The Detroit Tigers trail the best-of-seven series 3-2 after losing to the Boston Red Sox 4-3 on Thursday night at Comerica Park in Detroit.
The Tigers have to win two straight games against the Red Sox on Saturday and Sunday or their season will be over and they will again fall short in their quest for the franchise’s first World Series title since 1984.
Saturday’s game is set for a 4:30 p.m. start, but will begin at 8:15 p.m. if the National League Championship Series ends Friday night. St. Louis was leading that series 3-2.
A veteran manager like Detroit’s Jim Leyland isn’t about to start taking things two games a time. After all, he has another baseball cliche to apply in his own clubhouse — momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.
“We have to win one game, that’s obvious,” Leyland said. “Then we have to win another game but that game isn’t going to matter if we win the next game. We have to win one game and take it from there.”
Perhaps the biggest factor in the Tigers’ favor is they have two of the game’s best pitchers lined up for Games 6 and 7 in Max Scherzer, who led the major leagues in win this year, and Justin Verlander, who was the 2011 AL MVP. If the Tigers win Game 6, then Game 7 begins at 8:15 p.m. Sunday.
“This is a very focused group,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “It’s been the case all year, from day one of spring training. Our guys are well aware of where we are. At the same time, the beauty of them is not to get ahead of themselves and that will be the case once that first pitch is thrown on Saturday.
“We’ve got two very good pitchers that are going against us here, Max and Verlander. So once we get to Saturday we’ll be focused in on the task at hand at that point.”
The Red Sox will send Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74 in the regular season) to the mound to try to close it out in Game 6 against Scherzer (21-3, 2.90).
Buchholz allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings in Game 2 but wound up not factoring in the decision as David Ortiz hit a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning then Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the game-winning single in the ninth inning.
Buchholz also had a no-decision against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 3 of the American League Division Series as he gave up three runs in six innings. In three career postseason starts, Buchholz is 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA.
Scherzer was in the line for the win in Game 2 until the Red Sox’s late rally as he allowed only one run in seven innings while striking out 13. He is 1-1 with a 2.14 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox this year, giving up five runs in 21 innings.
Ortiz had the huge hit in the second game of the series — a grand slam to right field — but he has only two hits in the series. Mike Napoli continued to deliver in monstrous ways with Big Papi scuffling.
“He has the ability to carry us,” Farrell said of Napoli. “To me, equal to the home run was his baserunning. He gets the double, advances on the tapper back to the mound and his instincts on the wild pitch, it ended up being the difference.”
Following John Lackey and Jon Lester has the Red Sox’s Game 6 starter excited. Buchholz is eager to take the ball, and understands the task at hand.
“Pitching in playoff games is one thing; pitching in deciding playoff games is another,” Buchholz said.
“This is what baseball is all about — there’s four teams still playing, we’re one of them,” Buchholz said. “And being put in the situation, losing the first game at home, and being able to come back and get that win in Game 2, it made it a lot less stressful to come out here and play here in their home turf for three games. There’s a lot that goes into it, but I’m excited to get back out there, and it feels like it’s been three weeks since I pitched.”
In the American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics, Scherzer was 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in one start and one relief appearance as he yielded three runs in nine innings. Scherzer has a 4-1 career postseason record with a 3.31 ERA in 10 games, including eight starts.
He said he’ll hit Fenway Park with much the same mentality he takes to the mound every start.
“The games are different but the mentality is the same,” Scherzer said. “Every game is a must win. I haven’t played a game yet where it hasn’t been a must win situation for us.”
In the end, it’s just that simple, Leyland said.
“We have to win one game and then take it from there. We’ve got to win one game,” Leyland said.
NOTES: Detroit may have lost catcher Alex Avila for Saturday due to a left knee patellar tendon strain. He was involved in a collision at the plate in the second inning of Thursday’s Game 5 in Detroit and was removed from the game after the top of the fourth. “The left knee was pretty rough, pretty bad,” Leyland said. “We felt like the best thing to do was get him out of there and hope he’d be ready to play two days from now. I’m not really sure at this point.” … CF Jacoby Ellsbury and Ortiz have excellent career numbers against Scherzer. Ellsbury is 5 for 9 (.556) with a home run, double and five RBIs. Ortiz is batting .467 (7 for 15) with three home runs. Napoli is 1 for 9 with three strikeouts.