DETROIT — When the text message came through, Austin Jackson was asleep.
It was a strange text to wake up to.
With the Tigers struggling to produce runs, manager Jim Leyland was planning on shaking things up.
He just wanted to let everyone know.
The way things had gone for Jackson in the postseason, he could feel a change coming.
“I was thinking a lineup change. When you’re trying to get yourself going a little bit, you’ve got to mix things up,” he said.
In three games, Tigers center fielder Jackson had exhausted almost every possible way to make an out.
He had grounded out four times, lined out once, flown out twice, and struck out five times (all swinging).
He came into Wednesday’s Game 4 of the American League Championship Series just 1 for 13 in the series.
For an offense that finished second in the American League in runs to get so little production from its leadoff hitter was like having a muscle car sitting on cinderblocks.
Not even Jackson could wrap his head around it.
In the regular season, he hit .272 and his 99 runs scored were the Tigers’ second most behind Miguel Cabrera.
The only answer he could muster after going 0 for 3 with a walk in Game 3, he said, was “just keep swinging.”
“Hopefully,” he figured, “you’ll come out of it.”
If he was going to shake himself out of the the slump, he was going to have to do it from the eighth spot.
After falling behind two games to one, Leyland decided to drop Jackson in the lineup.
“I really didn’t have too much of a reaction to it,” Jackson said. “I was thinking it was probably going to come sooner or later.”
Leyland insisted he hadn’t lost any faith Jackson.
“I think it’s easy to kick people when they’re down,” Leyland said. “I’m not taking him out of the lineup, so I am sticking with him. If I was taking guys out of the lineup, when you’re in the postseason you don’t really bench somebody, you might sit them. During the season you bench them for a week or something.
“There’s not anything like being benched in the postseason. I am sticking with him, just a different spot. The strikeouts so far, it’s got to get to you a little bit. And like I said, anybody can kick somebody when they’re down a little bit. I just wanted to refresh him, put him lower in the lineup, and hopefully that will relax him.”
Jackson had hit lower than sixth in the order only six times in his career, but once he stepped out of the spotlight of the leadoff spot he was able to thrive, going 2 for 2 and reaching base in all four of his plate appearances in the Tigers 7-3 win.
When he took ball four in the second with the bases loaded, he could feel his nerves uncoil.
“It definitely made me relax a little more,” he said. “It’s a big situation right there to try to get something done. After I saw a couple pitches, I was able to kind of just take some deep breaths and relax a little bit and not worry so much about the results. Just try to get a good pitch, make sure you’re seeing the ball and take some good swings when you get your pitch.’’
It was his first RBI since Game 4 of the ALDS and he didn’t even have to swing his bat to get it.
“That started everything,” said Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter. “You’re hoping that it creates something different in our thought process and it did. For Austin it worked and if he had stayed in the leadoff spot, we don’t know what would have happened. But he’s in the eight hole and what Jim Leyland did makes him a brilliant man.”
In the third inning, when his hard ground ball got by a diving Dustin Pedroia at second, he felt things starting to finally break his way.
“It was relief really, to see that,” Jackson said. “I remember the other night, I hit a similar ball over there in the hole and he made a diving, great play on that. So once you see him leave his feet, he makes a lot of great diving plays, so to see it bounce off his glove is just a relief.”
Feeling the effects of the moves all around, his teammates were happy to see Jackson’s fortunes turn.
“It’s really fun to see AJ swing the bat like he did tonight,” said shortstop Jose Iglesias. “It’s really tough to see your teammates struggle, but everybody struggles. You’ve got to deal with it and do your best every single time.”
Jackson said he was able to play stress free.
“It felt good to contribute to a win and just relax and just get a chance to go out there and not put so much pressure on yourself, just have fun and relax and play the game like you know how.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.