2013 ALCS: Joaquin Benoit causes worry

Jamie Squire

The Tigers closer has not been crisp in the postseason and allowed another run Wednesday.

Joaquin Benoit continues to color outside the lines.

The Tigers have lost two games during the first four of this American League Championship Series. Neither is Joaquin Benoit's fault specifically. The first loss came Sunday, when Benoit was handed a 5-1 lead in the eighth inning and promptly grooved a game-tying grand slam to David Ortiz. The Tigers, with their sails shredded, managed to lose in walk-off fashion just two batters into the ninth inning. True, Benoit gave up the hit everyone talked about. But three bullpen members before him allowed three base runners, creating the situation in the first place.

The second loss, a 1-0 affair Tuesday, came after Justin Verlander allowed a home run and the Tigers failed to score. Definitely can't put that to Benoit.

So, too much can be made of his presence, certainly. That the Tigers are where they are today cannot be placed upon Benoit's shoulders.

But in the ninth inning Wednesday, with a run already charged to his record, the narrative was creeping up on him. The possible game-tying run, Big Papi. Researchers were looking for the last time one player had two such moments in a playoff series. Announcers were speaking excitedly. Television producers were fondling themselves under the desk.

And two normally calm fellows were thinking the same way.

Lee, the saber godfather of Tigers fans, and I normally put forth and unflappable exterior. Long picture. Logic. Rational thought. Don't get wrapped up in a single moment. But at the same time Wednesday night, there we were typing nearly the same thoughts -- and we weren't the only ones. Twitter was lighting up from the nerves of Tigers fans.

Not all, of course. Some remained steadfast.

Here's why some of us are a bit worried:

1. Twice in the final four regular-games, Benoit was charged with blowing a save. They were his first two of the year.

2. Benoit has allowed runs in three of his six postseason appearances. That's seven hits, a walk and a hit batsman in 5 2/3 innings.

3. The ghost of Jose Valverde

Look, it's probably just a bump in the night. Nothing to be afraid of here but our own thoughts. But sometimes those bumps are real.

To look at points one and two and to come through that with total confidence that there is absolutely nothing at all going on to be afraid of surprises me. Boston's now scored both times it faced Benoit. Whichever team wins two of the next three games will play in this year's World Series. All but one game this series has been decided by a single run.

How are you going to feel if Benoit takes the mound with a one-run lead and everything on the line? Me, I don't have a lot of confidence, and I'm not sure I trust the Tigers' bullpen to see us through unscathed. I'm not afraid to admit that.

The postscript to this: With a runner on third, Benoit struck out the next two batters -- Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia, then forced the final one, Ortiz, to fly out. Instead of the game-tying run, Ortiz was the game-ending out, and the narratives were put to bed for another night. Confidence was shaken, but Benoit got out of it fine.

Maybe it's going to be OK after all.

What are your thoughts on Benoit today?

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