ST. LOUIS -- Say what you will about the Tigers' aggressiveness at the plate, but Detroit's hitters are who they are. On Tuesday, unlike in June, defending National League Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter was the pitcher he normally is. And the results weren't pretty.
"Basically," manager Jim Leyland summarized, "our offense got three hits."
While Jim Edmonds' two-run double off lefty Nate Robertson and Joel Zumaya's two-run error became magnified in the Tigers' 5-0 loss to the Cardinals, Game 3 of the World Series came down to the same problem that has lingered off-and-on about the Tigers all season. When they hit, they can put up runs in a hurry. When they don't, they can put up outs just as quickly.
Leyland has talked for the better part of a month about how teams have to hit good pitching to advance in the postseason. Detroit did it in the first two rounds against the likes of Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson and Barry Zito. The way Carpenter pitched Tuesday, dueling with a hard and nasty breaking ball, the Tigers couldn't hit him. Unless they can hit another well-regarded pitcher, Jeff Suppan, they'll be on the brink of being run out of the Fall Classic without bringing the series back to Detroit.
It's pressing enough that Leyland, who has left his batting order pretty much unchanged since putting Placido Polanco in the third spot in place of then-injured Sean Casey in Game 2 of the ALCS, might well do some shuffling come Wednesday.
"I'm going to sleep on it," Leyland said after the game. "I'm not sure who's going to play tomorrow. I don't know what it's going to look like."
The tough part about that, though, is that the hitting struggles are widespread. Leyland has talked in the past about snapping his lineup out of rough spots by getting three hitters going. The Tigers have just 17 hits all series, however, and 14 of them have come from Carlos Guillen, Sean Casey, Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge. Casey (two hits) and Inge had the Tigers' three hits in Game 3.
Curtis Granderson is in an 0-for-14 slump since the ALCS finale. Ivan Rodriguez fell to 0-for-23 since the ALCS opener, while ALCS MVP Placido Polanco dropped to 0-for-11 in the series. Leyland can move Casey back into third spot, but his only alternative for Granderson in the leadoff slot would be Polanco, and Guillen hasn't hit anywhere other than fifth for any stretch since early in the season.
"Basically, what this means is that the Cardinals went up 2-1," Leyland said. "If we don't swing the bats better, they'll go up 3-1. That's as simple as it is. But at the same time, when I say that, I think we'll swing the bats better."
When the Tigers faced Carpenter in June during Interleague Play at Comerica Park, they put up six extra-base hits and seven runs in seven innings. However, few of those were hard hits, aside from a pair of home runs. Carpenter left too many pitches elevated that night, and they made him pay for it.
On Tuesday, with Carpenter's breaking ball working, all they could manage in eight innings were the three singles. When his pitches were up, they were up with a purpose.
"He was throwing his curveball for a strike. He was throwing his changeup," Monroe said. "He was throwing his fastball in, fastball out, cutter -- you name it, he had it. It was a great game pitched by him today."
The nastiest pitch was the breaking ball, which kept the hitters looking low. With that, Carpenter was putting up zeros, and he put them up quickly. He needed only 11 pitches to retire the side in order in the first inning, then just four pitches to do the same in the second.
Much like Anthony Reyes in Game 1, Carpenter got ahead in counts with early strikes. Instead of barely missing with their timing, however, Tigers hitters didn't come particularly close. As a result, Carpenter needed just 70 pitches through seven innings and left after eight innings with a pitch count of 82, 11 less than Tigers starter Nate Robertson used over his five frames.
At no point did the Tigers reach a three-ball count.
"We tried to be aggressive," Guillen said. "You know, the guy throws a lot of strikes early in the count. That's why we didn't get too deep tonight."
The only runner Detroit put in scoring position, fittingly, was at the bottom of the order. Inge singled up the middle with one out in the third, moved to second on a Robertson sacrifice, then advanced to third on a wild pitch off Carpenter's first delivery to Granderson.
Die by the Sword
The Tigers live and die by taking their hacks. In Game 1, and again in Game 3, they died by it. The Tigers have had an astounding 52 plate appearances of three pitches or less in the series, and only in Game 2 has swinging away paid off.
*Plate appearances of three pitches or less
Unfortunately for Detroit, it hasn't done particularly well in plate appearances lasting four or more pitches, either.
**Plate appearances of four or more pitches
The problem is that the Tigers simply have been unable to get into hitters' counts, forcing a three-ball count in just eight plate appearances in the first three games. In those situations, they're 1-for-5 with a double and three walks.
Carpenter missed the strike zone on another curveball to Granderson, putting him in a 2-0 count.
"That's a hitter's pitch," Granderson said. "You have to be aggressive, have to look for something there. I was looking to go. The pitch was a strike. I just happened to miss it. It was a great change-of-speed pitch by him. I was able to catch it off the end of the bat, but not do too much with it. If it happened to be somewhat different or a little better swing, I can drive that ball."
In Granderson's opinion, the Tigers weren't aggressive enough against Carpenter, taking too many first-pitch strikes. To some extent, he had a point, since they only put two first-pitch offerings in play off Carpenter.
If they weren't hitting the first pitch, however, they weren't lasting long enough to see many after that. More than half of their 24 outs against Carpenter came in three pitches or sooner. Yet of their 10 at-bats lasting four pitches or more, five of them ended in strikeouts.
Leyland said before the game that he wanted to give a pep talk to Rodriguez, whom he saw pressing too much trying to get something going. After the game, Rodriguez admitted he's struggling and said that he's getting himself out in some at-bats.
However he feels about it, it'll take more than Rodriguez to hit the Tigers out of their slump. Without the hits, everything else is magnified, from Robertson's inside pitch that Edmonds pulled down the line to Zumaya's wayward throw that went wide of third base when he tried for the lead runner.
"When you get two or three hits in a game," Leyland said of his team, "you always look bad. That's just the way it is."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.