Tigers don't take advantage of risky strategy
Instead, Detroit is on the brink of elimination after a 7-3, 11-inning loss in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
MVP candidate Justin Verlander gives the Tigers their last chance to extend the best-of-seven series and pack their bags for another game on the road.
"You wouldn't rather have anybody out there other than Justin Verlander," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "If you win that game, all of a sudden it gets a little hairy again."
Texas manager Ron Washington chose to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera with nobody on and one out in the eighth inning of a tied game. Thanks to a strong throw to home plate by Nelson Cruz the tactic worked wonderfully for the defending AL champions, who are up 3-1 in the series.
"It almost didn't," Washington said. "But we tried to pitch around Cabrera twice and he got us. So, this time I wasn't taking any chance and it almost came back and bit me."
It looked as if the Tigers were going to pounce on the rare opportunity when Victor Martinez followed with a single and Cabrera advanced to third.
But Delmon Young hit a fly to medium right field and Cruz unleashed a throw that was on target. Catcher Mike Napoli received the on-hop throw with plenty of time as Cabrera lumbered home from third base. Cabrera was out easily, barreling over Napoli to no avail.
Leyland didn't second-guess the decision by third base coach Gene Lamont to send Cabrera home.
"I thought it was a great decision," Leyland said. "If the throw is off line, he makes it."
Leyland also didn't question his choice of keeping the husky Cabrera in the game instead of using a quicker pinch-runner with 90 feet separating the Tigers from a 2-all tie in the ALCS.
"I don't know that anybody would have made it if he threw it on the money," Leyland said.
And, not many managers would've made the move Washington did with a playoff game hanging in the balance.
The last time a team intentionally walked the potential winning or tying run with nobody on and at least one out in the eighth inning or later in a playoff game was Oct. 22, 2009, according to STATS LLC.
That's when the Los Angeles Angels gave Yankees star Alex Rodriguez a free pass with two outs in the ninth inning and a one-run lead in Game 5 of the ALCS. It worked for the Angels, with some drama, when Nick Swisher hit an inning-ending pop up with the bases loaded.
Detroit's hopes now rest with Verlander, who will pitch in a game scheduled to start Thursday afternoon at home, against C.J. Wilson of the Rangers.
If Verlander helps the Tigers win, the series will shift to Texas. If not, the AL Central division champions will head to their offseason homes wondering what they could've done differently.
Leyland insisted he did the right thing by putting closer Jose Valverde in the 3-all game in the 10th inning, which he got out of perfectly and efficiently, and leaving him in for the 11th when Cruz hit a no-doubt, three-run homer to essentially seal the series-tilting victory.
Valverde has pitched more than one inning just twice this year, both times in the ALCS, with mixed results.
He gave up only one hit and one walk over two innings of the 11-inning loss in Game 2 and was tagged for four runs on three hits and a walk Wednesday.
What's clear, though, is Valverde struggles in non-save situations. He has a 6.83 ERA with five homers allowed in 29 such outings this year. And he has a 0.52 ERA with just two homers given up in 52 save opportunities, according to STATS LLC.
"Well, we were down two games to one -- you have to give it your best shot," Leyland explained. "That was our best shot.
"Hopefully the big guy (Verlander) can do it," Leyland said.