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.

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.