10/18/2013 11:40 P.M. ET
Boston up 3-2, but Detroit has pair of aces to deal
Tigers as confident as Red Sox, with Scherzer, Verlander ready to go in ALCS
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
BOSTON -- If you're selling hope for the Detroit Tigers, you begin with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. There you go. What could be simpler than that? If Tigers fans don't have just a little bit of optimism, they haven't thought things through.
For a team on the brink of elimination, the Tigers have a clear path to the World Series. The Boston Red Sox may be one victory from their 12th American League pennant, but to get it, they're going to have to win a game started by two of baseball's very best pitchers.
OK, first thing's first. The Tigers are handing the ball to right-hander Scherzer for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday at Fenway Park (8 p.m. ET on FOX).
Detroit is 27-8 in his starts this season. He was near the top of the AL leaderboard in almost every category and is a virtual slam dunk to win the 2013 AL Cy Young Award.
Along the way, Scherzer's teammates have developed a trust in him. In the wake of a 4-3 loss in Game 5, the Tigers knew they still had hope. It's not about winning Game 7, either. At this point, Game 7 is irrelevant. As manager Jim Leyland said, "We just have to win one game."
That's because winning this one game changes the dynamic of the entire series. For one thing, winning Game 6 means the Tigers will have gotten by Red Sox ace Clay Buchholz.
For another thing, it would mean that a slumbering offense has awakened at least a little bit. With Prince Fielder having gone 37 postseason at-bats without a home run and with Torii Hunter hitting .190 in the playoffs, the Tigers have too many holes in an offense that was the second-highest scoring team in the Majors during the regular season.
Again, first thing's first. Nothing matters for the Tigers except winning Game 6, and there are a bunch of ways to win one baseball game. Scherzer has plenty of experience doing that this season.
And if the Tigers do get to a Game 7, they'll take their chances with Verlander going against Red Sox starter John Lackey. In three postseason starts this month, Verlander has allowed one run.
Beyond that, Game 7s are different from every other game a player plays. Baseball players have a we'll-get-'em-tomorrow attitude. They talk about turning the page on bad games and showing up each day with a renewed sense of optimism.
When the Red Sox lost Game 1 of the ALCS, country music could be heard blaring inside their clubhouse before Game 2 as players loudly argued about their fantasy football teams. It's way harder to pretend to be normal before a Game 7.
When Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver felt the 1979 World Series slipping away, he summoned the men who covered his Orioles team and implored them to go out into the clubhouse and ask questions, and do the things they almost always did before games.
"But, Earl," one said, "it's not normal. It's Game 7 of the World Series."
Those who heard the conversation thought Weaver came close to strangling the guy, and, yes, the Orioles lost Game 7 to the Pirates.
Winning Game 6 would push a reset button on the entire series for the Tigers. Going into Game 7, it wouldn't matter whether Fielder and Hunter were hitting or not. It would only matter what they did in Game 7.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox say they take absolutely nothing for granted. Being one victory away doesn't mean a thing if they're unable to finish the deal.
Manager John Farrell said again that one of the strengths of his club was the ability to push all the noise out in the hallway and focus only on the task at hand. The Red Sox won 97 games, tied for the Cardinals for the most in baseball, but they did it one day at a time.
If that sounds like a cliche, it's actually not. It essentially means, "Control the things you can control."
"The one thing that we've looked at is what's the task at hand," Farrell said on Friday. "What might that mean down the line, we don't know or didn't know at the time. It goes back to what we set out in Spring Training, and that's been the mantra all year long. 'What does tonight have in store for us and how do you go about to find a way to win a game?' If that has other meanings, such as securing home-field advantage, so be it. That same attitude will be present tomorrow."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.