McAdam on the ALCS: Martinez, Tigers still alive

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McAdam on the ALCS: Martinez, Tigers still alive

DETROIT -- Ahead in the American League Championship Series three games to one, with an opportunity to win the pennant and advance to the World Series?

Yes, Victor Martinez has been there.

Now, he's on the other side, playing from behind, trying to buy himself and the Detroit Tigers one more game.

He would rather be ahead, of course, rather be the team just a win away from the pennant instead of the one fighting off elimination.

But you don't get to choose. Martinez and his Tigers still have to win the next two games. Otherwise, Thursday's valiant 7-5 victory over the Texas Rangers will be cold comfort.

And experience has taught Martinez that leading 3-to-1 isn't any sort of guarantee.

Or have you forgotten the 2007 ALCS.

Martinez, then with the Cleveland Indians, led the Red Sox 3-to-1 with Game 5 at (then) Jacobs Field. But Josh Beckett pitched what was perhaps the best post-season game ever and the Red Sox went home to finish off the comeback in seven games.

In 2011, it's role reversal.

"This is the fun part of it," said Martinez. "We're just going to go out there, play hard and see what happens. We've got nothing to lose. We're just taking it day-by-day, game-by-game.

"I was on the other side in '07. We were up 3-1 and just one win away from the World Series and everything escaped. So, anything is possible at this point. Anything is possible."

It was hard to think otherwise, given how Game 5 played out Thursday for the Tigers.

The first omen came in the sixth with the game tied at 2-2. Ryan Raburn was on first when Miguel Cabrera smoked a ball down the third base line.

Adrian Beltre was positioned behind the bag, hopeful of a double play, but the ball struck the third base bag and shot over Beltre's head as Raburn scored all the way from first.

Then, with Cabrera on second, Martinez pulled a ball into the right field corner which right fielder Nelson Cruz laid out for, only to have the ball snake behind him as Martinez got himself a triple.

Martinez was asked if he entertained any thoughts of an inside-the-park homer.

"Never!" said Martinez with mock alarm. "To hit one inside-the-park, Nelson Cruz would have to have a heart attack."

Martinez snorted with laughter over his own self-deprecating remark.

Then, there was manager Jim Leyland sticking to his pre-game promise that relievers Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde would not be used in relief because of their recent workloads.

Instead, Leyland announced that Phil Coke would be his choice to close out the game. He remained steadfast even as the Rangers scored a run in the ninth and put the go-ahead run on base.

"People may not like (the fact that he kept Benoit and Valverde out)," said Leyland, "but it was not a tough decision. You know why? In my heart, it was the right decision. No question about it. No-brainer for me."

Coke hung on, the Tigers earned themselves at least one more game and Martinez got to play the role of sage.

His hard-won wisdom from 2007 had already been shared with Tigers teammates. He's let the younger ones know that these opportunities don't come along often and, when the Tigers got pushed to the brink, he reminded everyone of how the other team needs four wins -- not just three.

"Never take anything for granted . . . never," said Martinez. "Never. You never take anything for granted in this game. When you have the chance to finish off somebody, you better finish them off. I learned that from experience. We just keep playing, keep swinging and see what happens."

Martinez knows from experience what can happen when a team thought to be out gets a win and builds some momentum.

Limited by injuries, playing through pain and still behind, the Tigers are guaranteed nothing. But the fact that they are still going says a great deal about them.

Everything from this point forward is a bonus.

"If you see the injuries and everything around the way these guys are playing, how can you not be satisfied?'' asked Leyland. "Would I rather be up 3-to-2? Yes. But I have no problems no matter how this turns out. We're going to keep playing. And that's good."

It certainly beats the alternative.

Bradley takes paternity leave; Red Sox recall Castillo

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Bradley takes paternity leave; Red Sox recall Castillo

BALTIMORE -- The Red Sox will be without center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for the next few days, as he is placed on the paternity-leave list to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

Rusney Castillo, who was sent to Pawtucket in the second week of the season, has been recalled to take his roster spot. Castillo has a slash line of .241/.302/.317 with the PawSox, with 1 home run and 13 RBI in 37 games. 

Bradley is in the midst of a breakout season with the Red Sox, hitting .331/.409/.601 in 50 games with 9 homers and 37 RBI.

Unlike Wakefield, Wright has helping hands with Red Sox

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Unlike Wakefield, Wright has helping hands with Red Sox

BALTIMORE -- Near the start of his Red Sox career, Tim Wakefield -- who would wind up pitching 17 years for the club and would tie for the most number of wins in franchise history -- was largely on his own.

One of Wakefield's first pitching coaches in Boston, Joe Kerrigan, regarded knuckleballers as little more than freakish performers.

When Wakefield encountered mechanical issues, Kerrigan could offer little assistance. The pitch was unpredictable, and in Kerrigan's mind, so was the pitcher. The same rules that helped Kerigan dissect and analyze a conventional pitcher's issues wouldn't work with Wakefield.

That frustrated both coach and pitcher, as Wakefield was left to fend for himself.

More than once, as Wakefield foundered, Kerrigan essentially told him: "There's nothing I can do to help you; you're on your own.''

Steven Wright has far more at his disposal, and it's one of the reasons Wright has enjoyed a run of consistency that often eluded Wakefield. There's help available, assistance that Wright readily takes full advantage of.

If throwing a knuckleball hasn't exactly developed into a science, it's certainly far more advanced than it was in 1995, when Wakefield arrived in Boston.

In the middle of a season that has seen him post an ERA of 2.45 and toss a league-best three complete games, Wright has has developed his game fully.

He regularly changes speeds with the knuckler, adding one more complicating factor to an already mystifying pitch.

Depending on the conditions, the hitter, and the score, Wright can either add or subtract to the velocity of his signature pitch. On Monday, when he limited the Orioles to two runs on four hits in a 7-2 Memorial Day victory, he offered knuckleballs as slow as 59 mph and fastballs as fast as 83 mph.

"I like it,'' said Wright, "especially against a lineup like [the Orioles]. They're a very aggressive team. In that inning they scored the two runs (the fifth), I kind of got caught up in the same speed. So I kind of went out there after that and concentrated on not throwing too many at the same speed. It kind of throws them off, because I'm hoping that if I leave one up, the difference in the speed will get them out front.''

But perhaps Wright's biggest step forward this season -- the first in which he began the season as a full-time starter in the rotation -- is the ability to detect and correct flaws within a game, sometimes within an inning. Again, this stands in stark contrast to Wakefield, who was notoriously streaky. When Wakefield was trending in a positive fashion, both he and the club could only hope that it continued. When he hit a rut, however, there was telling how long he would scuffle, unable to reverse his downhill slide.

Wright has no such issues. He can often tell -- and if he doesn't, pitching coach Carl Willis can help -- when his delivery has gone askew. Better yet, he knows what he needs to do immediately to correct it.

"Absolutely,'' agreed Wright. "It's my fifth year doing it and I've worked tirelessly with Wake and [bullpen coach Dana Levangie] and Carl and that's one thing we've concentrated on, is staying within that delivery. Because it's all about staying relaxed and repeating my delivery -- especially for me, but really, any pitcher. Because I'm getting more years, more reps, it's become a little more easier to make an adjustment pitch-to-pitch.''

"He's shown that [ability] in a number of starts this year,'' said manager John Farrell. "That's a testament to someone who knows more about himself, to have those checkpoints.''

Ironically, it was Wakefield himself -- who got so little help for periods of his own career -- who offered Wright a key checkpoint last season.

"He had me move my hands back,'' recalled Wright. "What it does is, it helps me lock my shoulders in a place so I don't get rotational. That's one of the biggest things because if I started feeling that I'm getting rotational, then there's something off.

"It could be a number of things, but I feel like that's the biggest adjustment that I made. It's a small one, but it's huge in keeping everything within reason. Because I'm not a power pitcher, I don't need to reach back and get something (extea in terms of velocity) so when I do throw a fastball, it's the same mechanical look.''

Wright seemed on the verge of becoming undone in the second inning Monday. With two outs, he walked two hitters, allowed an infield single and loaded the bases.

But from the dugout, Willis noticed that Wright was rushing with his delivery.

''I had a hard time [noticing] it,'' said Wright, "but he could definitely see it. We work tirelessly, especially when Wake is around, to try to find some mechanical things so Carl can help me out if I need it. Same thing with [catchers Ryan] Hanigan and [Christian] Vazquez -- they see it too, because I'm throwing to them all the time.''

All of which has Wright among the game's ERA leaders and tied in the complete game category with the likes of Chris Sale, Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw.

"I definitely sometimes pinch myself," he said, "like, 'Man, is this real?' "