Detroit Tigers' mission: Nearly impossible now

By Rob Parker, ClickOnDetroit.com Sports Columnist, @RobParkerLocal4
Published On: Oct 18 2013 06:20:15 AM EDT
DETROIT -

When the Tigers spilt the first two games in the American League Championship Series in Fenway Park, they hoped they wouldn't have to go back to Boston.

They honestly felt they had a chance to win the three middle games in this best-of-seven series at Comerica Park and advance to the World Series for the second straight October. 

But the Tigers' 4-3 loss in pivotal Game 5 Thursday night before a sellout crowd of 42,669 has them facing elimination.

Now, not only do the Tigers have to go to Boston, they'll have to win both games there.

That means the Tigers' mission looks improbable. But it's not impossible.

"We have to win one game and then take it from there," Tigers' manager Jim Leyland said. "We've got to win one game."

And the reason why the Tigers still have a chance to reach their goal is simple. It's their scheduled starting pitching in the final games that make this road trip not a forgone conclusion.

 Max Scherzer will start against Boston's Clay Buchholz in Game 6 on Saturday. And if there's a seventh and deciding game Sunday night, Justin Verlander will pitch for the Tigers.

"I kind of like the position we're in," centerfielder Torii Hunter said. "We'll come in with some fight and be ready to go. We have Scherzer and Verlander. Of course, we have to worry about Scherzer first, let him get through that. I like our chances."

The Tigers also have a little history on their side. In the last four series that have featured a 3-2 lead (2008-'11), the team losing Game 5 has gone on to win the ALCS.

Still, the pressure will be on the Tigers since their margin for error is slim. Scherzer, however, pooh-poohs it.

"The expectations and pressure doesn't mean you change," Scherzer said. "That's something that's always been instilled in me, and doesn't matter what the situation or what the game means." 

There was no denying, Game 5 was an important game, perhaps the biggest of the series, especially for the Tigers since it was their last home game. Leyland admitted that before the game.

"But it's not the end of the world," he said. "Whoever loses this game, it doesn't mean you've won anything if you win this game."

Fans, no doubt, thought they would be able to at least go back to Boston with a 3-to-2 lead. This way, the Tigers would only have to win one of the two final games of the series scheduled at Fenway.

And with Anibal Sanchez on the mound the Tigers had to feel confident. After all, Sanchez no-hit the Red Sox in Game 1 for six innings. The Tigers stole that game, 1-0.

But Sanchez didn't have his good stuff, allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits in six innings of work.

Nonetheless, it's because of pitching that the Tigers aren't out of this series. Scherzer was outstanding in Game 2, the game that got away and turned the series for the Red Sox.

Scherzer left with a 5-1 lead, but the Red Sox rallied to win 6-5 and Boston tied 1-1 instead of being in an 0-2 hole.

Despite the success in had in Game 2, Scherzer said his approach against the Red Sox will be different.

"It changes because they're familiar with what I did," he 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."

The Tigers will need some hitting, too. Enter Prince Fielder, who has failed to drive in a run in 17 straight postseason games. Fielder has also made the final out in eight innings of this series.

In the ALDS, in which Fielder struggled, the Tigers won the final two games against the A's to win that series. Scherzer won Game 4 at Comerica in relief and Verlander won the deciding game.

"We've been here before, down 3-2," third baseman Miguel Cabrera said. "You never know what's going to happen.

"You have to think we can win Saturday. We have to fight. They are a tough team."

The Tigers are hoping the duo can get back-to-back wins and earn them a trip to the Fall Classic.

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