two games, scoring only twice in 17 innings on 15 hits.

In the finale, Whitaker hit his first homer of the series. The Tigers' all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman drilled an opposite field two run shot in the bottom of the fifth that broke the backs of the Red Sox. Detroit went on to score in every inning after the Whitaker blast to salt this one away. Boston had just tied the score at 1-1 in the top half of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Mookie Betts. Trammell gave Detroit an early lead in the third driving home Tom Brookens who reached on a leadoff walk off Boston starter Chris Sale. Sale would go six innings, allowing 4 runs on 6 hits and deserved better as Boston squandered two golden opportunities to get the jump on the Tigers.

In the fourth inning, Boston had runners on second and third with only one out. Hanley Ramirez rapped a single and Pablo Sandoval reached on a two base error on a misplayed fly ball by Tiger right fielder Kirk Gibson. Berenguer got Mitch Moreland to pop out, and Andrew Benintendi lined out to Whitaker to end the inning. Betts put Boston on the board in the fifth, but the Red Sox had a chance for more. They had the bases loaded with no one out and a chance to kick the door in. Again, Berenguer tight-roped out of danger as Betts' sacrifice fly was sandwiched between two pop outs by Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez. It was the second one-sided loss for Boston in as many games.

With a heavy heart, I'll now have to hope I can complete the comeback in my other Red Sox playoff series with the 2007 edition going into a Game 5 with the 1998 Yankees. Stay tuned for results!

January 03, 2017

Classic Baseball - Tigers' Thunderous Third Thumps Sawx

Detroit finally unpacked their bats after being blanked in Game 3 and blindsided Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez with a two out 7 run barrage in the third inning. The Tigers coasted to a 9-1 win, forcing a fifth and deciding game back at Comerica Park.

The 1984 Tigers led the Majors in runs scored in their championship run with 829 (edging out the '84 Red Sox who had 810). They also were first in homers with 187, and it was the long ball that was featured in a torrid attack in the third. 

Detroit went in order for the first 2.2 innings with Rodriguez striking out three while only surrendering one hit. Oddly, it would be utility man Tom Brookens that began the stunning two out rally. Brookens, who never had a post season hit in 19 career plate appearances, came into the game as one of the top Tigers' hitters in the series, batting 3-6. Brookens slammed a solo blast to straight away center to give Detroit a 1-0 lead. Lou Whitaker then hit a chopper that pulled Red Sox first baseman Keith Moreland wide of the bag. Whitaker would beat his flip to Rodriguez for an infield single. Tigers' 6 time all-star shortstop Alan Trammell belted a high changeup over the Green Monster that increased the lead to 3-0. Kirk Gibson then drilled a double off the left field wall, and Tigers' catcher Lance Parrish laid waste to another high changeup from Rodriguez for the second two run homer of the inning. Parrish, like Trammell, was also a 6 time all-star for the Tigers and is the all-time leader in franchise history for homers by a catcher with 212. Rodriguez looked as if he might escape the inning as Darrell Evans hit a weak roller down the third base side, but he was able to beat out Pablo Sandoval's throw on a perfect swinging bunt. Larry Herndon finished off the scoring with a final haymaker - slugging the third two run tater of the inning. Steven Wright was called on to retire Tom Brookens, the eleventh Tiger to come to the plate, to mercifully end the third. In all, Detroit scored seven times on nine hits. Five of those nine hits went for extra bases - four homers and a double.

The Boston bullpen effectively shut down the Tigers for the next 5.1 innings after Rodriguez's debacle with Wright chipping in with 3.2  innings of shutout pitching. In the ninth, Carson Smith ran into trouble as Lance Parrish smacked a 2 run bases loaded single for his fourth hit of the game. His 4 RBI earned him player of the game honors, but I think Tiger ace Jack Morris was more deserving of that acknowledgement.

Jack Morris continued to have a stellar ALDS going the distance in this one on short rest. He gave up 8 hits and struck out 4. The only flaw in his outing was a solo home run off the bat of Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon. In two starts in this ALDS, Morris has pitched 16 innings, allowing 12 hits and owns a 1.69 ERA. 

Morris won a total of 198 games in a fourteen year stint in Motown, sitting fifth all-time in franchise history. His career post season resume reveals a 7-4 record in 13 starts with a 3.80 ERA and 3 championship rings to his credit. In the 1984 playoffs, Jack started 3 games and won every one posting a 1.80 ERA. He further established himself as a big game money pitcher winning the World Series MVP as a member of the 1991 Minnesota Twins. Morris was victorious in 4 out of 5 outings that post season with a 2.54 ERA. Included in those victories was a 10 inning shutout in the seventh game against the Atlanta Braves which is known as one of the greatest pitching performances in World Series history.

Boston will turn to Chris Sale in hopes he can spin some of the same sorcery as he did in Game 1. Detroit will counter with Juan Berenguer.

December 30, 2016

Classic Baseball - Beckett Baffles Bombers

Twenty game winner Josh Beckett was called upon on short rest in Game 4 to send their ALDS with the '98 Yankees back to New York, and he did so in marvelous fashion. Beckett went 7.2 innings masterfully using his blistering fastball and changeup to strike out 7 Yankee hitters while only surrendering 3 hits in a convincing 4-0 win. The Red Sox took care of business at home tying the ALDS with their second consecutive win at Fenway after being down 0-2 in games. 

Since the inception of the 2-2-1 LDS  home field format which was introduced in 1998, only 4 of 37 teams that fell behind 0-2 have come back to win the series. However, if history is a relative indicator of past success, Boston may have a decent shot in completing the comeback as the Red Sox have done it twice: once in 1999 against Cleveland and again in 2003 over Oakland. The other two teams were the 2001 New York Yankees (defeating Oakland) and the 2015 Toronto  Blue Jays (defeating Texas). When the league championship series was a best of 5 affair between 1969 to 1984, 72 teams fell behind 0-2 and only nine made it all the way back to win the series.

Yankees' starter Orlando Hernandez was as lucky and Beckett was confounding. The Red Sox hit many scorching drives only to find the leather of the New York defenders. Boston swung early and often which made Hernandez's outing extremely economical. He had only thrown a little over 70 pitches after 7 innings of work. His only misstep was in the fifth, as Boston scratched out a run. Mike Lowell, the 2007 World Series MVP, hit a leadoff single and was moved to third on a J.D. Drew single to left center.  Drew's single would be huge as New York failed to turn an inning ending double play with the speedy rookie Jacoby Ellsbury beating the throw to first which allowed Lowell to count. Drew was mentioned as a cornerstone in a possible Red Sox comeback, and this proved to be the only run Boston needed. Drew leads all Boston hitters with a .312 BA in the series

In the eighth, Beckett retired the first 2 New York batters, but a Scott Brosuis single left manager Terry Francona no choice but to call on his bullpen. Beckett was on 3 days rest and after 91 pitches, Francona asked closer Jonathan Papelbon to hold the fort. Papelbon did just that,striking out Yankee leadoff man Chuck Knoblauch on a nasty splitter to neutralize the New York sabre rattling.

In the home half of the eighth, it looked as though Boston would go quietly once again as Hernandez got two quick outs. His luck finally ran out against Jacoby Ellsbury as he crushed a two seam fastball from Hernandez that ricocheted off the center field wall above the batter's eye and bounced back into the field of play. This monstrous blast opened the flood gates as consecutive singles by Julio Lugo and Dustin Pedroia chased Hernandez. Oddly, New York skipper Joe Torre opted for lefty Mike Stanton to face Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis made Torre pay with a  bases clearing double off the left center field wall. This gives Youk the team lead in RBI in the series with 3. That closed the book on Hernandez and the door on the Yankees as Papelbon came back in the ninth and set down  New York in order for the 4 out save. This was the first game that the margin of victory was greater than one run in this tightly contested ALDS. For Boston, you'd have to think that they'll need a response from the formidable duo of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz for a Game 5 victory. Even though they have each homered and doubled in the series, they are a combined 6-31 in this ALDS.

Heading back to "The Big Apple", New York will ask David Cone to hold off a stunning Boston comeback. He'll be up against rookie Jon Lester who, like Beckett, will also be pitching on short rest.

Classic Baseball - Price Check; Complete Game Shutout

A monumental playoff hurdle was cleared by Red Sox starter David Price as he finally delivered in a decisive manner by blanking the '84 Detroit Tigers 4-0 in a pivotal Game 3 of the ALDS at Fenway Park. Price was never really in any danger throughout the contest, scattering 8 singles while striking out 5. His 114 pitch complete game shutout puts the Red Sox on the brink of clinching the series at home as they now lead 2 games to 1.

A grand piano was lifted from Price's back with his effort as can be attested with his previous 2-8 career playoff record with a gaudy 5.54 ERA. His last playoff win came in the 2015 ALDS against the Texas Rangers as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. He picked up that victory in relief as Toronto led 7-1 when he entered the game. He gave up 6 hits and 3 runs in his 3 inning relief stint which further supported Jays' manager John Gibbons decision to burn Price out and hand the ball to Marcus Stroman in the decisive fifth game. Toronto went on to defeat Texas in Game 5 after being down in the series 0-2.

Another struggling playoff performer, Andrew Benintendi gave Price all the run support he'd need in the second inning, slamming an opposite field 2 run homer to left to open the scoring. Benintendi had been batting 1-10 in the first two games from the leadoff spot and was dropped to seventh in the batting order in Game 3. In the following frame, Hanley Ramirez belted a solo shot of his own. It would be one of two hits for Hanley and would, in turn, boost his batting average to .363 in the series. Keith Moreland drilled a RBI double to extend the lead to the eventual final score and raise his average to an even .300 in the series. Tigers' starter Milt Wilcox would only survive one more inning before getting the hook. He allowed 4 runs on 7 hits and walked 2 batters.

Eduardo Rodriguez will look to provide a series clinching effort in Game 4. Detroit has yet to announce their starter, but it is expected that they will look to staff ace Jack Morris to get the Tigers back to Comerica Park for a fifth game on short rest. Morris pitched well in Detroit's Game 1 loss, giving up only 2 runs on 4 hits. Morris was not involved in the decision.

The highlights  are below and to get caught up on this series check out the recaps for Game 1 and Game 2.

December 24, 2016

Classic Baseball - Tigers Pounce and Pound Porcello

It was a miserable deja -vu for Red Sox starter Rick Porcello as he was forced to peer back to 2015 when he was regularly victimized by the long ball, and in turn, was unable to deliver key shutdown innings. During that season, Porcello ignominiously led all Red Sox starters, serving up 25 homers. 

In Game 2 of the ALDS against the '84 Tigers, he was belted for 3 long balls and 5 earned runs in only 4.1 innings of work as Detroit knotted the series at 1-1 with a 6-5 win. Porcello failed to preserve a Boston lead in the third and fourth innings, but was bailed out by Xander Bogaerts in being hung with an "L".  Tigers' starter Dan Petry mirrored Porcello's inadequacies by also serving up 3 homers and 5 earned runs in 5.2 innings.

The Red Sox bats gave Porcello an early cushion in the first inning with back to back solo homers for a 2-0 lead. With one out, Dustin Pedroia's low liner once again demonstrated the dangers in misjudging a ball in the cavernous Comerica Park. This time, it was Tigers' center fielder Chet Lemon that would be the goat as he laid out for the sinking drive, and it went under his glove, rolling to the fence. By the time it was retrieved by left fielder Johnny Grubb and relayed to the infield, Pedey scored easily. In Game 1, Kirk Gibson also registered an inside-the park homer from a misplay on a carom off the wall by Jackie Bradley Jr. Mookie Betts  then followed Pedroia's  scamper with a long drive to left to round out the scoring.

Detroit cut into the lead with a solo shot of their own in the second inning. Ruppert Jones, making his first appearance in the series as the DH, ripped a hanging curveball over the fence. Boston countered in the top of the third on an RBI single by Mookie Betts.. Jackie Bradley came in to make the score 3-1 as he led off the inning with a double. Both Betts and Bradley are clubbing a torrid .500 in the series to lead the Sawx. Betts is 4-8 with a double, a homer and leads Boston with 4 RBI. Bradley is also 4-8 with a double, a triple and 3 runs scored.

However, Porcello would relinquish the lead for the first time in the home half of the third by serving up a two run homer to Kirk Gibson. Gibson chased home Lou Whitaker who hit a one out single. It was Gibson's second homer of the series, and he is batting .375 in the ALDS with 3 RBI.

Boston inched ahead again in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Pablo Sandoval whose renaissance continues in this series. "The Panda" second behind the duo of Betts and Bradley in batting average, swatting at a .429 clip. He is second on the team in RBI tied with Xander Bogaerts with 3. Once again, Porcello was unable to hold down Detroit in the bottom of the fourth. Chet Lemon drilled a two out single past Sawx first baseman Keith Moreland, and Dave Bergman lined a two run opposite field shot over the wall in left to give the Tigers a 5-4 lead.

As mentioned earlier, Bogaerts got Porcello off the hook with a blast to left center to tie things up at 5 in the sixth, and it looked as they might go ahead again in the seventh. Rookie Andrew Benintendi hat a hot shot to Lou Whitaker, and Whitaker overthrew Dave Bergman. The ball ended up in the dugout and Benintendi advanced to second. Pedroia moved Benintendi to third with a hard hit single to left which brought the red hot Mookie Betts to the dish. Tigers' reliever Bill Scherrer, who was blasted by the Sawx in Game 1, had Betts ground into an inning ending double play. Scherrer performed a complete about-face in this one, going 2.1 innings without allowing a run.

Boston's bullpen was equally impressive until the eighth inning. Drew Pomeranz and newcomer Tyler Thornburg blanked Detroit for 2.2 innings  handing to proceedings off to Joe Kelly. Like Porcello, Kelly would also revisit his demons of 2015 with a penchant for the long ball, giving up the game winning solo dinger to Ruppert Jones. Jones was awarded player of the game honors batting 2-3 with 2 homers and 2 RBI in the Detroit victory.

Boston returns home for Game 3 with David Price hoping to shed his playoff shortcomings against the Tigers' Milt Wilcox. Check out my other Red Sox classic baseball playoff with the 2007 edition facing the '98 Yankees.