If he could get what he wanted, Brandon Workman figured, it would be a ball on the ground. A juicy roller anywhere in the infield.
In the nightmare known as runners on the corners and no one out, which is what he inherited, it’s every pitcher’s dream.
“That’s what you’re hoping for, for sure,’’ said the Sox righthander, who walked into the jam of jams Saturday night in the sixth inning, the Tigers having just taken a 2-1 lead. “And we got it, the DP, although I didn’t think we’d be getting the guy at third base the way did.
“I mean, that was a crazy play . . . I didn’t know what was going on.’’
The grounder, hit by Jhonny Peralta, went directly to Dustin Pedroia, who tagged out Victor Martinez, who had been on first, and then fired home well ahead of a confused Prince Fielder. Confusion was the key. Fielder, on third base when Peralta hit the roller, was way too late breaking for home. Pedroia pegged a perfect throw to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who promptly started chasing the clumsy, slow-afoot Fielder back to the third base bag.
“I figured we’d have a play [on Fielder],’’ said Saltalamacchia, talking to the media on Fenway’s green lawn some 20 minutes after the Sox clinched the American League pennant with a 5-2 win over the Tigers. “I felt like he was going back to the bag, so I tagged him.’’
“I didn’t do much on that play,’’ kidded Workman, who tried to enter the rundown, “other than get in the way a little bit.’’
The tag came with Fielder face down in the dirt, having bellied out well short of the bag in his stumbling, desperate dive to return to safety. It capped the curious 4-2 double play, the net result leaving Peralta (reached on fielder’s choice) standing on second base with the two outs. Workman quickly worked ahead on the count on the next hitter, Alex Avila, and closed out the threat when Avila was caught looking at a third strike.
Fielder ended up serving as the metaphor for Detroit’s failed attempt to get back to the World Series. He had been less than 45 feet from stepping across the plate with the third run of the inning, but there he was, busted flat in the Fenway dirt.
Sox manager John Farrell left himself open to a potential lifetime’s worth of second-guessing with his curious move earlier in the inning to hook starter Clay Buchholz after the righthander opened the sixth by walking Torii Hunter and yielding a single to Miguel Cabrera.
Pulling Buchholz seemed a bit premature, but the more curious part was to bring in little-used lefty Franklin Morales. The Boston bullpen had been all but foolproof in the postseason. And now here was Morales, brought in to face lefty-hitting Fielder. The left-on-left matchup made sense, but the question was, why Morales over, say, the sure-armed Craig Breslow?
Morales struggled from the start , his pitches errant, nearly wild, and and he promptly walked Fielder on four pitches. Bases loaded, no outs. Nonetheless, Farrell stuck with Morales, who then allowed a Wall ball to Martinez, the cleanup hitter. With one walk and one sweep of the bat, the Tigers had reversed from a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 lead and brought an end to Morales’s evening.
“I’m just trying to make pitches in that spot,’’ said Workman, musing more over the predicatment he inherited. “You want to make pitches, keep the score where it is, because you know the way our offense is, we’re going to score some runs.’’
Morales, agreed Workman, had a “little bit of a tough outing, but he’s thrown the ball well for us . . . and I was I able to pick him up. But that’s how our bullpen’s been. We pick each other up. I was able to do it for him, and then Taz [Junichi Tazawa] did it for me.’’
Tazawa entered with two outs in the seventh and runners on first and second, and ended the threat when he erased struggling power hitter Miguel Cabrera with a grounder up the middle to Stephen Drew. The bullpen was back on its axis. Breslow entrered in the eighth and posted a 1-2-3 inning (two grounders, strikeout) and next came the bullpen’s chokehold, Koji Uehara, who worked a meticulous ninth to end it.
“Outstanding inning-plus on [Workman’s] part,’’ said Farrell. “[Pedroia] is going to come up with big plays seemingly every time we walk on the field. This was win . . . you point to any number of guys.’’