ALCS Game 6: Tigers bury their season with missed opportunities

Jared Wickerham

The 2013 season comes to an end in the ALCS.

Baseball is a game that finds a way to break your heart. A handful of moments, an inch or two, and maybe things turn out different, you can tell yourself. The Tigers could have swept. They could have been swept. Look at the first four games and you could find arguments for either outcome. They could have won Game 6 and sent Justin Verlander to the mound with a chance to play in the World Series. But instead Boston captured the American League pennant Saturday with a 5-2 victory, and you can look to a handful of moments that turned the game from victory to defeat.

Moment 1:

In the sixth inning, the Tigers chased Clay Buchholz from the game. This time Red Sox manager John Farrell pulled him before he could allow five runs as he did in Game 2. Detroit loaded the bases with no outs, then Victor Martinez put two runs on the board with a hard hit off the Green Monster to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Now they've got runners on first and third and no outs for Jhonny Peralta. He grounds to second. Prince Fielder can't decide whether to run home from third or return to the bag. So he got caught up in the middle, took a dive and came up three feet short of the bag. Detroit didn't put another run on the board in the game.

In baseball there are certain plots. Missed opportunities to put a team away leads to later regret. The foreshadowing was on the wall.

Moment 2:

Max Scherzer in the seventh inning gave up a double and walked a batter. His day ended at 110 pitches. Manager Jim Leyland called for left-handed reliever Drew Smyly. Smyly got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground the ball up the middle for what appeared to be a double play. The sure-handed shortstop, Jose Iglesias, who used to ply his trade at Fenway Park, couldn't get his glove on the ball. You can't assume the double play. Maybe the speedy Ellsbury beats out the throw to first. You can't say. But what you can say is that the inning changed the moment Iglesias' error kept the Tigers from getting a single out on the play.

Leyland changed pitchers again -- the old adage about going back to your bullpen until you find the pitcher who isn't effective came to mind, but not for long. Jose Veras quickly gave up the grand slam to Shane Victorino.

5-2 Boston, and the game felt over.

The Tigers could have won Game 2, with Scherzer starting that game, but a 5-1 lead evaporated when the bullpen loaded the bases and gave up a grand slam. They could have won Game 3, but Justin Verlander made one mistake and his Red Sox counterpart, John Lackey, didn't. And the Tigers could have won Game 6, but they buried themselves under mistakes.

It will be a long offseason, one spent wondering what could have been. What could have been if Miguel Cabrera was healthy? What could have been if the bullpen had gotten one out when it needed it? What could have been if Fielder didn't flop and Iglesias didn't flinch? But that's not the way it works. Somebody had to win. Somebody had to lose. And a handful of key moments separated the teams.

Baseball is a cruel game. We know that, but we'll all be back March 31, 2014, to do again.

We'll get 'em next year.

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