Stagnant offense has Tigers' backs to wall

Stagnant offense has Tigers' backs to wall

Stagnant offense has Tigers' backs to wall
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander likes to say the Tigers have been playing must-win baseball since September. Now, for just the second time this postseason, that's not an exaggeration.

The Tigers won when they had to in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the A's. Now, they'll need four wins in a row, something no team has done in World Series history, if they're going to realize their championship dreams.

"I don't go home imagining being down 0-3 in the World Series," Prince Fielder said, "but it is what it is now. We've got to go play hard."

World Series

With a few variations, that was pretty much the common theme after a second straight 2-0 loss to San Francisco on Saturday night in Game 3 put Detroit on the brink of elimination. No rah-rah speeches, no team meetings, no rituals. Just play, just like the club did when it was trailing the first-place White Sox in the AL Central in mid-September.

Only the 2004 Red Sox have overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. That was in the AL Championship Series. Teams up 3-0 are 23-for-23 in winning the World Series and have pulled off a sweep 20 times.

The Tigers know the odds.

"You're talking about sacrificing a chicken or something? We're not going to do that," Delmon Young said. "We're just going to come in here and hope for the best and try to get some early runs. That's what they've been doing against us."

And that's the crux of it. It's must-win baseball. It's also must-hit baseball. The Tigers are going to have to do the latter to accomplish the former. If they don't, the autumn chill that settled over Comerica Park will turn to winter cold with a title still a dream.

Verlander, scheduled to start a potential Game 5 on Monday, won't be able to do anything about it unless Detroit beats Giants ace Matt Cain on Sunday night. Neither of the Tigers' other two starters has been able to do anything about it, either.

Detroit has gotten 13-plus innings with three runs allowed from Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez over the past two games and has a pair of 2-0 losses to show for it.

"We got tremendous pitching effort," manager Jim Leyland said, "but we've been shut out for 18 innings, so it's pretty hard to win a game."

The Tigers are the first team to be shut out in back-to-back World Series games since the 1966 Dodgers, who were blanked three straight times to complete a four-game sweep. That team owns the World Series record for fewest runs scored in a World Series with two. Detroit heads into Game 4 with three.

For a team that hasn't led all series, the Tigers have a right to feel like they're playing close baseball. Their pitching isn't far off from what they delivered in an ALCS sweep of the Yankees. The results have completely swung.

"They've pitched us just like Oakland did, but we haven't hit all playoffs," Young said. "We've just been fortunate enough that the other teams haven't been hitting, either."

The Tigers battled their way to a division title with a torrid stretch run from Miguel Cabrera and an offense that manufactured runs when it needed to, from dropping sacrifice bunts to taking an extra base on a hit. They tried aggressiveness in Game 2 and paid for it. They tried to set up the big hit on Saturday but never found it.

"You don't really manufacture a lot with the big guys in the middle," Leyland said. "You let them whack away at it. Maybe I need to be a little more creative."

Detroit put the sellout crowd of 42,262 at Comerica Park on its feet in two of the first three innings, placing runners on first and second with one out twice. Both times, Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong put fans back in their seats by inducing inning-ending double plays -- one from Fielder, the other from speedy outfielder Quintin Berry.

"I feel like I killed that inning for us," Berry said.

The same fans were roaring in the fifth after back-to-back singles from Alex Avila and Omar Infante and a walk by Austin Jackson loaded the bases with one out. They were on their feet with a 2-1 count to Berry, the Tigers' unexpected midseason sparkplug.

What followed was Vogelsong's best stretch of the night, back-to-back high fastballs to send down Berry swinging at both before back-to-back fastballs to Cabrera, who received trophies for this year's Triple Crown feat and the AL Hank Aaron Award before the game. The first fastball to the AL MVP Award front-runner hit the inside edge, right where Cabrera usually drives pitches out to left. The second was elevated enough by Vogelsong to tempt the batting champion.

"It looked like he climbed the ladder a little bit," Leyland said, "and sometimes that's the pitch that you do pop up."

As Cabrera's pop fly fell into shortstop Brandon Crawford's glove, the fans fell in turn. The mid-40s temperatures downtown might as well have been sub-freezing for the Tigers, who fell to 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position for the Series.

"He's been so good at that all year," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Vogelsong, "and that's what makes him such a good pitcher, a quality pitcher."

Vogelsong allowed five hits and four walks over 5 2/3 innings and has given up three runs on 16 hits over 24 2/3 innings this postseason. His 1.05 ERA is the lowest by a starter over that many innings in a postseason since Orel Hershiser in 1988.

Yet take away the run total, and Sanchez outpitched him, striking out eight over seven innings of six-hit ball, including six called third strikes. In the end, two second-inning runs, set up by a Hunter Pence leadoff walk and a wild pitch that moved Pence to third base with one out, were Sanchez's downfall.

With a full count and his pitcher needing a strikeout of Gregor Blanco, Avila set up down and away for a slider. Sanchez got the pitch down, but it was just enough over the plate for Blanco to golf it to the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field for an RBI triple.

"It was probably a little more middle of the plate than you want, but still, he hit it -- you're talking about like this," Avila said, not much space between his index finger and thumb. "That's hard to explain right there."

Anibal Sanchez caught Hector Sanchez looking for the strikeout he needed, but Crawford's sinking liner dropped in front of a charging Jackson in center field for another run.

The 2-0 cushion on Saturday was insurmountable. The 3-0 series cushion is now the Tigers' concern.

They've got to win. They've got to hit.

"Everybody's playing hard," Fielder said. "Everybody's prepared. We just don't get to write the script. It's not working out right now. Hopefully, tomorrow we'll come out and get a win."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.