DETROIT — Baseball instincts told Miguel Cabrera that with two outs in the first inning and Jhonny Peralta shooting one to left for a single, he needed to score. So did the initial signal from third base coach Tom Brookens.
But by the time Brookens realized Cabrera wasn’t going to make it, it was too late.
Left fielder Jonny Gomes, who had five outfield assists in the regular season, was up and gunning.
Brookens tried to give Cabrera the stop signal, but Cabrera was already chugging around third. Losing steam as he got to the plate, Cabrera was cut down by nearly 10 feet.
On Thursday night, in another American League Championship Series game decided by one slim run, the early mishap on the basepaths proved to be regrettable.
“Every third base coach knows when you’ve got two outs and you’ve got a base hit, you’ve got to send the runner,” Cabrera said. “It doesn’t matter who’s running. You’ve got to score with two outs. It was just a situation where he sent me and stopped me later, but you know, that’s baseball. You’ve got to find a way and I’m trying to find a way to score.
“Not to blame anybody here, it was like the last second when he stopped me. I see it. I’m not able to stop and I keep going.”
For as much baseball sense as it made, with Cabrera playing through injuries, going from second to home on a single seemed like a tall task.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland could see both sides.
“I think what happens with two outs sometimes, you’re thinking you’ve got to score with two outs, that’s the old baseball thing,” Leyland said. “But in this particular case with Miggy, you’ve got to hold him up right away. He was waving, and it probably stopped him a little late. With Miggy right now, you’ve got to stop him. And there was nothing Miggy could do, he saw him waving and Brookey held him up a little late.’’
Best option left
There was no way for Leyland to know what he was going to get out of Peralta in left field.
Then again, when Peralta returned to the Tigers after serving a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, there was no way for Leyland to know what he was going to get out of Peralta at all.
Peralta had played all but 23 of his 1,383 regular-season games in the infield, including 1,152 at shortstop. But with the addition of Jose Iglesias at the trade deadline, Leyland had to figure out a way to keep Peralta’s bat in the lineup and Iglesias’s glove on the field.
So, when Peralta returned in September, Leyland gave him a survivor’s guide to left field.
“By the rules, we were allowed to work him out here a little bit,” Leyland said. “We sent him to the instructional league and it was kind of a cram course.”
That it’s worked out as well as it has in the postseason is admittedly surprising to Leyland.
“I’m sure he’s not totally comfortable in left field yet,” Leyland said. “I’d be lying if I said I was totally comfortable with him in left field yet. And I don’t mean that sarcastically, that’s just a fact. He’s never really played there.”
Peralta made his fifth start of the playoffs in left on Thursday night. Although it isn’t his natural position, he’s been steady, and, more importantly, the Tigers have benefited from his bat. Peralta went 1 for 4 in Thursday night’s ALCS Game 5 and is hitting .367 this postseason.
Some things took some getting used to, Peralta said, like tracking balls in the air. Then there’s the downtime. Compared with shortstop, playing the outfield feels like sitting in a waiting room. But the more he’s played, the more comfortable he’s gotten.
“I feel more confident now,” he said. “I know it’s not easy, it’s not my position, but in more time I feel better. These couple of games I feel better in the outfield.”
In the third inning, with David Ortiz at the plate, Iglesias was shifted so far over he was practically playing second. When Ortiz sent a looper to shallow left, it seemed like it would drop in no-man’s land until Iglesias came racing into the picture.
He sprinted more than 100 feet to chase the fly ball down, making a dazzling scoop at his shins. For a player who already has a reel’s worth of highlights, it was a standout.
“It was pretty impressive,” said Torii Hunter. “He has a pretty good glove out there. He’s like Omar Vizquel. I hadn’t seen anybody play like that since Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar. His glove is pretty impressive.”
Iglesias, though, considered the play pretty routine.
“It was a good play,” Iglesias said. “Get some momentum for the team.”
When Leyland looks at his previous postseason pitching staffs, he says there’s no comparison with this Tigers rotation. Even the starters on his championship Marlins team — Kevin Brown, Livan Hernandez, Al Leiter, and Tony Saunders — didn’t stack up to the combination of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister, the manager said.
“We had a very good rotation in Florida in ’97 when we were fortunate enough to win the World Series, but it wasn’t as good as this one,” said Leyland. “This is the best that I’ve had. I’m not talking about other teams, other organizations, but for me, yes, it’s the best postseason starting rotation I’ve ever had.”
The Tigers have gotten nine quality starts in their 10 playoff games this year. The foursome have combined to give up just six earned runs in 33 innings this series, with Sanchez allowing three Thursday night.
Scherzer, who will start Game 6, said the common thread is execution.
“Just how we’re able to execute with multiple offspeed pitches and pitch backwards, pitch with fastballs, we’re just able to do a lot of different things,” he said. “When we combine all our strengths together, I feel like we can be one of the best rotations in baseball.’’
One more move
The lineup tweaks worked out so well in Game 4 that Leyland said he would likely stick with the same one for Game 5, but he couldn’t help himself. With the Red Sox sending lefthander Jon Lester to the mound, the Tigers manager moved the righthanded-hitting Omar Infante up a spot in the order to the six-hole and slid lefty Alex Avila down to No. 7. Infante, who was hitting just .143 in the series but hit .301 this year against lefties, went 1 for 3. Avila flied out in his only at-bat before leaving with a knee injury. He’s 3 for 12 in the series . . . By making his fifth appearance of the ALCS, Al Alburquerque set a Tigers record for the most games in a series by a reliever. The major league record for appearances in an LCS is six, accomplished seven times . . . For the third time, reliever Phil Coke has been called on to face just one batter. Eight of his 24 career playoff appearances have been one-hitter gigs.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.