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A 1-0 game that lasts four hours? The Red Sox made it happen

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque benefited from the Red Sox's reluctance to swing, registering a 1-2-3 inning in Game 1. (USATSI)
Al Alburquerque benefited from the Red Sox's reluctance to swing, registering a 1-2-3 inning in Game 1. (USATSI)

BOSTON -- Two 1-0 playoff games.

One speeds along, gets done in just over 2 1/2 hours. The other drags on for almost four hours.

Were the Cardinals and Dodgers and Tigers and Red Sox really playing the same game? How can two 1-0 games look this different?

Don't say it's because one set of pitchers threw strikes and the others didn't. The nine pitchers in the Tigers-Red Sox game threw 62.4 percent of their pitches for strikes. The eight pitchers in the Cardinals-Dodgers game were only a tick better, at 63.1 percent.

There were more walks in the American League game (9-3), more hits (10-7) and more hit batters (2-0). And many more pitches thrown (322 in Red Sox-Tigers, vs. 247 in Cardinals-Dodgers).

One predictable issue for the ALCS game: The Red Sox don't swing the bat much. According to data from brooksbaseball.net, the Red Sox swung at only 39 percent of the pitches thrown by the Tigers (while the Tigers swung at 55 percent of the pitches the Red Sox threw).

The Red Sox forced starter Anibal Sanchez out of the game after six innings, and they also forced the Tigers to throw 164 pitches. While pitch-count data is a little sketchy, baseball-reference.com lists just one game (regular season or postseason) in which a team threw more pitches than that in a nine-inning one-hitter.

The Diamondbacks needed 171 pitches in a 2001 one-hitter against the Cubs, in a game started by Randy Johnson.

The Red Sox love long at-bats, but in many cases in Game 1 they took so many strikes that they worked themselves into outs rather than into good positions to hit. In the one inning Al Alburquerque pitched, the Sox swung at only three of his 12 pitches, but went down 1-2-3 because five of the nine pitches they took were called strikes (and PitchFx showed that four of the five were in strike zone, and the fifth was borderline).

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Sunday that the Tigers have encouraged Alburquerque to use his 95 mph fastball more often, and speculated that the number of fastballs may have surprised the Red Sox. Sure enough, the Red Sox took all six fastballs Alburquerque threw, even though five of them were strikes.

It's possible the Red Sox will be more aggressive in Game 2. The last time they faced Max Scherzer, the Tigers' Game 2 starter, Scherzer made it through seven innings by consistently getting ahead in the count.

That night, when a Boston reporter asked Leyland about the Red Sox's strategy of working the count, Leyland snapped back.

"You can't work the count when the pitcher throws strikes," he said.

You can't do it successfully. You can make a 1-0 game last nearly four hours.

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