McAdam on the ALCS: Martinez, Tigers still alive

McAdam on the ALCS: Martinez, Tigers still alive
October 14, 2011, 2:29 am
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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.