Revamped Tigers lineup works like magic

Published Oct. 16, 2013 11:27 p.m. EDT

DETROIT – Jim Leyland pulled a lineup out of his hat on Wednesday, and it worked like magic.

The Detroit Tigers came alive with a five-run second inning to spark a 7-3 win over the Boston Red Sox, exceeding the six runs Detroit had scored in three previous ALCS games. 

Torii Hunter became the new leadoff hitter, and had the two-run double that provided the confidence that had been lacking from a potent lineup featuring six current or recent All-Stars.

“It was kind of fun to be up top,” said Hunter, who hadn’t batted leadoff in this century, having last done so in 1999. “It changed the mindset and settled us down. Leyland knows what he’s doing, man. After 51 years in baseball, you pull up a lot of knowledge.”

Usual lead-off hitter Austin Jackson, dragging a .091 batting average into the game, was dropped into the No. 8 spot in Leyland’s effort to “relax” him and it worked. He drove in two runs with two hits and two walks for a perfect night.

“It helped with just making me relax and be patient and just have fun,” Jackson said. “Not pressing so much up there.”

Miguel Cabrera, batting No. 2 for the first time since George W. Bush’s first term as President, turned into a true two-hole hitter. He went the other way with two singles, knocked in a pair of runs and – we kid you not – stole his first base since July 7.

"We win,” Cabrera said. “I think that's a lot of fun. We need to come in tomorrow ready to play, try to get run support. We need to win some games. That's all that matters. It doesn't matter how people start in the lineup. It's more important to go out there, try to do our job.”
Cabrera said it didn’t change his mindset as it did for many of his teammates.

“No, no,” Cabrera said. “I’m not going to bunt or hit-and-run. I just get a ball to hit.”

The batting order was Hunter and Cabrera followed by Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, Omar Infante, Jackson and Jose Iglesias against right-handed Jake Peavy. Is that the lineup Leyland will stick with Thursday night against Red Sox left-handed Jon Lester?

“I will go with the lineup tomorrow, yeah,” Leyland said. “I really think you have to.”

Infante came to life with a ground rule double. And Iglesias used his speed to score a run, lined a single to right, and also dropped down a sacrifice bunt that he very nearly beat out for a single.

Leyland had hitting coach Lloyd McClendon text the news to his players in the morning so they weren’t shocked when they saw the lineup posted on the clubhouse wall. But there’s no truth to the rumor that McClendon ended those texts with an LOL and smiley face emoticons.

But he might as well have done that.  It was a fun night for the Tigers.

“I was actually in bed when I got the text,” Jackson said. “I was asleep. And that’s what woke me up. That’s kind of weird to wake up to that text message ... I really didn’t have have too much of a reaction. I was happy that I was still in there.”

Leyland pondered putting Don Kelly in center for Jackson. But by staying with Jackson primarily for his defensive prowess and allowing him a different perspective, Leyland got a new Jackson.

And Jackson said it “definitely helped to see some pitches” before going to bat.

The Tigers were still walking on egg shells in the second inning after scrapping out two runs on a bases-loaded walk by Peavy to Jackson and an RBI for Iglesias on a fielder’s choice grounder.

Runs by any means are important for Detroit with the way it’s struggled to score.

But then Hunter smoked a double down the line in left to score two and make it 4-0. Iglesias slid home with the second run. And as the dust settled, Hunter stood on second base clapping his hands.

“Let’s go!” he shouted.

The 42,765 packed into Comerica Park went into a collective rage. And so did the Tigers in the dugout.

“It was just my passion for the game coming out,” Hunter said. “It was my love for the game coming out. I want to get to the World Series. It was to get my guys up and get ‘em screaming. And you saw what happened.”

Cabrera then looped a single to right to score Hunter, who raced to the dugout to slap high-fives with every single teammate, coach and trainer. Three runs had scored with two out, and Detroit had its first five-run inning in the playoffs since Game 3 of the 1987 ALCS with the Minnesota Twins.

Perhaps Red Sox manager John Farrell will be pulling a lineup out of his hat for Game 5. Take away David Ortiz’s grand slam in Game 2, and Boston has six runs in four games.

Take away that homer from Ortiz’s stat line and he is batting .000. That’s right, “Big Papi” is hitless in his other 14 at-bats in this series.

But on this night, the story was Leyland pulling much more than a lineup out of his hat. He actually pulled out a rabbit. This was magic.