The boos didn’t seem to affect Prince Fielder.
It was a playoff game, at home, and a cold, wet Comerica Park crowd had grown tired of seeing their high-priced slugger ground out yet again.
When he shot a ground ball to Dustin Pedroia in the fifth inning on Thursday, the fans made sure to make their displeasure known, showering him with the kind of disaffection that would seem strange with the Tigers trying to keep from going down, 3-2, in the American League Championship Series.
The way things have gone for Fielder in the ALCS, though, he had more things to be concerned with than how the crowd reacts.
“It’s definitely not pleasant,” Fielder said. “But they’re fans. That’s what they do. They’ve paid to come.”
Fielder went 1 for 4 in the Tigers’ 4-3 loss to the Red Sox, grounding out three times and going down on the first pitch twice.
If there was a sign of how difficult the series has been for him, he’s been the inning-ending out eight times in the series.
“I’m just trying to hit the ball hard,” Fielder said. “I can’t worry about the crowd, because if they could do it, they would play.”
The biggest concern is finding a way to turn the power back on in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup. Fielder hasn’t hit a postseason home run since last year’s ALDS and his last playoff RBI came in Game 1 of last year’s ALCS.
He said his expectations were the same as the fans who were booing him.
“I want to hit home runs just as much as everybody else wants me to,” said Fielder, who hit 25 of them this year and 30 more last year. “But I’m just trying to hit the ball hard.
“I’d like to hit a little more balls in the air, but I don’t have a magic wand. So I’m just going out there trying to hit it hard.”
As a teammate, however, Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter took exception to the fans.
“I don’t think we should boo Prince or boo any of our players for giving a great effort, giving it our all,” Hunter said. “This is the postseason. We should have positive energy and not negative.”
A large part of the issue is the shift the Sox have used against the lefthanded-hitting slugger all series, turning what would be singles through the infield into outs.
“Prince actually hit three balls hard and they got the shift on him,” Hunter said. “If it’s anybody on base, it was three hits for him. He’s in the cage, he’s working his butt off. He’s doing everything he can.”
Fielder said it’s nothing he hasn’t faced before and at this stage of the season, with the Tigers facing elimination, it’s something he just has to deal with.
“The holes close up a little bit,” he said. “But there’s no GPS on the bat. So you’ve just got to hit it hard.”
Fielder is just 4 for 19 (.211) in the series, with a double in Game 2 as his only extra-base hit.
“You guys want to see the home runs, but that’s probably not too much of a great assumption,” Hunter said. “I don’t think you want to say he should be hitting home runs because it’s the postseason. The pitchers are sinking him away and he’s doing what he can to try to get that base hit or whatever. You can’t try to hit a pitch out of the park that you’re not getting.”
Before the game, manager Jim Leyland said he wasn’t worried.
“He hasn’t produced a home run or anything, but we’ve never asked Prince to hit home runs,’’ Leyland said. “We just want Prince to produce. He’s always been a run producer, that’s what we got him for and that’s what he’s done ever since he’s been here and I think that will continue.”
In Game 4, Leyland pushed the right buttons with Austin Jackson, dropping him from the leadoff spot to the No. 8 hole and watching him get on base in all four of his plate appearances. Asked if he would consider doing something similar with Fielder, Leyland said no.
“He’s had some good at-bats — doesn’t have a lot to show for it — and some not so good at-bats,” Leyland said. “But I don’t think so. When he steps in the box, I know people say, ‘Well, you keep waiting for it.’ I still feel good something big could happen at any time. He’s one of those electric guys that you know, right now is getting thrown a base hit here and there.”
The way things work in the playoffs, Fielder said he knew that one timely hit could make up for a slump.
“Especially now in the postseason, you never know when you’re going to come through and help the team,” he said.
Fielder’s playoff troubles
Since signing a nine-year, $214 million deal with Detroit, Prince Fielder has been a postseason bust for the Tigers. His last playoff RBI came in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS — some 17 games ago. A look at how Fielder has fared the last two postseasons:
2012 ALDS vs. Oakland
5 games, 21 at-bats, 1 run, 4 hits, 1 home run, 2 RBIs, 2 strikeouts, .190 average
2012 ALCS vs. NY Yankees
4 games, 17 at-bats, 1 run, 4 hits, 1 RBI, 5 strikeouts, .235
2012 World Series vs. San Francisco
4 games, 14 at-bats, 1 hit, 4 strikeouts, .071
2013 ALDS vs. Oakland
5 games, 18 at-bats, 2 runs, 5 hits, 2 strikeouts, .278
2013 ALCS vs. Boston
5 games, 19 at-bats, 1 run, 4 hits, 1 double, 4 strikeouts, .211
23 games, 89 at-bats, 5 runs, 18 hits, 1 double, 1 home run, 3 RBIs, 17 strikeouts, .202
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.