After three riveting -- if not exactly taut and quick-moving -- games in the ALCS, the Red Sox and Tigers were bound to serve up a stinker somewhere along the line.
Thanks to Jake Peavy, his ragged defense and a wasteful offense, it turned out to be Game 4 Wednesday night at Comerica Park. And it was the Sox doing all the serving.
Peavy was wilder than he'd ever been since arriving in Boston; he walked three batters, including one with the bases loaded, to help tee up a five-run Detroit rally in the second inning. It was a five-run rally that could have, and should have, been a one-run rally, except that two-time Gold Glove winner Dustin Pedroia inexplicably messed up a tailor-made double play that would have ended the inning. And while the Sox' heretofore somnolent offense came alive with a 12-hit attack, almost none of those 12 came in a key spot -- they went 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position -- as they wound up stranding runners in every inning.
The result: An as-easy-as-the-score-indicates 7-3 Tiger victory that evens the best-of-seven ALCS at two games each.
"We're playing a good team," said Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "We weren't expecting it to be one of those series where we were just going to run away with it."
The foreshadowing of the Sox' offensive woes came early. With the game still scoreless, Mike Napoli led off the top of the second with a double and advanced to third on a grounder to second by Daniel Nava. But Saltalamacchia couldn't deliver Napoli from third as he fouled out to third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Stephen Drew then looked at a called third strike, ending the inning.
There would be more Boston wastefulness as the night progressed, but all the others came with the Sox in a deep hole . . . thanks to Peavy.
After allowing an opposite-field single to Victor Martinez leading off the bottom of the second, he lost command. Peavy walked only 36 batters in 144 2/3 innings during the regular season, and didn't walk anyone in his ALDS start against Tampa Bay. But he proceeded to walk both Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila, loading the bases with no out.
He got a break when Jacoby Ellsbury made a nice diving catch of a sinking liner to center by Omar Infante, with the lead-footed Martinez holding at third. But instead of taking advantage, Peavy somehow walked Austin Jackson -- 3-for-33 with 18 strikeouts in the postseason to that point -- on four pitches, forcing in a run.
Still, the inning seemed like it would end 1-0 when Jose Iglesias spanked a double-play grounder to second. But the normally sure-handed Pedroia bobbled it a bit and the Sox were unable to turn two, allowing Avila to score and making it 2-0.
"My fault," Pedroia said afterwards. "It's my responsibility to turn double plays."
His teammates and manager, though, weren't going there.
"There's nobody I'd rather see the ball hit to than Pedey," said Peavy.
"I'll take that guy every single day in the field," said Shane Victorino. "That kind of stuff happens."
"He's so consistent there; he's such a good defender," said John Farrell. "The ball was hit hard. Iggy squares it up, and that's a routine double play that we've seen many, many times over . . . It handcuffed [Pedroia] a little bit here, just enough to not be able to turn the double play."
And after that, the roof caved in. Torii Hunter cracked one down the third-base line just past a diving Will Middlebrooks and into the left-field corner for a double, clearing the bases and making it 4-0. Cabrera singled him home for a 5-0 lead.
They would add two more in the fourth, and chase Peavy in the process, on a double by Infante, an RBI single by Jackson and, later in the inning, an RBI single by Cabrera.
A quartet of Boston relievers -- Brandon Workman, Ryan Dempster, Franklin Morales and Felix Doubront -- shut the door the rest of the way, but the offense couldn't generate a Game 2-like comeback, They delivered their first run in the sixth on consecutive one-out singles by Napoli, Nava and Saltalamacchia, but could do no more. They opened the seventh with a single by Jacoby Ellsbury (4-for-5) and an RBI double by Victorino, and that's all they got as the 3-4-5 combo of Pedroia, David Ortiz and Napoli went down in order. And they made it 7-3 in the ninth when Xander Bogaerts doubled and Ellsbury tripled, but dreams of a miracle comeback died as Victorino, Pedroia and Ortiz were retired.
"We still battled," said Victorino. "Late in the game, we put ourselves in somewhat of a position [to come back]."
"I thought overall [we had] a very good offensive approach tonight," said Farrell. "Unfortunately, two-out base [hits] were elusive, [as was] any kind of extra-base hit with men on base."
Peavy, however, absolved the hitters of this defeat.
"No excuse," he said. "It's on me."
And then he made a vow:
"I can promise you this: We'll be back tomorrow as a ball club, as a unit."