Tim O'Sullivan: Out-of-character inning sends Red Sox into quick descent in Game 4
Boston Red Sox's Jake Peavy sits in the dugout in the fourth inning during Game 4 of the American League baseball championship series against the Detroit Tigers, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Boston Red Sox's Jake Peavy wipes his faces after being taken out of the game in the fourth inning during Game 4 of the American League baseball championship series against the Detroit Tigers, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Let’s face it, the Red Sox had been living on the edge. Last night, they fell off it.
Boston defied logic and losses in Games 2 and 3 of the ALCS to pull out a pair of wins and an implausible series lead. The late night grand slam thrills and white-knuckle one-run margins injected some magic into those games. But the other side of life on the edge is that one wrong move, or one bad inning, can be disaster, and that’s what happened in Game 4.
Three walks from Jake Peavy and a booted grounder from Dustin Pedroia pushed the Sox outside their small margin for error in the second inning, and Detroit jumped all over it. The Tigers scored five in the frame on their way to a 7-3 win, the first lopsided decision of the series.
Now the giddy momentum from the joyride wins has faded, and things are knotted at 2-2. It’s become
a three-game series, and Detroit has Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander lined up and waiting, the starting pitching triumvirate that gave up just two runs in a combined 21 innings in the first three games of this ALCS.
It’s no surprise the Tigers broke through. They had more hits (23-12), more scoring chances and better overall starting pitching in those first three games. But the way they broke through, or rather the way the Sox let them through, did surprise.
Peavy is known as a control pitcher. For his career he’s walked 2.7 batters per nine innings, a number that dropped to 2.2 this season. But he couldn’t find the strike zone in that fatal second inning.
After giving up a leadoff single to Victor Martinez, Peavy walked Jhonny Peralta on four pitches and then issued another free pass to Alex Avila. Jacoby Ellsbury delayed the damage with a diving catch in center, but Peavy didn’t give his defense a chance to stop the next run when he gifted Detroit another four-pitch walk, this time to Austin Jackson. Yes, the same Austin Jackson who was 3-for-33 in the playoffs, had just been dropped to eighth in the lineup and seemed to be channeling Josh Hamilton’s plate discipline.
While Peavy had certainly pitched himself into a mess, it didn’t turn into a catastrophe until Pedroia bobbled a made-to-order double-play ball from Detroit’s next batter, old friend Jose Iglesias. That fielding gaffe was more surprising that Peavy’s control problems, and in the end it was more costly.
If there’s one Boston player you want handling the ball in a tight spot, it would probably be Pedroia. He finished third among A.L. second baseman in fielding percentage (99.3 percent, behind the top two spots by hundreths of a percentage point) with just five errors in 688 chances. But when he went to one knee to handle Iglesias’s hot grounder, Pedroia couldn’t find the handle and the potential double play turned into a fielder’s choice RBI and a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers deserve all the credit for what happened next – a two-run double from Torii Hunter and a an RBI single from Miguel Cabrera – but if Pedroia fields that grounder cleanly, it’s a double play, the Sox are down just 1-0 and the game has an entirely different feel.
The ugly hole got a little deeper when the Tigers chased Peavy with two more runs in the fourth, and even the Beard Sox, the team that has made a habit of unthinkable comebacks, couldn’t bounce back from that. The bats that had been just loud enough in two of the first three games got only a little louder against Detroit starter Doug Fister, who gave up eight hits, one walk and just one run in six innings.
So now the Sox have scored only four runs in their last two games as they enter the biggest game of the season against a pitcher (Sanchez) that no-hit them through six innings just five days ago. The Tigers, on the other hand, have to feel good about emphatically avoiding a 3-1 deficit and having their dominating starters ready to go.
But there’s reasons for optimism in Boston. Ellsbury, the offensive catalyst, seems back on track after last night’s four-hit performance. The Sox will have Jon Lester on the hill tonight in Detroit, and he nearly matched Sanchez in Game 1 (6 IP, six hits, one run). They know they’ll be traveling back to Fenway Park for at least Game 6 on Saturday, and will be staying right there for Game 7 on Sunday, if necessary. And as good as Scherzer and Verlander are, Clay Bucholz has the potential to be just as good if not better, and John Lackey was better when he outdueled Verlander on Tuesday.
It would ease some local nerves if Boston could find a way to get ahead early tonight and cruise to a win, but that’s not how this team does it. Prepare for another night on the edge.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)