The Fenway crowd began to chant “Steroids! Steroids!” at Jhonny Peralta before his sixth-inning at-bat, fuel for a convicted PED user who surely was motivated by an entire ballpark acting in unison against him.
The shortstop-turned-left fielder smacked three hits Saturday night, including the single that produced the game’s only run in the sixth. It fell in front of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who was playing deep, and broke a scoreless deadlock in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Peralta obviously heard the chants but he downplayed it by saying, “I don’t try to put attention about what the fans are doing or whatever. I think it’s better for me to go to home plate and try to work hard every day. I don’t try to listen to what people are saying, the fans and everything. I try to concentrate every day in the game and try to do my job.”
Peralta has been red-hot since returning from his 50-game suspension, a sign the rest did him good. Plus he’s a free agent to be who wants a big contract next season.
There was speculation — if not actual talk within the Tigers organization — on whether Peralta would even be on the postseason roster. Would the Tigers do what the Giants did last postseason by leaving off Melky Cabrera, who at the time of his PED suspension was leading the National League in hitting?
The situations were similar. Cabrera was going to be a free agent. Of course the Giants were mad at Cabrera for the shenanigans associated with the phony website he arranged. But the Tigers weren’t all that mad at Peralta, who seemed genuine in his apologies.
The Tigers thought long and hard about following that path and making a statement that they would not tolerate a PED user. But once they read about the lack of backlash in the Texas Rangers announcing that the PED-suspended Nelson Cruz would be back, the Tigers seemed to fall into place.
The Tigers had received minimal offense from their left fielders and Miguel Cabrera was hindered by injuries. The shortstop the Tigers picked up to replace Peralta, Jose Iglesias, was banged up with a hand injury and shin splints. The Tigers felt they had no choice but to go with Peralta, who would give them offense in left and protect them at shortstop and third should Cabrera or Iglesias be too injured to play regularly.
So far that decision has paid dividends.
Peralta also had a leadoff double in the fifth inning Saturday and doubled again in the eighth. He had never played left field at Fenway before Game 1, but he wasn’t a liability because of the Red Sox’ offensive troubles.
Peralta beat the Red Sox on a walkoff homer against Andrew Bailey on June 20 and one Sox player commented off the record that they had lost a game to a PED user and they were angry about it. That was a regular-season game. Now they have lost a playoff game to a guy who served his PED sentence.
Peralta has aplogized for using poor judgment in taking PEDs. He did not appeal the suspension levied by Major League Baseball. He’s been embraced and far from scorned by anyone in Detroit.
Peralta has always been a good hitter and he made the All-Star team for the second time this season. He also hit .352 against lefthanded pitching this year, which made him a perfect foil for Game 1 starter Jon Lester. Peralta hit .304 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 18 games following the All-Star break until his suspension.
In the playoffs the Tiger has been an absolute bear. He hit a tying three-run homer in Game 4 of the Division Series against Oakland, keeping Detroit alive in an elimination game. On Saturday he was the offensive hero again.
Asked about Peralta Saturday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, “You have to give up something to get something.” In other words, Leyland was willing to give up defense in left to take advantage of Peralta’s bat. As it turned out, only one routine fly ball found Peralta in Game 1.
Peralta was caught off second base on a terrific play by first baseman Mike Napoli in the fifth inning. Napoli was able to nab Peralta after he had ventured too far off the bag and tried to get back.
“In that situation [Napoli] is playing in and I can’t get to third so I tried to get back into second,” Peralta explained.
Peralta was asked how difficult it has been to come off a 50-game respite and be such a big contributor in the playoffs.
“I was in the Dominican Republic working hard every day and then they called me to go to Florida, where I worked with the hitting coach every day,” Peralta said. “They gave me the opportunity to help the team and that’s what I wanted to do. I told [general manger] Dave Dombroski to give me the chance to help the team. He gave me the chance and I want to do what I can to help this team win.”
From the Red Sox point of view, it’s tough to lose a 1-0 game when the PED guy gets the winning hit. Nobody is going to say anything about it now, but down the road you can bet the the topic will come up.
Right now, the decision to keep Peralta around is a stroke of genius by the Tigers. Maybe they don’t feel great about it. Maybe they’ll try to downplay it.
But Peralta has come back with a vengeance and with something to prove, and he loves the boost he gets from opposing crowds.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.