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ALCS Gm6: Leyland credits Sox's bullpen after loss

BOSTON -- The Tigers came within a grand slam of controlling this American League Championship Series coming out of Boston last weekend. Just when they seemed on the verge of forcing a seventh game, another granny Saturday sent them home.

A series that twisted through four one-run games turned on two four-run plays. It was the latter of the two that finally finished off a Detroit team that was built to get back to the World Series.

"We played good," Omar Infante said. "[Max] Scherzer, the two times he pitched, two grand slams."

In the end, Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Red Sox will be one of the outliers, a game that sent Boston to its third World Series in 10 years. Yet, until Shane Victorino sent an 0-2 curveball from Jose Veras deep to left field and over the Green Monster, Game 6 was among the closest of all.

It was close enough that Justin Verlander was watching at the top of the dugout, hoping for his chance in a Game 7. Scherzer was the starter in this comeback process. Verlander would've been the closer.

One more play, one more escape, and the Tigers could've gone into Game 7 with Verlander, the hero of two winner-take-all games in the last two years.

"I felt confident in the way I've been throwing the ball lately," Verlander said. "I obviously wanted the opportunity."

He wasn't the only one feeling that way.

"Fenway's a great place to play. It's fun. It's exciting. But to have Max and Ver going, you feel good about your chances," said Don Kelly, the left fielder who watched Victorino's ball take off, hoping for a play.

Kelly didn't think it was headed out. He had just played a Jonny Gomes double high off the Green Monster four batters earlier, and he thought that one was hit harder.

"I thought it was going to hit off the wall," he said. "Gomes crushed [his]. I thought he hit that ball way better than Victorino's, but Gomes' went up. Victorino's was more of a line drive than Gomes'."

Because it was a line drive, it didn't lose enough altitude on the way down. Once it went over, the Tigers' chances to set up Verlander went with it.

"My heart just dropped," right fielder Torii Hunter said.

It was that close of a home run, that close of a game, that close of a series. And as the Red Sox stormed the field to celebrate, Verlander lingered in the dugout, just for a minute, and watched.

"I don't like to watch other teams celebrate," Verlander said.

Another play, maybe two, and that mound would've been his Sunday. It was that close.

It was close enough that Red Sox manager John Farrell pulled his starter, Clay Buchholz, two batters into the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead. For the next few innings, it looked like Farrell would pay for it, a four-pitch walk from Franklin Morales to struggling Prince Fielder loading the bases for Victor Martinez to hit a go-ahead, two-run single off the left-center portion of the Monster.

It was close enough that Tigers manager Jim Leyland replaced Jhonny Peralta with Kelly for defense and running after a double play that halted a sixth-inning rally, Fielder caught in a rundown between third and home.

"Basically, that's a play where you just go and make them make the throw to the plate," Leyland said.

It was close enough that Leyland, who usually gives his starters the benefit of the doubt, turned to lefty Drew Smyly with the tying run on second with one out in the seventh after Scherzer didn't get a third-strike call from home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna. It marked the third time rookie No. 9 hitter Xander Bogaerts battled out of a two-strike count to reach base safely, and the walk set up the demise.

"I would have liked to have gotten that pitch," catcher Alex Avila admitted. "I think any catcher in that situation would want to have gotten that pitch. But whether the umpire calls it a strike or a ball, you have to move on, regardless."

It was close enough that Jacoby Ellsbury's ensuing ground ball was in slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias' glove behind second base before popping out for a critical error that loaded the bases for Victorino.

"I think we had an opportunity for a double play," Infante said. "I'm surprised, because Iglesias has got great hands. I think it's unlucky."

It was close enough that Veras was a strike away from fanning Victorino on curveballs, the pitch Victorino took for strike one and chased to foul off for strike two. When Veras left the 0-2 pitch just a little too high, Victorino capitalized.

"It was the pitch that we wanted," Veras said. "He had been struggling, 1-for-22 the whole series with the offspeed. We made the offspeed and he made the adjustment."

Victorino made just enough of a loft to send the Tigers' World Series dreams crashing down.

"The first thought was [to] get enough air [under it] to tie the game," said Victorino, thinking of a sacrifice fly. "And then I thought this could get up over the wall. All the emotions went through my mind."

The Tigers had theirs, from regret over games they could've won to shock that a season's worth of effort, the World Series being the goal since Spring Training, suddenly ended.

"We can always look back and think of certain situations, certain pitches, certain situations we didn't come through in," said Hunter, his dreams of a World Series trip dashed yet again. "You can always look back and second guess.

"We probably should've won at least one of these games, and it should've been three-three, but why? It's over with. You can't do anything about it, can't take it back, it's over. It's tough. Tough for me. The door's closing."

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