Red Sox pregame notes: The must-win question; Sox lineup changes explained; Game 1 umpiring, revisited

October 13, 2013 - 4:03 pm
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A few hours before the scheduled start of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, the day after the Red Sox came one ninth-inning hit away from enduring a no-hitter, it would have been easy to anticipate an air of funereal quiet or silent concentration as the Sox tried to conjure some offense against Tigers starter Max Scherzer. But that wasn't the case. Instead, there was whooping as the clubhouse reacted to the Sunday afternoon slate of football games. If there was tension in the Sox clubhouse, certainly it was hard to discern from just outside of it. While it's easy to suggest that the Sox face a desperate need for a win in Game 2 -- to avoid falling behind the Tigers, 2-0, with a daunting ensemble of starters (Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Game 1 star Anibal Sanchez) on deck in Detroit -- the team's attitude on Sunday appeared to belie that notion. Instead, this was a team that exuded a confident presence, perhaps not a surprising development. After all, from Aug. 19 (the start of a six-game West Coast swing through San Francisco and Los Angeles) through the end of the year, the Sox were 9-2 after losses. And so, the team didn't feel compelled to change the approach that allowed it to be the first team in baseball since 2005 to avoid a losing streak of more than three games. "Our guys, they put yesterday behind them based on the conversation that's been going on in the clubhouse and just the overall mood. And I expect us to come out and put together a solid outing here tonight," said manager John Farrell. "I think at this time of year there's urgency to everything we do. That hasn't changed, that's why I made the point of what the mood is in this clubhouse. And it's not about putting additional pressure on ourselves. It's about being the team that we've been throughout the course of the year. And that [is a team that] has shown a strong ability to put yesterday [behind it] and leave it there -- and not worry about what Tuesday is going to bring when we face [Justin] Verlander over in Detroit, but just to concentrate and focus on tonight. It goes back to first night in spring training: Tonight's game is the most important thing to us." "You talk about a team that hasn't lost four straight all year," added Jonny Gomes, alluding to the fact that the Sox became the first team since the 2005 Cardinals to avoid a losing streak of more than three games. "I think that says a lot about the culture, a lot about the character of the guys in here, not that everyone is in here like New Year's Eve right now, but at the same time you've got to clean the slate. And we've done a great job of that all year.  It's not something new that we're facing.  We've just got to continue to do what we've done all year." In this instance, however, the Sox face daunting odds if they do not emerge with a Game 2 win. In the history of the seven-game League Championship Series, 20 of 23 teams that took 2-0 leads in the LCS went on to advance to the World Series. The exceptions are the 2004 Red Sox (who overcame a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees), 1985 Royals (against the Blue Jays) and 1985 Cardinals (against the Dodgers). OTHER RED SOX NOTES -- The Red Sox lineup features a different look for Game 2 than it did for Game 1, with both Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava out of the lineup, replaced by Mike Carp at first base and Jonny Gomes in left, respectively. Both Napoli and Nava have struggled in their careers against Tigers Game 2 starter Max Scherzer. Napoli is 1-for-13 with a walk and five strikeouts against the likely 2013 AL Cy Young winner, with his struggles being having been deep enough that the Sox had him sit in both games Scherzer started against Boston this year. Nava owns a 1-for-9 mark with a walk and a pair of strikeouts. In their place, the Sox have Carp (2-for-8 with a walk and five strikeouts against Scherzer) batting fifth and Gomes (2-for-6, with both hits coming in the Sox' 2-1 win over Scherzer and the Tigers in September, and two strikeouts) batting sixth. Farrell suggested that it's more than a simple statistical line -- accumulated over a small sample period -- that guides his decision about how to approach his lineup. '€œThe numbers are one thing but you also take the view of the type of stuff that a guy is going to be seeing with what he handles best," said Farrell. "Numbers are one, and style and approach of a given pitcher is also taken into account." -- While Will Middlebrooks is 1-for-6 with four strikeouts against Scherzer, Farrell suggested that it was more than just a game-winning two-run single against the Tigers right-hander in September that led to his place in the lineup over Xander Bogaerts. "I have to be careful that I'€™m not looking at one at-bat as the swing vote," said Farrell. "But there's familiarity. Familiarity is important this time of year, in addition to defense and all things combined. It's not just one thing that points to a guy, 'OK, you'€™re hitting in the sixth hole tonight.' " -- Entering the series, the Red Sox expected that an early knockout punch to a Detroit starter, with a resulting Tigers detour into their middle relievers, would put them in excellent position to win games. That was not the case in Saturday's Game 1, as Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras and Drew Smyly combined on two perfect innings of work that featured four strikeouts in the seventh and eighth innings before closer Joaquin Benoit shut the door in the ninth. It was an eye-opening performance. "Every guy they brought out of the bullpen was mid- to upper-90s with a putaway breaking ball," said Farrell. "When they had to, they executed. To me, that was the biggest thing. They showed more consistency to execute from guy to guy than maybe in the last six, eight, 10 weeks based on our scouting reports." -- Farrell dismissed any suggestion that the pitch calling of home plate umpire Joe West was responsible for the Sox' 1-0 defeat in Game One of the ALCS. "Looking back at some pitches, they made some very good pitcher's pitches," said Farrell. "It would be ludicrous to think that the strike zone is the reason why we were looking at a zero in the hit column until the ninth inning." -- Right fielder Shane Victorino said after Saturday's game that he'd give consideration to batting left-handed against Scherzer, after spending most of the final two months of the season batting exclusively right-handed. Victorino suggested that he would not consider the possibility of turning around until after he'd consulted with Farrell and the coaching staff. Asked if that consultation had occurred, Farrell chuckled. "That talk usually comes as he's walking into the on-deck circle," he said. -- Gomes on how draining the lengthy postseason games have been: "If you're not mentally exhausted leaving a playoff game, you didn't play, you know?  And that's why the playoffs, the atmosphere, the pressure, is exposed that much more to where '€‘'€‘ I mean, the meetings, the reports, the scouting reports are just completely attacking your weakness or the other team's weakness and you have to make that adjustment on the fly. "Once the postseason starts you'll see something you haven't seen all year," said Gomes. "And then again what happened to us offensively, you haven't seen that all year. The guy was throwing a no'€‘hitter and we got him out of the game. He threw 117 pitches and we were 0'€‘for'€‘8 with runners in scoring position. It's crazy. But that's why this game is so awesome and these playoffs are what it's all about."

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