DETROIT — Old school, throwback, retro.
Those are words used to describe something that was once en vogue or cutting-edge and now simply by being a vestige of another time is appreciated again. You can also use those words to describe Jim Leyland.
The cantankerous, gravelly voiced, chain-smoking Tigers manager has been around so long, 22 seasons, that in being conventional he is now unconventional. That simply by being a baseball traditionalist he has become nontraditional in today’s sabermetrically mandated, statistically obsessed brand of baseball.
The 68-year-old baseball treasure is one of the few managers with the gravitas and the guts to still play an old-fashioned hunch.
He did it Wednesday night, shaking up his batting order like a Magic eight-ball, and the result was a 7-3 victory for Leyland’s Detroit Tigers, who evened the American League Championship Series at two games apiece at Comerica Park.
Leyland used an order he hadn’t used all season, dropping scuffling leadoff hitter Austin Jackson to the eighth spot, having Torii Hunter bat leadoff, and three-time batting champion Miguel Cabrera hit second.
The order wasn’t normal, considering that Hunter hadn’t batted leadoff since 2000 and Cabrera hadn’t hit second since 2004.
“You can say I’m nuts. You can say I’m dumb. You can say whatever you want,” said Leyland before Game 4. “It does give you something to write about, other than Jackson struck out 18 times, and Leyland needs to do something. So, here it is, have a good time with it. We’ll see how it plays out, and I will be willing to answer questions after the game.”
After the game, Leyland looked liked a genius, and he didn’t need WAR (wins above replacement) or wRC (weighted runs created) to do so.
Before the game, Leyland described his moves as “just a little something, you know, to churn up the butter a bit.”
Leyland’s Land O’ Lakes reconfigured order struck for five runs in the second and two in the fourth to build a 7-0 lead against Red Sox starter Jake Peavy.
The Tigers, who had been batting .225 in the series with a .295 on-base percentage, scored more runs in the first four innings of Game 4 than they had in the previous three games (six).
“You’re hoping that it creates something different in our thought process, and it did,” said Hunter, who went 1 for 5 with a two-run double. “What Jim Leyland did makes him a brilliant man.”
You ask, where did Leyland find this stroke of genius? Was it poring over spreadsheets or plugging lineups into the Tigers’ version of Carmine, the Red Sox’ proprietary baseball software?
It was watching the National League Championship Series from his couch on Tuesday night and ruminating about a way to jump-start his club’s anemic offense. Leyland used his gut and his baseball experience to formulate the winning batting order.
Somewhere, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane just broke into hives.
It’s good to know that managing a baseball team isn’t just data reconciliation and personality juggling.
“I didn’t disagree with anybody saying we needed to do something,” said Leyland. “I felt like fans, coaches, members of the media, myself, the coaching staff, probably the players, thought that something had to be done. I don’t want to sound like this had anything to do with it . . . I thought long and hard about it, and this is what I came up with.
“This has nothing to do with Jim Leyland. This is about the players. They executed. They came out and played well.”
We all thought we had this series pegged, games tighter than a Green Line trolley at rush hour and deference to the men on the mound. Leyland turned his batting order upside-down, and Detroit did the same to the style of games in the series.
Detroit is a city familiar with assembly lines and mass production, and the Tigers delivered both Wednesday night.
In the second, Peavy loaded the bases on a single by Victor Martinez and back-to-back walks to Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila. After a diving grab by Jacoby Ellsbury, Peavy allowed a run by walking the struggling Jackson, who had entered the night 1 for 13 with five strikeouts in the ALCS.
Dustin Pedroia couldn’t handle a hot-shot grounder by Jose Iglesias and the Sox had to settle for a run-scoring force out instead of an inning-ending double play. Hunter then lined a two-run double to right. Cabrera plated Hunter with a single to center.
Right off the bat and off the bats, Leyland’s intuition paid off.
In the fourth, Omar Infante slugged a ground-rule double to left. Jackson singled off the glove of Pedroia to make it 6-0. That ended Peavy’s evening.
Cabrera (2 for 4 with two RBIs) hit a two-out single off reliever Brandon Workman that was just out of the reach of a diving Pedroia to make it 7-0.
Red Sox manager John Farrell remarking on the dearth of offense in the series — the teams had combined for 13 runs — said it was an ideal series thus far for a baseball purist.
Wednesday night was an ideal night for managerial purists, who believe that managing shouldn’t be a paint-by-numbers exercise or a series of statistical computations.
Humanity still has a place in the dugout.
Score one for the baseball atavist in the Tigers’ dugout, unfortunately it came at the Red Sox’ expense.
Leyland’s new batting order isn’t going anywhere.
Jon Lester can expect to see it on Thursday at Comerica Park.
“I will go with the lineup tomorrow, yeah. I really think you have to,” said Leyland.
Unless he comes up with something better on his couch.