The impact Jhonny Peralta’s made since returning to the lineup for the postseason following a 50-game ban for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal has been undeniable.
He’s hitting .500 in the postseason (8 for 16) with six RBIs, including knocking in the decisive run in the Tigers’ 1-0 win over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALCS Saturday night.
Although Tigers manager JimLeyland had tried to figure out a way to keep Peralta and young shortstop Jose Iglesias on the field at the same time, playing Peralta in left field and keeping the highly skilled Iglesias at shortstop despite his struggles at the plate in the postseason, Leyland has chosen to go with Peralta’s bat over Iglesias’s glove.
“Jhonny Peralta is no donkey, he’s made the All-Star team twice for me as a shortstop in the last few years,” Leyland said. “He’s a very good shortstop. We’re trying to get another bat in there, and we felt it would be the best way to do it.”
Left field is a position Peralta had played only three times before the postseason. Moving him to shortstop allowed Leyland to go with Don Kelly in left, a more natural fit in the outfield.
In a series where runs may be few and far between, Leyland was willing to sacrifice Iglesias’s defense for Peralta’s offense, but he said the dropoff on defense isn’t as dramatic as it might seem.
“This guy is a bona fide major league shortstop,” Leyland said. “This is not a utility guy you’re playing there. This is a top-notch shortstop. He doesn’t have the range Iglesias has, but this is a very, very good shortstop.
“I do stuff because I think it gives us the best chance and I mean it. I’m not being smart about it. I try to make out the lineup that I think is the best shot and get another lefthanded bat in there with [Clay] Buchholz, although the numbers don’t dictate that for sure, but, you know, we’ll have a better left fielder defensively. So give up a little something, you get something else. And those combinations are why I made out the lineup I made out today.”
Whether it was with the Twins or the Angels, for Torii Hunter, it always felt like his postseason trips ended with the Yankees.
And those endings were never happy ones.
In 2003 and 2004, it was the Yankees in the ALDS. Both times, all the Twins could manage over the course of the two series was a win in each.
In 2009, Hunter’s second season with the Angels, it was the Yankees in the ALCS, and they did away with the Angels in six games.
Each time, he was left to watch them celebrate while he settled for another playoff run cut short.
“I see this all the time, guys jumping up and down on the field at the end of the season, during the World Series, at the end of the World Series, and I’m sitting on my couch and having a Coors Light,” Hunter said. “You’re sitting there and you’re seeing those guys. And you just kind of soak it in.”
In his 17-year career, Hunter has been to the postseason seven times, but never to the World Series.
When he signed with the Tigers in the offseason, he did so knowing that, at 38, it would give him the best chance to play on a stage that’s eluded him for so long.
“It’s my dream,” Hunter said. “And I’m going to keep fighting and keep trying to get there to my dream. Watching those guys on the field celebrate. I just try to imagine myself doing that.”
He signed a two-year, $26 million deal.
“It was just give me what’s fair,” he said. “If you give me what’s fair, we’ll sign right now. They gave me my fair offer, $13.1, whatever it might be, I didn’t want to negotiate, we’re done, this is what I want to play for.”
He had reached the ALCS twice, with the Twins in 2002 and the Angels in 2009, but neither of those teams had the caliber of pitching that wins championships, he said.
When Hunter sized up the Tigers roster, he knew that a team with Justin Verlander, MaxScherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister could win an arms race.
“I looked at that rotation,” Hunter said. “I know in my past, all my failures in the postseason, that pitching and defense means a lot. The reason I probably failed in the past in the postseason is because we didn’t have the pitching. The matchup wasn’t there. We had the hitting, we didn’t have the pitching. We had the defense, just didn’t have the pitching.
“When you have Scherzer, Anibal, and Verlander, I looked at that rotation this offseason, and said, ‘Hey, this is where I want to be.’ ”
Weighed down at one point by family issues and off-field concerns, Hunter said he felt rejuvenated by a new environment in Detroit. He hit .304 with 84 RBIs and 17 home runs in the regular season, emerging as a veteran leader in the clubhouse.
“He’s obviously a tremendous athlete, tremendous guy,” said Leyland. “One of the toughest players I’ve ever managed. But what he’s done on the field has been the biggest thing for us. He’s gotten big hits, he’s a good defender. Doesn’t run quite as good as he used to. He’s a very good player, and he’s tough.
“That’s really why we signed him. When we signed him, we got exactly what we thought we were going to get. And he’s done a terrific job. And I think this time of year a lot of the veteran players are a little older. They get a new life, it’s a new breath of fresh air. And I’m sure that’s the way Torii is feeling right now.”
One and done
Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque doesn’t have a “best if used by” sticker on his jersey, but Leyland has realized that one inning is the optimal amount of work for the hard-throwing righthander.
He faced three batters in the seventh inning of the Tigers Game 1 win, and sat them down in order. Leyland considered bringing him out again for the eighth, but decided against it.
“Alburquerque, when he comes out for one inning and gives you that good one inning, if you try to send him back out, things don’t normally turn out as good, and that’s why we made that move last night,” Leyland said.
While he was on the mound, though, Alburquerque was lights-out, needing just 12 pitches to sit down Mike Carp, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury.
But what Leyland noticed was that along with the slider that’s given him quite a reputation around the league, Alburquerque also leaned on his fastball, throwing six of each.
“He threw 95,” Leyland said. “Everybody in the league knows he is a slider guy. He’s probably a bit of a surprise last night that he used that a little bit more than a slider.”