DETROIT — The ball Dustin Pedroia is convinced he should have had was not routine. Hard hit, yes. But it rocketed off Jose Iglesias’s bat with some devilish backspin, and that’s what gave the typically surehanded Sox second baseman a bit of trouble.
“It was hit hard . . . one of those things,’’ said Pedroia, musing over Detroit’s five-run second inning, the one he could have cut far short had he turned Iglesias’s shot into an inning-ended 4-6-3. “It had backspin, but that’s my responsibility there to turn the double play. I just didn’t field it clean.’’
And therein was the crux of the Tigers’ fat five of a second inning, their springboard to tying the ALCS at two games apiece with a 7-3 win over the Sox. Had Pedroia made the play, the kind of play he’s made with metronomic success, the Tigers would have been held to one run for the inning and the Sox would have had seven more innings to deal with it.
Instead, the quick-footed Iglesias made it safely to first after Austin Jackson was cut down at second. The same bollix allowed Jhonny Peralta to dash in from third with the 2-0 lead. And worse, it brought leadoff hitter Torii Hunter to the plate with runners at first and third. Hunter followed with a shot by third base, a two-run double, to beef up the lead to 4-0, followed by a Miguel Cabrera single to make it 5-0.
All in all, that too-hot-to-handle, backspinning ball didn’t eat up Pedroia, but it led directly to chewing up Boston’s 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“He’s so consistent, he’s such a good defender,’’ said Sox skipper John Farrell, reflecting on the grounder to Pedroia. “The ball was hard. He squares it up and typically that’s a routine double play we’ve seen many, many times over. It handcuffed him just enough.’’
The missed chance, though, was an outgrowth of some uncharacteristic control issues by Sox starter Jake Peavy. The reliable righthander gave up a leadoff single to Victor Martinez, then gave up back-to-back walks to Jhonny Peralta (four pitches) and Alex Avila (full count). After Omar Infante popped out to center, Peavy then walked in the first run of the night when he issued Jackson yet another four-pitch free pass.
So, sure, Iglesias followed with a ball that maybe Pedroia shoulda, coulda had, but it was Peavy’s control issues that proved to be the bricks of the shaky foundation. No one knew that better than Peavy, who wasn’t nearly as masterful as he was in Game 4 of the ALDS, when he tied the Tampa Bay Rays in knots over six innings.
“Obviously, [Pedroia] can say that all he wants,’’ said Peavy, upon hearing that his second baseman was freely taking blame for the inning going upside down. “But put me out there [in need] of a double play with him as my lone defender and I’m [OK with that]. That ball was hit hard. It was tough play. But that inning was all on me. I wasn’t able to execute tonight.
“I put us behind the eight ball there — it’s all on me.’’
The gritty, persistent Pedroia has made those plays so often, so consistently, that Red Sox Nation scribbles “DP’’ into the scorecard before the ball is halfway to him. This time, though, the spin was too much and his relay too late to Stephen Drew for the shorstop to fire to first in time to get Iglesias. Truth is, Drew was nowhere near the bag on Pedroia’s wide toss and the Sox were fortunate enough recipients of a phantom force.
“My fault there, we get the DP and we are out of the inning,’’ said Pedroia. “That ball was smoked, but if I make the play, we get two there. We dug ourselves a hole when he had the chance to limit the damage — and we didn’t do it. We hit better tonight. Ells [Jacoby Ellsbury] swung the bat real good (4 for 5, with two singles, double, triple), but I’ve got to make that play.’’