The Detroit Tigers haven’t played in a Game 7 in 45 years.
But the potential for that exists if Max Scherzer can beat the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, and provide Justin Verlander a chance to start a winner-take-all game Sunday night at Fenway Park.
Scherzer has struck out 26 in 16 innings during this postseason, while posting a 2.25 ERA and frustrating batters by holding them to a .148 batting average.
Verlander has allowed one run in 23 playoff innings for a 0.39 ERA against some of the best hitters in the American League. He’s struck out 31 and held batters to a .127 average.
“It’s going to be very tough,” said Tigers catcher Alex Avila, “but it’s doable. We’ve got our two best pitching, and we’ll give it our best shot.”
Four of the five games in this series have been decided by one run, so the groundwork has been laid for what could become a classic showdown should Detroit force Game 7.
Since winning the 1968 World Series by overcoming a 3-1 deficit in games to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Tigers have not played beyond Game 6 in a best-of-seven series. The Texas Rangers took the 2011 ALCS with a 4-2 series edge, and Detroit has not gone beyond a fifth game in any playoff series other than that one in the last 45 years.
However, the Red Sox have played in the ultimate pressure cooker game six times since the Tigers last did so. And Boston has gone 2-4 in seven-game series since Detroit last played in one.
Several of those have produced some of baseball’s most memorable moments. There was the BoSox becoming the first to be down 3-0 and win four straight to take the 2004 ALCS from the New York Yankees, and Carlton Fisk waving his homer fair to win Game 6 of a series the Red Sox lost in seven games to the Cincinnati Reds in 1975. And Boston lost Game 7 to the New York Mets in 1986 after losing Game 6 on Bill Buckner’s infamous 10th inning error.
So, fans could be in for another unforgettable weekend of baseball at Fenway, which has a way of becoming the stage of diamond dramas.
Detroit has its two most dominant pitchers going. However, the Tigers have lost both games that dynamic duo started in this series despite each of them pitching a masterful game.
Scherzer will face Clay Buchholz in Game 6. They also squared off in what was a Game 2 pitchers’ duel for five innings. However, the complexion of the game changed after the sixth inning, when Detroit jumped on Buchholz for four runs. Boston came back to win after David Ortiz tied it with an eighth-inning grand slam off Joaquin Benoit.
Scherzer made the band box dimensions of Fenway Park seem even more distant than those at Comerica Park. Shane Victorino singled with two out in the sixth to break up his no-hitter, and Dustin Pedroia doubled him home. But those were the only hits Scherzer allowed in seven innings. He struck out 13 – checking in one shy of two per inning.
The trick for Scherzer will be a repeat performance. But he realizes adjustments are necessary.
“It changes because they are familiar with what I did,” Scherzer said. “Obviously, they’re going to be looking through the film and watching what I did: the sequences, patterns, when I threw off-speed pitches, when I didn’t.
“Obviously, I’ve got to be ahead of the curve…There will be things I do differently.”
Buchholz’s challenge is avoiding another big inning.
“I’m excited to get back out there,” Buchholz said. “And it feels like it’s been three weeks since I pitched. Doing all the work in between right now, trying to find ways to get better.
“But definitely looking forward to getting back out there and giving it another run.”
Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter said the “pressure is on” the Red Sox to close it out, and he could have something there. But Detroit must apply the pressure.
Can Prince Fielder get his first RBI since Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS?
Can Miguel Cabrera hit one more big homer?
Can Austin Jackson stay hot after being so cold?
Avila, a hero in Game 2 with a homer and three RBIs, said he expects to play through the painful left knee strain suffered Thursday night. And the Tigers will be looking for another hero to step up in Game 6.
“We have to go to Fenway and we have to fight hard enough to win a game,” said Cabrera. “If we do that, we have to keep fighting and get the next one. We’ve done this before, and we’ve got great pitchers. We just have to do our jobs.”
The quest begins with Saturday and focusing on nothing more.
“We have to win one game,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “That’s obvious. We have to win one game and then take it from there. We’ve got to win one game.”
One more victory would mean a shot at Game 7, where the Tigers have not played since Jim Northrup tripled off Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich won for the third time and set off celebrations in the streets of Detroit that folks still talk about.