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Leyland's lineup churns, the Tigers hit, and now the ALCS is tied

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

DETROIT -- We'll never know how much the lineup change helped.

We do know that it worked.

The Tigers may not have scored so many runs Wednesday night because Jim Leyland sent his hitters to the plate in a different order. But they did score so many runs after their manager shook things up just a little.

"Just a little something to churn up the butter a little bit," Leyland put it, after dropping the struggling Austin Jackson from leadoff to eighth, and moving everyone else up a spot.

The butter churned. The bats returned. And this American League Championship Series is back even, at two wins apiece, after the Tigers' 7-3 win in Game 4.

With Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander set up to pitch the remaining three games, there's a small sense now that the Tigers are in good position in this series. But with the way the Red Sox have played all season and the way this ALCS has gone, there's a bigger sense that there are more than a few twists and turns -- and churns -- to come.

Maybe Red Sox manager John Farrell will change his lineup, too. He hinted at one move after Wednesday's game, suggesting that rookie Xander Bogaerts could be in there for Thursday's Game 5.

Leyland, not surprisingly, said he'll stick with the lineup that worked Wednesday.

"I really think you have to," he said.

He can't change it now, for the same reason that he had to change something after Game 3. And for the same reason that Red Sox manager John Farrell is now considering a lineup move of his own, suggesting after Wednesday's game that rookie Xander Bogaerts will play in Thursday's Game 5.

Managers walk a fine line in the postseason, between showing the extra urgency needed in a short series and demonstrating panic that can keep his team from performing. They don't want to change everything on a team that won all season, but they don't want to go home early because they were afraid to change anything.

The right move is simply the one that ends up working, and by that definition, Leyland's lineup change Wednesday was brilliant.

Was it the reason the Tigers scored more runs in Game 4 than they had in the first three games combined? Or was Red Sox starter Jake Peavy's wildness, and his teammates' shoddy defense, a bigger factor?

There's no real way to answer that, except to say that in some corners of the Tiger clubhouse, Leyland was getting plenty of the credit.

"I think it kind of settled us down," said Torii Hunter, who batted leadoff for the first time since 1999. "It changes the mindset of a player. [Leyland] knows what he's doing. He knows that putting Austin Jackson down in the eighth spot takes the pressure off him."

Does it? Jackson's first trip to the plate Wednesday came with the bases loaded in a scoreless game.

Then again, he walked on four pitches to force in the game's first run, and it was the first of four straight times he reached base (after reaching base just five times in 35 previous postseason plate appearances). And Jackson, like Hunter, credited the lineup move.

"I have no idea if I would have had the same type of game [leading off]," Jackson said. "I think that moving me down, it helped with just making me relax and be patient and just have fun, really."

Leyland said he came up with the idea for the switch while sitting at home watching the Cardinals-Dodgers game Tuesday night. He knew he had to do something. He knew that Jackson's struggles at the top were affecting his entire lineup.

And he didn't really have another leadoff hitter on his roster.

So instead of choosing a new leadoff hitter, Leyland in effect elected to play without one. He moved everyone up a spot, with Hunter going to the top of the lineup and Miguel Cabrera moving to second (where he hadn't hit since 2004).

It was more than a little unconventional, but it made perfect sense. Jackson's struggles meant the Tigers were basically beginning games with the second batter coming up with no one on and one out. The only difference in Leyland's new order was that Hunter would come up with no one on and no one out.

As it turned out, the Tigers went down 1-2-3 in the first inning against Peavy. The offensive show came in the second inning instead, with Victor Martinez leading off with a single. Peavy followed that by walking three of the next four batters, the last one the inexcusable four-pitch walk to Jackson.

Peavy wasn't the only Red Sox player who had a bad night. Jose Iglesias followed the Jackson walk with a double-play grounder to second base, but Dustin Pedroia fumbled in and got only one out. When Hunter followed with a double, the Tigers had a 4-0 lead and were on their way to a five-run inning.

Two innings later, it was 7-0, a lead that even the sometimes-shaky Tiger bullpen didn't have that much trouble holding.

This series had a new big moment, to go along with the near no-hitter in Game 1, the David Ortiz grand slam in Game 2 and the Mike Napoli home run in Game 3. But this big moment happened before Game 4 ever began, before any of the players even arrived at Comerica Park.

Leyland knew the new lineup could cause a stir, so he called hitting coach Lloyd McClendon Wednesday morning and asked him to text all the players most affected.

"Guys said, 'OK, we're ready,'" McClendon said. "You don't deal with egos in the postseason. Hey, anything to give you a spark. I thought it was a great move by Skip, thinking out of the box.

"It worked. It's a results-oriented business. It worked."

It worked, even though the new leadoff hitter swung at the first pitch he saw.

"My mind said no," Hunter said. "But my hands said yes."

It worked, even though Jackson ended up looking more patient as an eighth-place hitter than he had as a leadoff man.

It worked, and really, that's all that matters.

It worked, and the Tigers woke up offensively, and the ALCS is tied.

At the very worst, the lineup change didn't hurt.

 
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