October 18, 2013

On Baseball: It’s a great Tiger rotation facing the Red Sox

By Kevin Thomas
Staff Writer

DETROIT — The Boston Red Sox said goodbye to Comerica Park on a wet Thursday night. They were scheduled to board a flight after the game, reach Logan Airport on Friday morning, grab a couple winks and be back at Fenway Park for a workout.

Tired but confident.

The Red Sox finally broke through against a Detroit Tigers’ starting rotation that shackled Boston for four games, coming away with a 4-3 victory Thursday night.

After scoring three runs off the starters in those four games, Boston got all four off Anibal Sanchez.

But on Saturday, the Red Sox again will be challenged to beat a stellar Detroit starter.

Boston has faced good pitchers before in the American League Championship Series, including New York’s Andy Pettitte and Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza.

But in Detroit, the Red Sox are facing the best and deepest rotation.

Tigers Manager Jim Leyland won the World Series in 1997 with the Florida Marlins. Florida featured Livan Hernandez, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Tony Saunders.

“We had a very good rotation in Florida,” Leyland said, “but it wasn’t as good as this one.

“This is the best that I’ve had.”

Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer (Saturday’s starter), Sanchez and Doug Fister.

“That’s a talented group,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. The first four games “were as good as four games pitched against us that I can remember.

“Not only just the power and the pure stuff that they’ve brought to home plate, the consistency which they’ve executed has been outstanding.”

“Each night we’ve walked out there against some of the best starting pitching this league has to offer.”

The Tigers had been making the Red Sox offense, the league leader in runs, look hesitant. Check swings have been the norm, as well as called third strikes.

Boston’s first two victories in this series could not be blamed on a Detroit starter. The Red Sox rallied in Game 2 against the Tigers’ bullpen. And Verlander only allowed a solo home run in Game 3 as Boston starter John Lackey pitched his finest game.

“These guys have great stuff,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “They keep the balls on the corners. We have to try to find a way to put swings on them.”

On Thursday, Sanchez wasn’t as sharp as before, and Boston swung well.

One issue for Sanchez may have been pitching after four days’ rest. While Sanchez was the American League ERA champ (2.57), he was often given extra rest. When he pitched on four days’ rest, his ERA shot up to 3.78. With five days or more rest, Sanchez’s ERA was 1.49.

But Detroit can still control its destiny with Scherzer on Saturday, and Verlander if there is a seventh game Sunday night.

So how did the Tigers get such a good rotation?

First of all, they were really bad.

The 2003 Tigers finished 43-119 and held the second overall pick in the 2004 draft. They chose Verlander.

In the 2006 draft, Arizona chose Scherzer in the first round. But the Diamondbacks gave up on him after two major league seasons and sent him to the Tigers in a three-team deal in December 2009.

Detroit traded the talented but inconsistent Edwin Jackson to Arizona.

Detroit General Manager Dave Dombroski eyed another young pitcher with promise and traded for Fister from Seattle in July 2011. At the time, Fister had a career 12-30 record, but with a 3.33 ERA in 2011.

The Tigers got Sanchez in a way similar to the Red Sox obtaining Pedro Martinez, by trading prospects to a small-market team that could no longer afford its star pitcher.

Before the 1998 season, Boston got Martinez from Montreal and eventually signed him to a free-agent contract.

Detroit got Sanchez from the Marlins last year. In the offseason, Detroit signed him to a five-year, $80 million.

Verlander is in the first season of a seven-year, $180 million deal. Scherzer ($6.75 million) and Fister ($4 million) are relative bargains, but their free-agent years are coming.

They make Detroit a feared team.

“Each night we’ve walked out there,” Farrell said, “against some of the best starting pitching this league has to offer.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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