OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Detroit Tigers may have held on by the skin of their fangs to a 3-2 series-opening win against the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS, but how much did that win cost?
In the top of the third inning, Miguel Cabrera finished off a six-pitch battle with Bartolo Colon by ripping a long fly ball to dead center field. As the ball landed in Coco Crisp’s mitt, though, Cabrera grabbed at his midsection.
Cabrera has been fighting an abdominal strain as of late, and had been slowed by a number of nagging injuries over the course of the season. This time, it was his groin.
“I feel good,” Cabrera said after the game. “We won the game. That’s the most important thing right now. For us, it’s not an issue. It’s no time to complain, no time to worry.”
For the rest of the game, Cabrera moved gingerly at third, cheating up even with the bag or on the grass, against a lineup – and an organization – that isn’t known for its bunting.
Cabrera went 0-for-2 after his big cut, flying out to right in the top of the fifth and, moving at a rather glacial pace, grounding out to lead off the top of the eighth after sending a slow roller to third that a healthy Cabrera may have beaten out.
Manager Jim Leyland opted to take Cabrera out in the bottom of the eighth, in favor of Ramon Santiago.
“He tried to kick it in, and it looked like it bothered him a little bit, to be honest with you,” Leyland said. “I wasn’t comfortable taking him out of a one-run game, but there was a little more to it. This is a ballpark with a lot of foul territory, and I felt like, at that point, if they hit a pop-up over there that he can’t get to, that somebody else would have got to easily, or something, that’s an out that we might give up. It was a combination of a lot of things: Take away the bunt a little bit more, and like I say, that foul territory, Kelly or [Ramon] Santiago might get to that pop-up, that might give us an out, as opposed to Miggy not being able to get there.”
Speaking of one-run games, the Tigers continued the offensive struggles that plagued the AL Central champs during the home stretch of the season. During the final month of the season, Detroit averaged just 3.7 runs per game, and the Tigers had scored just four runs total in the final four games of the regular season, after averaging 5.1 runs per game over the first five months of the 2013 campaign.
After scoring three runs in a wild first inning off of Colon, the bats went quiet.
Detroit left six men on base on Friday night, including two in scoring position. In the top of the sixth, the Tigers rapped out three hits and came away with no runs to show for it, as Victor Martinez was hosed at the plate by right fielder Josh Reddick after a sharp single through the right side by Omar Infante.
“I think I have a good answer for that one,” Leyland deadpanned in his postgame presser. “To me, that’s one of those where you send him and he doesn’t make it, you wish you’d held him. But, if you hold him and the next guy pops up and you don’t get the run, you wish you would have sent him. You can figure out which way is the right way. I’m not sure.
“I really believe what I just said: That’s one of those you say, ‘I wish you’d held him,’ but like I say, if the next guy or two guys pop it up or you don’t get the run, you wish he’d have taken the shot. I thought it was a good shot. Reddick is a great thrower. We knew that going into the series, and he made a great throw.”
Before the game, Leyland had said he was pleased with his outfield’s improved defense over last season, when his outfielders committed a total of 14 errors.
“Torii Hunter’s solidified that a little bit, I think. Last year, if you remember, we platooned a lot in right field. This year, we did that a little bit more in left field than right field, but Torii settled right into right field, and Jackson in center, that makes us real good,” Leyland said. “[Andy] Dirks is a good outfielder, Matt Tuiasosopo, who’s not on the roster as we speak, did an adequate job, defensively, probably better than people expected, so yes, I think our outfield defense is better.”
Leyland elected to start young Dirks in left field on Friday, and Dirks’s evening was adventurous, to say the least.
In the bottom of the second, Dirks made his first move in when Oakland slugger Yoenis Cespedes scorched a hanging slider from starter Max Scherzer into left, and was caught flat-footed as the ball screamed over his outstretched glove, all the way to the wall, for a one-out triple. Fortunately for Dirks and the Tigers, Scherzer then fanned Reddick with a 98-mph fastball and then got catcher Stephen Vogt to line out to Prince Fielder.
With one out and one on in the bottom of the sixth, Athletics shortstop Jed Lowrie popped a 2-1 offering from Scherzer down the left field line, but Dirks – who came into the game having seen just 13 fly balls in left at O.co Coliseum in three seasons – dropped the ball, giving Lowrie new life. On the next pitch, though, Lowrie sent a liner right at Dirks for the second out of the inning, and Scherzer fanned Josh Donaldson to get out of the inning.
In the top of the ninth, Leyland inserted Jhonny Peralta -- fresh off of his 50-game suspension in connection with the Biogenesis PED affair, having only played the final three games of the season after taking his suspension on Aug. 5 – for a pinch-hitting appearance. Peralta had gone 3-for-12 in his last three games of action with one double and one RBI, and flied out to right for the second out in the final frame. Taking Dirks’s spot in the lineup, Peralta was lifted for Kelly in the bottom of the ninth.
“I knew I wouldn’t put him in for defense,” Leyland said of Peralta. “I took a shot Jhonny might run into one. I didn’t want to have Andy Dirks take the at-bat off [Sean] Doolittle. So, I put Jhonny in there and I thought he might get a run. And, you know, you put Kelly in – he’s a defensive outfielder – so that’s why we made the move.”
Ryan Gorcey covers Major League Baseball and publishes BearTerritory.net for Scout.com and FOX Sports NEXT. Follow him on twitter at @RGBearTerritory.