It’s not going to be the joyous plane ride home the Tigers were looking forward to, but achieving a split in Fenway, with Justin Verlander about to pitch in Game 3, is a great place for Jim Leyland’s team to be with up to five games remaining in the ALCS.
There’s something to be said for the way the Tigers lost on Sunday night. Up 5-1 in the eighth, victory seems all but assured. That was particularly true in light of the fact that the Red Sox had struck out 30 times and scored once in 16 innings up that point.
But, as the Red Sox showed tonight, momentum counts for so little in baseball it might as well not exist at all. They went from left for dead to Gatorade bathings in the blink of an eye. The Tigers are practiced at coming off tough defeats. They just came from 2-1 down to beat the A’s in the ALDS. Last month, they lost 20-4 to the Red Sox, then came out and drubbed the Royals 16-2 in their next game, The last four times they were shut out in the regular season (not including that Henderson Alvarez no-hitter in game No. 162), they won their next game).
Sure, the Red Sox are feeling much better about themselves after David Ortiz’s grand slam. They know the Tigers bullpen is vulnerable. But they knew that going in. They were the favorites two days ago, and they could still be considered the favorites now.
The Tigers’ starting pitching, though, is completely unblemished, and Verlander is coming off two dominant performances against the A’s. To win this series, the Red Sox still need at least two more wins in games started by Verlander, Sanchez and Scherzer, and it’s not like they’re any sort of cinch to win Game 4 with Doug Fister on the mound.
What the Tigers do need is some sort of threat from the top of their lineup. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter are both 1-for-10 after two games, and Hunter, in particular, has looked awful at the plate. Because of their struggles, neither Miguel Cabrera nor Prince Fielder ever got to hit with a man on base in Game 2. As much as the Red Sox’s offensive impotence was the story for most of Saturday and Sunday, both teams now have scored in exactly three of the 18 innings played.
Game 3 should be fascinating. John Lackey has been rock solid for the Red Sox, but he’s probably going to give up two or three runs, at least. If the Tigers are up 3-1 after seven, will Jim Leyland push Verlander in response to what happened tonight? Verlander is better equipped to go the distance than Sanchez or Scherzer, but he hasn’t completed a game this year and, if nothing else, the Red Sox will probably drive up his pitch count. How the Tigers handle a Game 3 save opportunity could well swing the rest of the series.