Tigers in a hole, but series far from over
With Verlander set for Game 5, Tuesday pivotal for Detroit
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have a 2-0 lead over the Tigers in the American League Championship Series, but don't let that fool you. The series, which shifts to Detroit on Tuesday night for at least the next two games, is just getting started.If the Tigers win one -- and it says right here they will -- Justin Verlander is slated to be back on the mound throwing his heat-seeking fastball in Game 5 on Thursday at Comerica Park. "It's a heavyweight fight right now," Rangers reliever Mike Adams said after all the fireworks in Game 2 on Monday evening. "We're going blow to blow, toe to toe. Anything can happen." So far, it has. On Monday, Nelson Cruz hit the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history, giving the defending AL champion Rangers a 7-3 victory in 11 innings. It was Cruz's second homer of the game and third in the first two games. The Tigers lost both games by a combined five runs, which is the way they seem to roll. Remember, it was a 3-3 tie with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th when Cruz took Ryan Perry deep into the left-field bleachers to end it. Detroit's three wins in the five-game AL Division Series victory over the Yankees were by a total of four runs. The Tigers make it tough on their fans -- and manager Jim Leyland. But they have a tendency to keep plugging, as they have down to the last pitch in the first two games against the Rangers. "I don't feel as good as Texas does right now, obviously," Leyland said. "But we're playing. They've got to win two more. We have to win four. It's that simple. That's pretty simple math." Meanwhile, the Rangers are halfway to their second World Series appearance. Last year, they lost to the Giants in five games. This postseason, they have won five consecutive games, including the final three in their four-game triumph over the Rays in the ALDS. The Rangers have never won the World Series, and the Tigers haven't won since 1984. There's no gloating right now, just a heightened sense of awareness, although the Rangers have baseball history on their side. Since the Championship Series round went to a best-of-seven format in 1985, only three teams have gone on to lose the series after jumping off to a 2-0 lead. Two of them were in the AL, most recently the 2004 Yankees, who blew a 3-0 advantage over the Red Sox. But Rangers manager Ron Washington said he takes no solace in those numbers. There's too much baseball left to be played. "It probably will be a long series," Washington said. "You've got two teams competing that will not quit. We both showed that tonight. It was one heck of a ballgame. All the stops were pulled out." What Washington can take solace in is the performance of his bullpen and the bottom of the batting order in the first two games. The bullpen has been lights-out, allowing no runs and six hits in 12 1/3 innings. Five relievers kept the Tigers scoreless over 8 1/3 frames on Monday. "It's like we're running a relay," said Adams, who pitched the top of the 11th and was credited with the victory. "We just keep passing the baton to each other." The bottom of the order has been more than productive. In Texas' rain-delayed 3-2 victory in Saturday night's Game 1, No. 7 hitter Cruz homered and No. 8 batter David Murphy tripled in a run. Both big hits came off Verlander, who worked four innings, was yanked after the second rain delay and took the loss. After Game 2 was postponed a day by the threat of rain, Cruz on Monday hit two homers and a double, drove in five of his club's seven runs and was hit by a pitch. Cruz is batting .227 for the postseason, and didn't knock in a run until this series. He missed the first few weeks of September with a strained left hamstring and is just rounding into shape.
His performance on Monday led the local media to wonder when Washington will move him up in the batting order, but Washington said after the game he has no intention of doing that now. Having Cruz batting seventh stretches the depth of the order, particularly with Mike Napoli hitting in front of him.Washington said Napoli will get a breather with backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba starting on Tuesday night in Game 3. He said he also expects to move designated hitter Michael Young to first base. But none of that should affect Cruz, Washington said. "Maybe somewhere down the line [the Rangers' lineup] will change," Washington said. "But right now, it is working. I'm only talking about it because people asked me the question. I'm going to leave it the way it is. If I change it, you guys will know about it when I do it." If history is the guide again, Game 3 is the one the Tigers need to have. Those 2004 Red Sox are the only team in Major League history to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a seven-game series. But win once in the next two days, and the Tigers should indeed make this a long series. They just need to get the ball to Verlander on Thursday.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.