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Given the chance to return, Jhonny Peralta has carried Tigers in playoffs

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Jhonny Peralta was once again the Tigers' best hitter in ALCS Game 1.
Jhonny Peralta was once again the Tigers' best hitter in ALCS Game 1. (USATSI)

More ALCS: Game 1 quick hits | Game 1 grades | Who has the edge?

BOSTON -- Less than three weeks ago, it was unclear if Jhonny Peralta would be with the Tigers in the postseason. In early August, he and 12 other players were suspended 50-games for their ties to Biogenesis, which effectively cost them the rest of the season. Detroit acquired Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox to handle shortstop during the suspension.

Because of some scheduling weirdness, Peralta was eligible to be activated from his suspension for the final three games of the regular season plus the postseason. With no obvious place to play him -- nevermind the stigma typically associated with performance-enhancing drug cheats -- it was unclear if the Tigers would take him back.

"I said to [GM Dave] Dombrowksi: 'Give me the opportunity to be here and show I can help the team,'" said Peralta following Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday. "They called me and they gave me the opportunity to be here so I try to work hard everyday."

Peralta, 31, rejoined the team but at a new position: left field. It was the only way to get his bat into the lineup while keeping Iglesias' glove on the field. He went through an outfield crash course towards the end of his suspension, and, aside from Game 5 of the ALDS, that's where he's played since returning.

"That's what I want to do. I try to be positive and try to help the team, try to win games everyday," added Peralta. "I'm working hard everyday. Try to concentrate everyday during the game and do my job."

So far this postseason, Peralta has been the most productive hitter in the star-laden Tigers lineup. He went 5-for-12 (.417) in the ALDS against the Athletics, most notably hitting the game-tying three-run home run in the fifth inning of Game 4. Detroit was down three runs and two games-to-one in the best-of-five series, so the homer was pretty much a season-saver.

In Game 1 of the ALCS against the Red Sox on Saturday night, Peralta went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a two-out, two-strike single to center in the sixth inning that drove in the only run of the game. The pitch he hit for a single was a simple mistake by starter Jon Lester -- "The whole game he was working with a cutter [and he left one up]," said Peralta afterward.

Between the final three games of the regular season and the team's six postseason games, Peralta has now gone 11-for-28 (.393) with four doubles, one homer (1.036 OPS) and five runs driven in since returning from his suspension. Missing 50 games has not messed with his timing at all, mostly because of all the work he did during the layoff.

"It's not easy [being away] a month and half," said Peralta. "During the 50 games, I was in the Dominican Republic and I tried to work everyday there ... I went go Florida for one week and worked with a hitting coach there. That's what I tried to do, to prepare to be in the playoffs."

Every team in the postseason needs some unexpectation contributions if they want to advance; it's true of every sport, every year. Someone has to step up and deliver a surprising performance. Even though he's a quality hitter who managed a 119 OPS+ before the suspension, it was unclear if Peralta would return to the team late in the season. And even if he did, how effective would he be after such a long layoff?

Peralta is the unexpectation contribution for the Tigers. The suspension did not mess with his timing at the plate nor did the position change hurt his offense. On a team with nine-figure sluggers like Miguel Cabrera and Prince fielder, the shortstop-turned-left fielder has been their best hitter in the playoffs.

As Torii Hunter said following Game 1, Peralta "did his time ... he stayed in shape [and is] one of the reasons we're here." Now he's making up for all that lost time and has been Detroit's best player at the most important time of the year.

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