DETROIT — The first question may as well have been a fastball up and in.
All Lou Whitaker came to Comerica Park to do was throw out the first pitch for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
It was a welcome home for a player who spent all 19 years of his career with the Tigers, winning a World Series in 1984.
But the chatter started as soon as the Tigers obtained Jose Iglesias in a three-team deal at the trade deadline in July.
No one had worn Whitaker’s No. 1 jersey since he retired after the 1995 season.
Then, along comes Iglesias, another smooth middle infielder that the Tigers expect to be around for a long while.
The question was what Whitaker made of Iglesias being the first person to wear the number in 18 years.
“I get the toughest question right off the bat, don’t I?,” Whitaker said, joking.
The truth was Whitaker didn’t have much of a problem with it at all.
“Well, you know, the Tigers want to be No. 1. You need No. 1 on the field. So he was brave enough to ask for it. He got it. I was a rookie when I had it. He’s a rookie. So hopefully he can just have a great career.”
Watching Iglesias leave his fingerprints on the Tigers’ 7-3 win in Game 4 in the most subtle of ways, it was understandable.
On a night when he went 1 for 3 with an RBI and a run, Iglesias seemed to specialize in the small things, whether it was a quick flip to second to try to double off Jacoby Ellsbury in the fifth inning after tracking down a Shane Victorino looper to shallow left or a hard slide into Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia to try to break up a double play in the sixth inning.
“You’ve got to do the little things,” said Iglesias after the Tigers even the series at 2. “You take care of the little things the bigger things take care of themselves.”
He seemed to do it all with a devilish grin on his face, considering who it was against.
“Playing against Boston, it’s always fun,” he said. “Unbelievable organization. Unbelievable team and it’s a good series so far.”
In the eighth inning, he shot a hard ground ball to right field, and as soon as he hit it, he said he knew what Victorino was going to try to do.
“I keep my eyes to the play, where it’s at when I hit it and I see Shane playing shallow and I know he’s an unbelievable right fielder and I hit that ball really hard,” he said. “So I knew right away he was going to go to first. That’s why I sprinted all the way down.
In the fourth inning, he dropped a textbook bunt down and raced up the line to try to beat it out.
Sox pitcher Brandon Workman managed to come off the mound and get the throw over to first with just a sliver of daylight between Iglesias’s foot and the top of the bag.
But the bunt allowed Austin Jackson to move to third and eventually score on a Miguel Cabrera single.
“I don’t really think about [trying to] beat it at first,” Iglesias said. “I really wanted to make sure I get it down to get my guy over. It was a really close play. I thought I was safe, but close play, tough play.”
In his two postseason starts thus far, Anibal Sanchez had a nightmarish six-run, 4⅓-inning implosion in Game 3 of the Division Series against Oakland, followed by a masterful 12-strikeout, no-hit, six-inning gem in Game 1 against the Red Sox.
The mixed results make it hard to predict which pitcher will take the mound in Thursday’s Game 5 .
“I know the situation, but tomorrow is one day,” Sanchez said. “I’m not going to think too much where we’re at or what we’ve got.
“I think I need to go out there and throw good ball for another win, especially the situation we have. But I need to just get ready for make it a good game.”
Even though his dozen strikeouts in Game 1 came with a half-dozen walks, Sanchez said it was a product of the liveliness of his pitches.
His go-to pitch was a devastating slider that accounted for six of his strikeouts. He threw 31 in all, 18 for strikes.
“I think my pitch moved really good that day,” Sanchez said. “And that’s why when they don’t swing, the balls go down. And when I threw a strike, I was ahead on the count, and it helped me to strike them out.
“I think that was the key. They helped me that day.”
Asked what he was going to do with the lineup card, Tigers manager Jim Leyland deadpanned, “throw it away.’’ On eBay? “I’ll throw it away unless I can sell it to some bar on the way home. I’m not really one of those guys. I don’t save stuff. I was kidding the guys before the game today, I don’t even ask for an autographed ball by anybody, because you can’t read the names on it. I’ve got all kinds of baseballs, you don’t know who they are. I don’t need an autographed ball from my team or any other team.’’
Prince Fielder finished the regular season with 61 extra-base hits, but a double in Game 2 stands as his only extra-base hit through four games in the ALCS. He went 0 for 4 in Game 4, getting the ball out of the infield only once. Leyland acknowledged it was an issue, but said he expected the slugger to come up with a big hit. “When he stands in the batter’s box, you think something big could happen at any time, and I still feel that way,” Leyland said. “Will it happen? I don’t know. Big Papi [David Ortiz] came up with a huge one, [Mike] Napoli came up with a huge one. Who knows? But I don’t want to put any pressure on anybody, say you have to go up and hit a home run.’’ . . . The Tigers were 5 for 20 with runners in scoring position in the first three games of the series, so Leyland talked to one of the game’s all-time greats at driving in runs, Tony Perez, who finished in the top 10 in RBIs 11 times in his 23-year career. They talked about reaching out of the strike zone for pitches, which the Tigers found themselves doing. “I spent a lot of time talking about that because good RBI guys are hard to find,” Leyland said. “He told me he was able to expand the strike zone just enough, but not too much. A lot of times when a pitcher gets in trouble, he gets guys out on balls. And if we stay in the strike zone, I think we’ll be fine.” The Tigers went 4 for 9 Wednesday night.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.