7:41 PM EDT, October 14, 2013
When the Detroit Tigers take the field Tuesday afternoon, check out their eyes. Expect blank faces, distant stares.
Their most important need going into Game 3 of the American League Championship Series may not be great pitching and hitting. It may be emergency counseling, a psychological jump-start.
Is Sigmund Freud's couch available?
Detroit had the series in the palm of its hand. Two more innings Sunday night and the rest would be a formality. Even the Boston Red Sox fans, never-say-die loyalists bundled up against the New England chill in wonderfully creaky Fenway Park, had to be reaching for the white hankies.
Their team, with a hefty .277 batting average this season, had struck out 31 times and had a total of four hits through one game and seven innings. The Tigers won the first game, 1-0, and were leading in the second, 5-1.
Two more innings, six more outs, and the Tigers could get on a plane, giggle and head home for the next two games with 2011 most valuable player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander set to pitch Game 3. The Red Sox were in the coffin and the Tigers were reaching for the nails.
Nothing is certain in baseball, but this one you could have taken to Las Vegas.
Then David Ortiz, a Big Papi in Boston and a Big Party Pooper in Detroit, hit the tying grand slam in the eighth inning and the Red Sox won it in the ninth, 6-5.
The Red Sox didn't just steal a game, they punched Detroit in the stomach. It was cruel and inhumane, and they were dancing in the streets in Boston.
Perhaps the best summary of Red Sox Nation — and likely an enduring image of Boston fanaticism — was the picture of the Boston cop, standing in the bullpen, arms raised in celebration, as Ortiz's home run cleared the fence at the same time Detroit's Torii Hunter did. Hunter, making a valiant try at a game-saving catch, catapulted over the fence and landed hard, obviously in some danger of injury.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, it was that of the cop, celebrating the home run with nary a concern for Hunter. He was there to serve and protect, unless you played for the other team.
So, as Game 3 approaches, the concern for the Tigers is more mental health than physical performance.
This is where the sabermetric guys, who prattle around baseball with their graphs and charts and computers, have no clue. How do you hit the cutoff man when you are still in shock? How do you focus when your eyes are still glazed over?
Certainly, the Tigers' postgame clubhouse was full of stiff upper lips and set jaws. The programmed cliches rolled out. Men in shock are still able to speak. Paralysis comes later.
•"That's baseball. Stuff happens."
•"We did what we came here to do, split the first two games."
•"There are still five games left, and we've got Verlander and Max Scherzer to go three of them, if we need to."
So is the fact that Detroit allowed Boston to unleash its true grit. The leader of that is second baseman Dustin Pedroia, with his quirky black beard, his constant facial grimaces and his "you-gotta-kill-me-to-stop-me" approach to the game. Pedroia plays the game like a fire-breathing dragon, and it clearly sets the rest of the dugout aflame.
Even with Verlander going and a home crowd behind them, the Tigers need to heal faster than human nature normally allows.
Just had your car stolen? Well, shake it off and be the life of the party. Lost your job? Let's go to Disneyland.
Baseball is not unlike life. Lost opportunities sting. And linger.
If the Tigers come back from this and win the series, it will be remarkable. That would earn a World Series share for the team psychologist.
Their best shot is to find inspiration of their own, use what was right there in the middle of all the late-inning shock and awe. That would be Hunter's incredible effort to try to catch Ortiz's laser shot.
A 38-year-old man, taking on a wall in pursuit of a victory, risking life and limb, could be enough to draw on. If Pedroia breathes fire, Hunter has lots of it left in his belly.
"I'd die out there on the field," Hunter said, assuring all he would take some pain pills and show up Tuesday.
Manager Jim Leyland ought to lock the Tigers in the clubhouse an hour before Tuesday's game and play the tape of Hunter's try, over and over.
Then, he ought to play a tape of Hunter coming to bat in the next inning, the cut on the back of his head just starting to coagulate.
Still, even with that, the psychological edge belongs to the Red Sox. And Pedroia is breathing on the bat racks.
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