Tigers loss sets up postseason start on road
Offense falls short against Koehler, Marlins' strong bullpen
By Jason Beck / 9/28/2013 1:24 AM ET
MIAMI -- Don't tell the Tigers this season-ending three-game series against the Marlins didn't mean anything. Despite clinching a division title and playoff spot two days ago, they still had something to play for in Miami.
With Friday's 3-2 loss and the A's victory over the Mariners, the Tigers clinched the third seed in the postseason, which leaves them traveling to Oakland or Boston for the start of the ALDS.
Manager Jim Leyland had to consider the importance of the game, but also needed to give some of his players a break.
"That's a catch-22," Leyland said. "We tried to win that game tonight. If you noticed, we were pinch-hitting a lot of people. We were making pitching changes. But I just wanted to get a few people off their feet. I think that's more important. It actually worked out OK."
It's not exactly a kiss of death for the Tigers. They didn't have home-field advantage for any of their postseason games last year, though they opened that Division Series against the A's in Detroit thanks to a 2-3 format, and still made it to the World Series, going 3-4 on the road. They beat the Yankees in the 2011 AL Division Series in a Game 5 in New York.
The Tigers haven't had home-field advantage in a playoff matchup since the 2006 World Series, and they had that by virtue of the American League's win in the All-Star Game that summer. If they reach the Fall Classic this year, they'll open it at home by the same advantage.
"To be honest with you, I think sometimes the pressure's on the home team more," Leyland said.
It's a pressure the Tigers would've gladly taken, but they weren't willing to put other goals aside for it. They wanted to start resting some of their regulars, and they did, sitting Torii Hunter and Omar Infante while lifting Prince Fielder after a second-inning walk, his one plate appearance keeping his consecutive-game streak alive.
They wanted to get Rick Porcello prepared for the kind of bullpen work he could see in the postseason, and they did, scratching him from the scheduled start and instead inserting him into the game in a bases-loaded jam in the third inning to face Giancarlo Stanton.
As soon as the phone rang, Porcello noticed the difference.
"You're sitting there watching the game and then the phone rings and you're called on," he said. "You've gotta flip the switch and be mentally prepared to go out there and make pitches. That's the biggest difference."
Stanton's ensuing double into the left-field corner accounted for all of the Marlins' scoring, the third run coming around as Jhonny Peralta, playing his first professional game ever in left field, rounded the ball in the corner.
"They say you need to play deep for guys like Stanton," Peralta said. "I think he hit it perfect, close to the line. There's nothing I can do right there."
They wanted to see Peralta in left in his return from his 50-game suspension, and he had a learning experience. Beyond the chase on the double, he ran down a fly ball in shallow left, and he had a close ball with Austin Jackson on a ball in the gap.
"If you play Jhonny Peralta in left field, you're saying that you are willing to accept what you get," Leyland said. "He's not going to be Andy Dirks or Donnie Kelly -- that fast. You're either willing to accept what you get, which is obviously trying to get a hitter if you go that way. He did fine."
They wanted to get Miguel Cabrera enough at-bats to keep his timing at the plate. He got that, plus a rousing welcome from his old home crowd in his first game back in Miami since the trade that made him a Tiger.
"It seemed like half the stadium is from Venezuela," Cabrera said. "It was great to see that. It was great to be back here in Miami, man."
Cabrera singled in the fourth inning before hitting a long drive off the right-field fence for a single in the sixth. He left for pinch-runner Matt Tuiasosopo, who came around to score on Peralta's double in a sign his timing isn't far off.
It was the kind of hit Cabrera tried to stretch into a double earlier this month and ended up aggravating his groin. He wasn't going to try it again, not on the strong-armed Stanton.
"It was tough," Cabrera admitted. "It was like, 'Don't do it. Stop. Don't be a hero again.' It was great, but I think if I tried to make it to second base, it was going to be bad."
They wanted to get Jose Iglesias back at shortstop after he missed a week with a bruised left hand, and he played the entire game. He went 0-for-4 at the plate, and he admitted afterwards that his grip on the bat still isn't as strong as he wants, but he felt comfortable in the field.
"Sore," Iglesias said to describe his hand. "It's something that I've got to deal with. It's not good, but I've got to deal with it."
The only other goal Leyland wanted to get to, he couldn't. He hoped to set up lefty Darin Downs against a left-handed hitter, and had him ready to pitch if Logan Morrison came up again. He was on deck in the ninth when Jose Veras retired Justin Ruggiano.
Leyland can put that on tomorrow's list. It's still a pretty long line, even if home field is no longer up for grabs. They've won on the road before. If they're ready, they'll try to win again.