Tigers’ season ends as bullpen fails again in ALCS
BOSTON (AP) — Max Scherzer dressed silently after his strong outing, the latest by a Tigers starter.
Jose Veras did the same in an adjacent locker after his blunder, the latest by a Tigers reliever.
No words necessary.
Justin Verlander would not get a chance to produce another gem in Game 7. The AL championship series ended Saturday night when the Boston Red Sox beat Detroit 5-2 in Game 6 on the strength of Shane Victorino’s go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning that cleared the Green Monster.
“I feel bad. I let the team down,” Veras said. “I’ve got to live with that. We lost the game.”
Six days earlier, David Ortiz’s grand slam off closer Joaquin Benoit tied Game 2 in the eighth inning, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s single in the ninth won it 6-5.
“If you guys try to slam the bullpen for what they did, you’re naive,” a composed Scherzer said after his solid start was wasted. “That’s a quality team over there. Unfortunately, a couple of guys executed.”
Detroit is loaded with starting pitching: Scherzer led the majors with 21 wins and is this year’s AL Cy Young Award favorite, Verlander was the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner and Anibal Sanchez led the league in ERA this season.
Throw in Doug Fister, who won Game 4 against Boston, and the Tigers certainly got the outstanding performance they were counting on from their starters in this series.
In their 11 postseason games, Tigers starters had a 2.39 ERA, their relievers 4.07.
The bullpen actually had some good moments in the ALCS. It allowed no hits in three of the games and four in Game 4, a 7-3 Detroit win.
But, oh, those grand slams.
Ortiz’s came on the first pitch Benoit threw to him. Victorino’s came on the third from Veras — after two strikes.
That third pitch, a curveball, was a bit too high.
“Our staff has pitched very well. Our bullpen has pitched very well,” Detroit catcher Alex Avila said. “I know people will mention that grand slam tonight and Ortiz’s, which is unfortunate, but our guys all season and postseason pitched great.”
Scherzer pitched very well in both his ALCS starts but was gone by the time the bullpen blew it.
On Saturday, he allowed one hit through the first four innings. Then he retired the first two batters in the fifth before rookie Xander Bogaerts doubled off the left-center wall. On the next pitch, Jacoby Ellsbury lined a single for the first run of the game before ending the inning when he was caught trying to steal.
“He pitched well. He gave us a chance to win,” Avila said of Scherzer. “It’s typical Max. He’s pitched great all year.”
But he also has the dubious distinction of having started all three season-ending games for the Tigers the past three years.
In 2011, he allowed six runs in 2 1-3 innings of a 15-5 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 6 of the ALCS.
Last year, he gave up three runs in 6 1-3 innings during Game 4 of the World Series before the San Francisco Giants won 4-3 with a run against Phil Coke in the 10th.
And on Saturday night, Scherzer could only watch after leaving with runners at first and second and one out with the Tigers leading 2-1 in the seventh.
First, reliever Drew Smyly got Ellsbury to ground to Jose Iglesias up the middle, but the slick-fielding rookie shortstop booted the ball for an error. That loaded the bases.
Veras came in and got ahead of Victorino in the count. But then Veras served up a hanging curve that Victorino lofted over the wall, sending the Fenway Park crowd into a frenzy.
“He made good adjustments. I was supposed to throw it in the dirt,” said Veras, who pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings in Boston’s 4-3 win in Game 5. “It’s a fly ball in another ballpark, but we’re in Boston. You’ve got to live with it. I came at him with all I had.”
Al Alburquerque came in and struck out the side in the eighth. And the Tigers finished with a 2.67 ERA in a series in which Sanchez, Scherzer and Verlander all took no-hitters into at least the fifth inning in the first three games, though Detroit won only one of them.
“Normally, if you pitch the way we pitched in this series, you would probably think that you had won,” manager Jim Leyland said.
But the way closer Koji Uehara, who got his third save of the series, and the rest of Boston’s bullpen pitched, Detroit’s comeback chances were slim after Victorino’s homer.
“The way I would sum it up is that I thought their starters were good,” Leyland said. “I thought their bullpen was great.”