Leyland's lineup maneuvering gets offense in order
Hunter in leadoff spot, Miggy in two-hole produces the desired results
DETROIT -- It was early on Wednesday morning when hitting coach Lloyd McClendon sent out the chain of text messages that left the Tigers' everyday players stunned.
"I was like, 'Really?'" Torii Hunter said of his reaction upon finding out what the lineup would be later that night in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series -- and the expression was justified.
Manager Jim Leyland put the 38-year-old in the leadoff spot with the reigning Triple Crown winner batting second. It was mayhem. It was unconventional. It was desperate. It was anti-Leyland.
It was genius.
With Hunter at the top and Miguel Cabrera right behind him, the Tigers scored five runs in one inning off Red Sox starter Jake Peavy, notched nine hits and won, 7-3, at Comerica Park. The lineup change helped the Tigers tie this ALCS at 2, and it might have had an important carry-over effect: Austin Jackson finally got going.
"Leyland has a meaning behind everything," Hunter said. "Fifty-one years in this game, I'm pretty sure he's picked up some wisdom along the way. When he's doing something, he has meaning behind it, and you really can't question a guy like that. You can always second-guess him, but he knows what he's doing, and you saw today. It kind of created havoc for us, and we were able to relax. It changes mindsets, you know. When you put Austin from leadoff to eighth, it changed his mindset. He was comfortable."
The Tigers' traditional leadoff hitter entered 3-for-33 with 18 strikeouts, and Leyland knew he had to do something. He didn't want to take Jackson out of the lineup completely because of the defense he brings to center field, particularly with a contact pitcher like Doug Fister on the mound. And Leyland didn't want to move anybody from the bottom third up because, well, it's not like anybody else had been setting the world on fire lately.
Leyland's compromise was chaotic, if not a little charming.
Hunter -- 7-for-16 with a homer lifetime against Peavy -- batted leadoff for the first time since he was a fresh-faced, 23-year-old rookie with the Twins in 1999. Cabrera hit second for the first time since his first full season in the big leagues, while with the Marlins nine years and several-dozen pounds ago. And everyone else moved up, with Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Omar Infante following, respectively.
"The first inning, it was a little bit -- I don't know how to say it," Cabrera said, probably searching for a word like "weird." "But in the second inning, third inning, we made the adjustment and tried to do our job."
Jackson went 2-for-2 with two walks and drove in two runs, Hunter and Cabrera combined to go 3-for-9 with four RBIs, and every member of the Tigers' lineup save Fielder -- 8-for-33 in these playoffs -- reached base at least once.
In the second, the Tigers strung together the inning they've been waiting for. Martinez singled, Peralta and Avila walked, Jackson put them on the board with a bases-loaded walk, Jose Iglesias -- batting ninth -- beat out a would-be inning-ending double play to make it a 2-0 game, Hunter ripped a two-run double down the left-field line and Cabrera followed with an RBI single.
Postgame, Cabrera downplayed the significance of batting in a spot typically associated with sacrifice bunts and ground balls to the right side because, as he said, "I'm not going to bunt, I'm not going to hit-and-run or anything like that. I was trying to get a good pitch to hit and do my job."
Leyland was lying on his couch late Tuesday night, watching the Cardinals-Dodgers game with a pen and a pad by his side. He had heard all the outside calls for change and mostly agreed with them, so he scribbled a new batting order, informed McClendon, had him prepare the players with an early-morning text and cared little about how it would be received outside his clubhouse.
"You can say I'm nuts, you can say I'm dumb, you can say whatever you want," Leyland declared pregame. "It does give you something to write about -- other than 'Jackson struck out 18 times,' 'Leyland needs to do something.' So, here it is. Have a good time with it. We'll see how it plays out. And I will be willing to answer the questions after the game."
Afterwards, there was little to answer for. Asked about the benefit of The Shakeup, Leyland said: "I don't know if it had anything to do with it; I doubt it very much."
But he'll nonetheless roll the same lineup out again on Thursday for Game 5 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. And if the Tigers reach the World Series, a Leyland-run team will have won a pennant with a 38-year-old batting leadoff and the most dangerous hitter on the planet hitting second.
"We need to win some games and that's it," Cabrera said. "It doesn't matter how the lineup is. It's more important to go out there, try to do our jobs. If everybody does their job here, we're going to be OK."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.