Brian Cushing Jersey Craig’s ‘Gibson-esque’ moment boosts Cardinals

 Allen Craig waited until the bottom of the ninth inning to come off the Cardinals’ bench with a bum foot, and he wound up limping into history, the star of one of the wildest finishes to a World Series game.

“That was like Kirk Gibson-esque right there,” Cards second baseman Matt Carpenter said. “That was a gutsy performance.”

Another teammate was skeptical of the comparison to Gibson, whose walk-off home run beat the A’s 25 years ago in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

“I don’t know,” Matt Holliday said. “Gibson hit it over the fence.”

Craig Brian Cushing Texans Jersey did not hit one over the fence. His winning moment required a bit more work and a lot more pain, beginning with a clutch double that positioned the Cardinals for their thrilling 5-4 win over the Red Sox and a 2-1 lead in the Series.

The Cards’ celebration was muted by the fact Craig aggravated the left foot injury that sidelined him for most of September and the first two rounds of the postseason. He was asked several times about his availability for the remainder of the Fall Classic, and each time he refused to make a prediction.

“We’re going to see,” Craig said.

Even if Craig’s World Series is over, he has made his presence felt. After serving as the designated hitter in the first two games in Boston, he was limited to bench duty in Game 3 and was called to bat in the pitcher’s spot in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the teams knotted at 4 and Yadier Molina at first base after a single.

The opponent was Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who entered the night having held opponents to a .147 average this postseason.

 Brian Cushing Battle Red Jersey Craig hit a first-pitch fastball into the left-field corner for a double.

“It felt really good to contribute like that,” Craig said. “I was trying to be aggressive. He has good stuff, and you can’t wait around for that split or changeup or whatever he calls it. It’s a really plus pitch. I got a pitch over the plate, and I was ready to hit it.”

“Obviously, it was huge,” Holliday Brian Cushing Jersey Sale said. “He’s a great hitter, he really is. I’m not surprised, but that’s a huge hit. We expect when he’s up to bat that we’re going to get something positive.”

The result was runners at second and third for Jon Jay, who hit a grounder to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The throw home easily retired Molina, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried for a double play with a throw that skipped past third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

Craig saw the baseball get by as he slid into third, so he popped up and tried to hurdle Middlebrooks, who was lying facedown in the dirt. They tangled, Craig stumbled, then rose and lumbered toward the plate with his bad foot.

“I was just trying to get home and didn’t have a lot in the tank, to be honest with you,” Craig said. “That’s probably the fastest I’ve tried to run [since his Sept. 4 injury]. I’m going to have to go look to see what happened. It happened so fast, I don’t even know. I slid into third and I felt the ball get by him and I was just trying to get home. … It was just a crazy play. I had to do the obstacle course to get home and sprint home as fast as I could for the first time in a couple of months.”

Craig Houston Texans Brian Cushing Women’s Football Jersey never quite made it, but home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth signaled safe anyway.

For a moment, there was confusion.

“I didn’t really know what was going on,” Middlebrooks said. “Then I heard ‘obstruction.’ … When I pushed myself up, he was on my back pushing off of me, so what am I supposed to do?”

Craig referred several times to navigating an “obstacle course” on the way home.

“That was one of the craziest plays I’ve been a part of, and to finish off a World Series game like that it crazy,” Craig said. “Maybe he clipped me, maybe he didn’t. I’m going to have to go look at it. I don’t know. It’s just one of those plays, and I can’t say [because] it happened so fast.”

When did Craig know he was safe?

“When I saw my entire team running out there,” Craig Brian Cushing Texans Uniform said with a smile.

“When I saw he was safe, I went out there and was cheering at him and saw he was a little banged-up,” Carpenter said. “It kind of took a little away from the celebration, because you hate to see a guy in pain. But like I said, that was a gutsy performance from him.”

While Craig could not have imagined the bizarre circumstances, this was exactly the impact he had hoped to have in October. While the Cardinals beat the Pirates in the National League Division Series and the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, Craig rehabbed.

Brian Cushing Jersey Craig returned to action in Game 1 of the World Series as the Cards’ cleanup hitter. Not exactly easing back into action.

“I feel like I prepared myself pretty well while I was hurt and had some live batting practice opportunities against our own guys and had extra at-bats,” Craig said. “Starting this series off as DH was perfect for me to try to get my feet wet without having to do too much defensively.”

So when the moment arrived Saturday,Brian Cushing Shirts Craig was reasonably ready.

“This is what you live for, to be able to contribute in World Series games,” he said. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 3 of the World Series. It was an awesome job of Yadi getting on base and giving me a runner out there.”

Asked about his availability for Game 4, Craig said., “We’re just going to see how it feels. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about anything.”

Arian Foster Jersey Ortiz breaks out glove for Game 3, but Sox lose Napoli

The decision was made before the Red Sox even got on the plane to St. Louis.Houston Texans Store.In fact, the decision was probably made even before David Ortiz sent a Michael Wacha changeup over the Green Monster in Game 2 for his fifth home run of this postseason.

Who would start at first base in Game 3, when the Red Sox lose the designated hitter?

Naturally, manager John Farrell chose Ortiz, who, even at the age of 37, remains the most impactful hitter on the Red Sox.

“Like I said, he’s starting tomorrow,” said Farrell. “How we go forward through the remaining three games, we’ll take a look at that day to day. But given the right-handed matchups, and even if you take away the matchups, David has got a long career that we all lean on. And we have the success that he’s having in this postseason to take advantage of.”

The big slugger figures to play a minimum of two games in St. Louis, if not all three.

“Whatever they need me for,” said Ortiz. “We’ll see how the situation goes, see how I feel.”

The drawback is that every time Ortiz plays first base, Mike Napoli sits. After Ortiz, Napoli is Boston’s best power hitter. Not only that, but Napoli has had some big hits in this postseason.

Online Houston Texans Arian Foster Store.It’s just that Ortiz is a different animal, particularly when the Cardinals are throwing all right-handed starters.

“Obviously, David’s bat, at all costs, needs to be in the lineup, and I’m sure John will address that,” said Game 3 starter Jake Peavy, who will essentially be taking Napoli’s at-bats. “David is a game-changer. He’s as clutch as anybody I can remember playing with or against. It just seems like he has a flair for the dramatic. When the situation is the biggest, he’s at his best. And I’m glad he’s on our team.”

The Red Sox are also glad that Ortiz can hold his own defensively during the rare occasions he takes the field.

In 2004, Kevin Millar was the man who sat during the World Series games in St. Louis so that Ortiz could play. In 2007 it was Kevin Youkilis.

Ortiz made memorable plays on defense in both of those Arian Foster Jersey Sale Fall Classics. In 2004 he zinged a perfect throw across the diamond to nail Jeff Suppan, who had gotten himself involved in a rundown. Three years later, in Boston’s clinching Game 4 win at Colorado, he made a nice pick to help his team escape a rally.

“You only can play eight hitters in the National League, and I guess John wants me to be in the lineup tomorrow,” said Ortiz. “I’m just getting ready for that.”

Ortiz started six games at first during the regular season and handled all 37 of his chances cleanly.

“Hey, I mean, I’m down to do whatever my manager wants me to do,” he said. “I’ll just go out there — wish me good luck.”

It isn’t an ideal situation for the Red Arian Foster Nike Elite Jersey Sox, who lose a key piece of their lineup in Napoli while the Cardinals go to battle with the same lineup they’ve used all year.

But those are the rules.

“Having always been in the American League, I favor [the DH],” said Farrell. “So, I guess, yeah, I would like to see the DH put in play. Obviously, it would take the traditional approach toward the National League-style game out of it.”

When Peavy was with the Padres, he loved it when an AL opponent was disarmed by one key bat. These days, not so much.

“Yeah, if I were Commissioner, I’d certainly change it, where we could get Nap in there [on Saturday],” quipped Arian Foster Jersey Peavy. “I think that we certainly have a little bit of a disadvantage, just simply because of the way our roster is constructed as opposed to theirs. They’re a National League ballclub, and they’re going to play with their normal lineup tomorrow night, with the way they were built.

“Being an American League team, we’re going to miss a huge middle-of-the-lineup bat tomorrow night. Our team was built with the DH in it, and it’s unfortunate that that’s got to happen.”

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This wasn’t an issue for Napoli when he played for the Rangers in the 2011 World Series, as he was a catcher then.

But because of a hip condition — diagnosed before he signed with the Red Sox — Napoli didn’t put on his gear all season, and that won’t change in the Fall Classic.

“It is what it is,” he said. “We’re going to have to deal with it. Whoever’s not playing that day is going to be prepared to come in late in the game and try to make something happen. Both teams have to have their pitchers hit. We both have good lineups out there.”

With Lester at his best, Game 1 goes Boston’s way J.J.Watt Jersey

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Somewhere in the middle innings of Wednesday’s Game 1, Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester unwrapped his changeup on the Cardinals. That came after he’d shown them a crisp fastball, after he’d spotted it nicely on both sides of the plate, and after he’d thrown a few cutters, too, a really good one, a sharp one.

Lester had such good movement on his cutter that he started a few of them off the plate and watched them catch the outside corner. If that’s not a perfect pitch, it’s plenty close enough.

Did we mention a few breaking pitches? Yep, Lester teased a few hitters with them as well.

And then came the changeup, a knee-buckling, wrist-breaking pitch that can be virtually impossible to hit when it’s thrown after, say, a 93-mph fastball, with the same arm action, with hitters geared up the same way.

Yes, the J.J.Watt Texans Jersey Cards blinked on baseball’s biggest stage on Wednesday night. They made errors — both physical and mental — that they don’t normally make. Their ace, Adam Wainwright, wasn’t at the top of his game.

All that said, Lester took control from the beginning and tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings, and the Red Sox rolled past the Cardinals, 8-1, at Fenway Park.

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Plenty of the focus of this game will be on the Cards making errors they don’t normally make and on Wainwright having a bad day at the office. In the end, though, this was Lester at his best.

“Jonny has been the leader of this rotation all year long,” right fielder Shane Victorino said. “He went out there again tonight and did what he does best. He was great.”

For Boston, it was the perfect opening act to this World Series. The Sox led, 5-0, after two innings thanks to a three-run double by Mike Napoli and an assortment of Cardinals misplays.

The Red Sox may eventually look back at Game 1 and see that it set the tone for everything that happened afterward, but on Wednesday, they declined to see it that way. To them, it was one more brick in the wall, with plenty more to be done.

“That’s something that we can talk about at the end, when everything is all said and done,” Lester said.

Around the clubhouse, that was the consistent message. It was a good start, nothing more.

“It’s just the beginning, man, just the beginning,” designated hitter David Ortiz said. “We’ve got to come back hungry tomorrow and play the game again that we did tonight.”

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After the Red Sox scored three runs in the first inning and two more in the second, Lester was in trouble only twice. He got David Freese to pound a cutter into the ground for an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the fourth, and an inning later, he got Jon Jay on an infield grounder with runners on second and third with two outs.

In four postseason starts this month, Lester has a 1.67 ERA.

“He was great,” second basemanDustin Pedroia said. “He’s like that all the time. His location was [great]. There weren’t too many mistakes.”

After pitching the clinching game of the 2007 World Series, Lester was prepared for everything that’s unique about this kind of game.

“Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of festivities, the introductions, the flyovers, the national anthems. Everything is quadrupled because it’s the World Series,” Lester said. “So you know how to handle all those situations — your warmup time, so forth. And being in that situation in 2007 definitely prepared me for tonight.”

It was a nice night as well for Napoli, whose three-run double in the bottom of the first inning gave Boston a quick three-run lead and continued his postseason of delivering big hits.

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Napoli is one of the guys general manager J.J.Watt Jersey Ben Cherington added last offseason in an overhaul of the roster. Cherington believed that Napoli could produce, but he also believed he would be a good teammate and a good clubhouse presence.

Napoli has been everything Cherington could have hoped for.

“I love this stage,” Napoli said. “It’s in the spotlight. I really enjoy this time of year, I guess.”

Again, though, the Red Sox reminded reporters that it was just one game. They said the Cardinals are a great team and that this might end up being a long, tough World Series.

In other words, don’t look too far ahead.

“They’re not a team that’s going to beat themselves,” catcher David Ross said. “They did tonight. We’d like to thank our fans for that, maybe a little bit. They were nice and loud. [The Cards are] in a World Series for a reason. They won 97 games. They’re a really, really good team.”

Matchup of top teams makes Fall Classic special Andre Johnson Jersey

In opposition of the warped significance of regular-season standings wrought by the Wild Card era, this 2013 World Series matchup is a reminder of what once was.

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The St. Louis Cardinals won 97 games this season, surviving a division battle that included two other postseason teams. They were, according to the raw records resulting from the 162-game grind, the best team in the National League.

The Boston Red Sox won 97 games, surviving a division battle that included one other postseason team and two additional clubs with winning records. They were, according to the raw math of 162, the best team in the American League.

Now, fresh off their mutual Game 6 satisfaction, they’ll meet in a Fall Classic that is as much about the best teams in baseball as it is about the hottest.

This sort of thing never seems to happen anymore.

In fact, in the Wild Andre Johnson Texans Jersey Card era, dating back to 1995, there have been only been two times in which the teams with each league’s best record met in October — 1995 (Braves and Indians) and ’99 (Yankees and Braves). In that sense, what we’re about to witness, beginning Wednesday night at Fenway Park (8:07 p.m. ET first pitch, 7:30 air time on FOX), is something of a throwback, and the fact that it involves two storied franchises with such extensive October history makes it all the better.

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But because unbalanced schedules will always lend themselves to varying interpretations of “best,” perhaps we ought to just view this World Series for what it really is: a celebration of two of the most expertly operated organizations in baseball.

People will call this a “rematch” of the 2004 World Series, but that’s barely true. David Ortiz is the last remaining link to Boston’s band of “Idiots,” and Yadier Molina, then just a rookie backstop backup to now-manager Mike Matheny, is the last remaining link to that NL pennant winner.

Even if you want to tie these teams to their organization’s most recent World Series incarnation, it’s a tenuous link, at best. Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester are the only guys around now who were on the roster when the Red Sox won it all in ’07. And though the Cards won it all just two Octobers ago, they have 19 different guys on this 25-man roster than the one that launched that incredible comeback against the Rangers, with Molina, David Freese, Matt Holliday,Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay and Lance Lynn the only holdovers.

So, what does that tell you? It tells you these clubs reload like few others do.

They had to reload recently. The Cardinals entered the season with rampant questions in a rotation that lost Chris Carpenter to injury (and with Kyle Lohse departed in free agency, the Cards were especially hopeful for a healthy return for Carpenter after his 2012 woes) and had Jaime Garcia pitching with a bum shoulder. Yes, the Redbirds still had a lineup so deep it would have fit just fine in the AL, but a common consensus was that the Reds looked a little bit more polished and prone for October (anybody who tells you they saw the Pirates coming is lying).

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And the Red Sox? Too many questions to count. They faced the daunting prospect of going from worst to first, and their method of doing so was to make relatively short-term investments in aging talent (re-upping with Big Papi and bringing in Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster,Jonny Gomes and David Ross ), all while hoping for a bountiful bounceback from the likes of Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey.

After the embarrassment of the 2011 collapse, which dictated the end of the Theo Epstein/Terry Francona era, and the short-lived spectacle that was the Bobby Valentine era, which culminated in the unloading of 20 million worth of salary on the Dodgers, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington sought to change the Red Sox’s clubhouse culture. He asked prospective free agents, “Do you want to be here?” He wanted them to embrace the particular pressures that come with playing for such an impassioned fan base.

“It’s probably the way we’ve gone about doing it and the type of players we’ve brought in,” said manager John Farrell, who was the pitching coach on that ’07 championship team, “that’s as rewarding as the success on the field.”

Cherington and Farrell wanted a club that was disciplined, prepared and accountable.

You know. A club very much like the Cardinals.

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Ten postseason appearances, seven division titles and four World Series appearances (including two titles, so far) — all since 2000? That’s an incredible track record in an era of increasing parity. And GM John Mozeliak and the Cards, whose payroll is large but not outlandish, are the envy of every other organization because they’ve attained that track record the old-fashioned way, scouting and developing and crafting championship-caliber talent at every turn, and rounding it out with smart signings likeCarlos Beltran, who is finally getting his Fall Classic calling.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to be in an organization,” said Andre Johnson Jersey Matheny, “where winning is a tradition, winning is an expectation.”

Both of these clubs made good on that expectation, and now we have a World Series pairing that engenders reams of respect. There will be no talk of culture clashes or Mickey Mouse ears or disparities in style and swagger. Aside from those Boston beards, getting longer and more frazzled by the minute, the approaches here trend toward the traditional. Respect the game, respect your opponent and play your butt off.

Good luck picking a favorite.

The Red Sox have a wealth of left-handed presence in the regular lineup that will match up well against St. Louis’ four right-handed starters, and the lefty Lester will be a handful for a Cardinals club that struggles against southpaws.

Then again, a Cards lineup likely getting Allen Craig back in the mix doesn’t face the same vulnerability in an AL park that many NL teams do. And this is far from the soft-tossing staff that the Red Sox jumped all over way back in that ’04 Series sweep, especially when they start dipping into that absurd assortment of high-velocity arms in the bullpen.

If pressed, I might be inclined to give the slightest of edges to the Red Sox, if only because of the home-field factor that has proven to loom large should the Series go to a sixth and seventh game.

But truthfully, there is no clear-cut favorite here, because whether you put your faith in regular-season records or October trends, this is a retro Fall Classic that satisfyingly serves as a battle of bests.

Arian Foster Jersey top two clubs evenly matched in Series

You want the two best teams playing in baseball’s biggest stage?

Well, here they are.

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The Cardinals, who beat the Dodgers in six National League Championship Series games, paced the Senior Circuit with a 97-65 record and ranked second in the Majors with a run-differential of plus-201. The Red Sox, fresh off eliminating the Tigers in six American League Championship Series games, led the Junior Circuit with a 97-65 record and ranked first in the Majors with a run-differential of plus-212.

On Wednesday night at Fenway Park (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX/8:07 p.m. first pitch), two of the most storied franchises in baseball will meet in the World Series for the fourth time, and the first since Boston swept St. Louis in 2004.

The Red Sox, searching for their eighth title and third in the last 10 years, bring baseball’s most productive offense and a slew of battle-tested veterans. The Cardinals, looking for the franchise’s 12th championship and third in the last eight years, boast a young, lights-out pitching staff and probably the best situational-hitting team in the Majors.

And both, few would argue, are the best in their respective leagues.

Below is a position-by-position breakdown of how these two teams match up, with input from those who cover them on a daily basis.

This is a position pitting Yadier Arian Foster Jersey Sale Molina against Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But the most intriguing matchup here lies with the Cardinals’ catcher going up against the Red Sox’s baserunners. Molina is the gold standard behind the plate, an NL MVP candidate who’s widely considered the toughest of all to run on. And Boston ranked fourth in the Majors in stolen bases this season, with its leadoff hitter –Jacoby Ellsbury — leading the Majors in steals. Head to head, Saltalamacchia continues to evolve behind the plate and is coming off a very solid season, but he’s no Molina. Nobody is, really.

It’s safe to say both teams have received a lot more production than they expected out of this position. The left-handed-hitting Matt Adams has filled in admirably for Allen Craig, posting a .284/.335/.503 slash line in 108 games during the regular season, but he’s struggled against lefties all year and went just 5-for-22 in the NLCS. Mike Napoli, the right-handed-hitting ex-catcher, has played surprisingly good defense at first base, while posting a .259/.360/.482 slash line in 139 regular-season games and hitting two big home runs in the ALCS.

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The most talent in this series, at least with regards to the everyday players, comes from this position.Matt Carpenter is sure to get some NL MVP votes after a 2013 season that saw him bat .318/.392/.481 while leading the NL in doubles (55), hits (199) and runs scored (126). But Dustin Pedroia is the proven one here. He’s a four-time All-Star, has batted .305/.372/.457 in his seven full seasons and is in his second World Series. He gets the slight edge based on track record, but Carpenter has had the better season, his 7.0 fWAR topping Pedroia’s 5.4.

David Freese has struggled mightily for the Cardinals in these playoffs, with just seven hits in 37 at-bats. But the sentiment around St. Louis is that it may only be a matter of time before the 30-year-old gets going again. He’s had too many big hits for this franchise in October. And if Game 6 of the NLCS — when Freese went 2-for-4 with a walk — was any indication, perhaps he’s starting to find his swing right now. The Red Sox are likely to use the 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts, who has drawn five walks in 11 postseason plate appearances and has taken over for the struggling Will Middlebrooks.

Stephen Drew of the Red Sox and Pete Kozma of the Cardinals can pick it with the best of them, but they need to give their respective teams more at the plate. Kozma batted .217/.275/.273 during the regular season and went 1-for-15 in the NLCS. Drew has gone 3-for-35 with 12 strikeouts in the playoffs — but he has a lot more in him. The left-handed hitter batted .320/.417/.578 against righties during the second half this season.

It looks like the right-handed-slugging Jonny Gomes has taken playing time away from the switch-hitting Daniel Nava, regardless of Nava’s .322 batting average against righties this season. Gomes started four of the Red Sox’s six ALCS games — all against righties — though he went just 3-for-16 with one double. Matt Holliday is coming off yet another solid season in St. Louis, batting .300 with 22 homers and 94 RBIs, and he has a .244/.261/.444 line in the No. 3 spot during the playoffs.

Ellsbury stayed healthy and proved once again — with a .298/.355/.426 line and 52 stolen bases — that he is one of the best center fielders in baseball. And while Ellsbury continued to surge in October, posting a .400 batting average and a .467 on-base percentage, the Cardinals’ Jon Jay has struggled with the glove and with the bat.

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Shane Victorino, in the words of a champagne-soaked David Ortiz, “is a money player.” The Red Sox figured, despite all his struggles in the playoffs, that the gritty Hawaiian would step up at some point. And in the seventh inning in Game 6 on Saturday, with his team down a run, Victorino finally did, lofting a grand slam over the Green Monster to lead the Red Sox to the World Series. But he’s noCarlos Beltran. The Cardinals’ right fielder is a career .337/.449/.724 hitter in the playoffs, with more postseason home runs (16) than Babe Ruth. At last, the 36-year-old reached his first World Series — and he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

The Cardinals got a big boost at this position via Sunday’s workout, when Craig — out since Sept. 4 because of a left foot injury — took part in a simulated game and declared himself ready to be activated for the Fall Classic. Craig batted .315/.373/.457 before going down, and he has stepped up in postseasons past. Ortiz, however, has never left. He batted .309 with 30 homers and 103 RBIs during the regular season, and his grand slam in Game 2 — one of only two hits for him in the ALCS — was the big momentum swing the Red Sox needed. Expect to see Big Papi at first base when this series shifts to St. Louis.

Boston’s bench is among the best in baseball, with Nava, Quintin Berry (a perfect 28-for-28 in steals during his short big league career) and David Ross (the perfect backup catcher) waiting in reserve. Under NL rules at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals figure to have either Adams or Craig available as a pinch-hitter, with infielder Daniel Descalso also a valuable weapon. But they’re nowhere near as strong as the Sox are in this department.

The Cardinals finished second in the Majors with a 3.42 rotation ERA, have veteran ace Adam Wainwright — four runs in 23 innings of these playoffs — lined up to start Game 1 and can back him up with standout rookie Michael Wacha, who beat Clayton Kershaw Arian Foster Jersey  twice in the NLCS. But get this: The Red Sox won all three games in which Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander started in the ALCS. Don’t overlook the more experienced Boston staff. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey combined to post a 3.18 ERA in five ALCS outings, with the very capable Jake Peavy getting hit around in Game 4.

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The Red Sox’s approach at the plate, which has them take a lot of pitches to escalate an opposing starter’s pitch count and bring relievers into the game, worked well against the Tigers and their vulnerable bullpen. The Cardinals, however, are a lot better-equipped to handle that. Because in their ‘pen are three rookies — Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez — who have been lights-out in the playoffs and have turned this relief corps into a major strength. St. Louis had a lower bullpen ERA (3.45 to 3.70) and WHIP (1.24 to 1.31) during the regular season, even though Boston deployed baseball’s best closer.

That closer would be Koji Uehara. With a fastball that hardly cracks 90 mph and a devastating splitter, the 38-year-old Japanese right-hander posted a 1.09 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP during the regular season, then took it to another level in the ALCS, pitching six scoreless innings and recording three saves en route to being named series MVP. But don’t overlook Trevor Rosenthal. With a 100-mph fastball in his back pocket, the 23-year-old right-hander has done a fantastic job locking up the ninth inning in place of veteran Edward Mujica, pitching seven scoreless innings in these playoffs.

Matheny: ’04 Series loss to Sox Case Keenum Jersey very tough moment

Once the champagne had been sprayed, the cameras had vanished and the celebration had slowed, the conversation in the Cardinals’ clubhouse turned to the opportunity still ahead.

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“The room cleared out and guys were still around, not wanting to go home,” manager Mike Matheny said.

They talked of the excitement of reaching baseball’s biggest stage, the need to celebrate and honor the accomplishment, and how quickly it can all slip away.

“There are a lot of teams who have had this opportunity and things didn’t work out how they wanted them to,” Matheny said Sunday afternoon, echoing the comments he made to his players after their pennant-clinching win over the Dodgers on Friday.

“So just keep playing the game. Don’t back off a bit. Put the throttle down,” he said. “We have one series left here, and let’s take them one at a time like we have all year. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t minimize what we’ve done, but don’t back off it.”

Matheny knows better. Though most of the faces have changed, the 2004 World Series still rings fresh for the Cardinals’ skipper and the handful that are still in uniform — Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina, John Houston Cougars Case Keenum Jersey Mabry and Jose Oquendo. Then the club’s starting catcher, Matheny’s first and only World Series ended in four games, a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, who now once again stand between the Cardinals and a championship.

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“It sure left a sharp bite and it’s something you just don’t forget,” Matheny said. “It went from being the greatest baseball experience I’ve ever had in my life — winning 105 games, and being a team that was one of the best I had ever been around — to having our lunch handed to us in the World Series and really not playing to the caliber that we were capable of. That was one of the toughest experiences of my baseball career.

“You don’t forget that. You don’t forget what that feels like. You realize how special the opportunity is and not to leave anything on the table.”

Growing up in Manchester, N.H., about 45 minutes north of Boston, Carpenter was raised a Red Sox fan. Though his allegiances to his childhood team didn’t last long after he was drafted into the division by the Toronto Blue Jays.

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“I had to play them 16 times a year,” Carpenter said. “[It] goes away in a hurry.”

And the team he spent his childhood rooting for added insult to injury in 2004, as Carpenter was forced to watch his teammates lose four straight without him. The nerve issues that would plague him throughout his career first surfaced that year and prevented him from pitching in his first trip to the World Series.

“That’s what happens; that’s what baseball is about,” he said. “You go out and you do the best you can. We made it as far as we could, but the other team won. We’ve moved on and had some great success since then.”

Carpenter would go on to be a key to the Cardinals’ championship runs in 2006 and 2011, teams on which Molina and Oquendo were also a part of, but Matheny and Mabry weren’t as fortunate. Now the Cards’ manager and hitting coach, they’re still searching for their first rings.

Matheny signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants within a few months of the World Series defeat, and Mabry would leave St. Louis for Chicago after the 2005 campaign. Both rejoined the organization in 2012, Matheny as Tony La Russa’s successor and Mabry as assistant hitting coach to Mark McGwire.

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“It’s one of those things. They played better and they beat us,” Mabry Case Keenum Jersey said. “That’s my only [World Series] experience. I don’t like that. Obviously when you put on the uniform, you want to win, and that’s what you’re after, but I’ve got no control over it now. I’m just enjoying the ride, watching these guys do their thing.”

Though the sting of defeat still lingers, Mabry isn’t viewing this year’s matchup as a rematch, an opportunity to make up for what was lost in 2004.

“We play the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night [6:30 CT airtime, 7:07 first pitch]. You’ve got to score more runs than they do and keep the ball in the park,” he said. “For us, it’s business as usual. We’ll try to go out and take that same approach and beat them.”

The only player remaining from that 2004 roster who will actually take the field when the 2013 World Series kicks off Wednesday is Molina, who has come a long way from the fresh-faced rookie who backed up Matheny that year.

A 22-year-old Molina was hardly a factor, appearing in three games in the Series and going hitless in his three at-bats. Nine years later, he’s now considered among the best catchers in the game and is one of the Cardinals’ most dangerous hitters.

“Back then, I just was a kid trying to learn. Right now, I’ve got more experience. I see the game,” Molina said. “But it’s still fun. I’m going to have fun in this series, [and] hopefully we’ll win it.”

‘Flyin’ Hawaiian’ flies around bases after historic slam Ben Tate Jersey

He watched it fly while he jogged out of the batter’s box. He began jumping up and down before he reached the bag. He had barely rounded first when it flew over the top of the Green Monster, a comfortable couple of rows in.

And that’s when Shane Victorino began to let it all out.

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With his team trailing by a run in the seventh inning of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, he hit a grand slam on an 0-2 curveball to in essence deliver a pennant a few innings early.

Unable to get a bunt down in a key situation in the third inning, he felt vindicated. Then he realized how huge it was, with the crowd in utter pandemonium and his teammates jumping up and down in front of the dugout.

So he began to scream and pump his fists. He pounded his chest twice, right by his heart, as he circled the bases on the way to home plate.

“The first thought was, ‘Get enough air to tie the game,'” Victorino Houston Texans Ben Tate Jersey Sale said. “And then I thought this could get up over the wall. All the emotions went through my mind.”

They went through the Tigers’ minds, too.

“Your heart just drops,” Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. “It’s like a popup, and that ball just barely gets over the Monster. Most stadiums, that’s probably an out. But here, it’s a homer. And he got the job done. He came through when they needed him and got the big hit and that was the crushing blow.”

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“It was a special moment,” Victorino added. “It’s been a special year, we battled and good moments like this, you cherish it.”

Victorino’s slam was monumental for several reasons, and one was historic. It was the second of his postseason career, following his grand slam in Game 2 of the 2008 AL Division Series against the Brewers, and with it, Victorino joined Jim Thome as the only two players with at least two postseason grand slams.

Even the great Pat “Mr. Clutch” Tabler, who leads all Major League hitters in batting average with the bases loaded (.489) over the last 40 years, only had two homers with the sacks juiced in 188 at-bats in his career.

Overall, Victorino is 4-for-6 with two homers and 16 RBIs with the bases loaded in the postseason.

Another significant development displayed by Victorino’s grand slam was the fact that it came while batting right-handed against a right-handed pitcher. Victorino, a switch-hitter for most of his Major League career, began batting from the right side only earlier in the regular season because of hamstring and back injuries, but switched back to lefty for a few at-bats against Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez in Game 5.

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One swift swing might have erased any uncertainty moving forward into the Fall Classic.

“I’m confident to say that I’m going to continue to work from the right side on the rest of this year,” Victorino said. “For this year it’s pretty much a done deal.”

There were plenty of skeptics around baseball after the Red Sox signed Victorino. He was coming off a down year with the Phillies, he had turned 32 in November, and the Red Sox didn’t hesitate to give him three years and $39 million.

But Victorino had won a World Series ring as a catalyst for the 2008 Phillies, and the Red Sox were looking for veteran players who knew how to win.

And on Saturday in the seventh inning, Victorino’s hit gave them their biggest victory of the year.

“He’s come up big a number of times this season, ” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Tonight, no bigger.”

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Red Ben Tate Jersey Sox reliever Brandon Workman said he watched the home run from the clubhouse and yelled at the TV.

His relief corps mate, Craig Breslow, watched from the bullpen and let out a scream of his own.

Starter Clay Buchholz said he just couldn’t say anything.

“I was pretty much speechless,” Buchholz said. “I had to run outside. Vic’s been one of the best additions I think this club’s ever seen, the way we have two center fielders in the outfield. It’s been pretty amazing.”

Now it continues, right into the World Series, where Victorino can keep inspiring his teammates with his drive and his ability to come through when it’s needed the most.

“Hey, it’s not the first time my back was against the wall or people doubted me,” Victorino said of delivering a big hit despite having struggled earlier in the series.

“People said, ‘You’re a little too small, I don’t know if you can ever get to the big leagues.’ A scout told my mom in high school, ‘He’ll never be a Major League player, he’ll never get there.’ It’s stuff that motivates me. Lucky enough, it worked out for me.”

Card Case Keenum Jersey trick: Rout sends St. Louis to World Series

After Michael Wacha had stepped on stage to accept his National League Championship Series MVP Award trophy and manager Mike Matheny had twirled to show off some NL hardware, after Carlos Martinez ran around the outfield waving a large Cardinals flag andAdam Wainwright elicited cheers by holding a celebratory newspaper with the headline “NL Champs,” after families had been found and everyone had streamed into the clubhouse, the moment found Carlos Beltran.

Beltran’s 16-year career has taken him to many a place, though now, for the first time, those destinations include the World Series. Before the champagne was sprayed, Beltran thanked his teammates for helping him achieve what had been so elusive. He followed that with a rally cry — “Let’s get it done” — after which the party was a go.

The celebration actually began much earlier at Busch Stadium, where the sellout crowd of 46,899 watched the Cardinals chase Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw from a start earlier than any other opponent had all season. With a huge lead in the able hands of Wacha, the Cards closed what had been a closely contested series with a 9-0 victory in Game 6.

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Indeed, an NLCS headlined by dominant pitching concluded with a rout on Friday night. And perhaps as surprising as the Cardinals’ mostly silent bats have been this postseason was the fact that they secured their spot in the World Series by breaking out against one of the best.

“There was a very, very good sense of urgency today,” said Matt Carpenter, who keyed St. Louis’ four-run third with an 11-pitch at-bat. “Guys came into the clubhouse today and you could just kind of sense that we were ready to go. The intensity and the energy from everybody involved today — from the first pitch to the last pitch — was unbelievable.”

This would be no repeat of 2012, when the Cards let a 3-1 NLCS lead over the Giants slip through their grips. Instead, they left the home clubhouse coated with champagne for the third time in three weeks, one more checkmark on their quest to capture the franchise’s 12th World Series championship.

The Cardinals’ tally of NL pennants climbs to 19, tying them with the Giants for most by any NL club in the World Series era.

“Every journey has different elements to it,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “I think the thing that you take a lot of pride in is that we were able to overcome adversity. But having said that, there is still another step. Obviously, it’s everybody’s goal to win your division and to keep advancing in the postseason. This is a very special moment tonight, and everyone should enjoy it, but there is more baseball to be played.”

World Series participants for the fourth time in the past 10 years, the Cardinals now merely await an opponent. The Fall Classic will open Wednesday (6:30 p.m. CT on FOX) in either Boston or Detroit, where St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright will be ready to take the ball. The Red Sox carry a 3-2 American League Championship Series advantage over the Tigers into their Game 6 on Saturday night at Fenway Park.

“I think it’s very easy to look at this organization and be jealous at times,” David Houston Cougars Case Keenum Jersey Freese said. “It’s a very special thing to put this uniform on. You don’t make the playoffs every year, but to have an opportunity, I believe, year in and year out, that says something. What the front office does and what the ‘Cardinal Way’ is, I think that explains a lot.”

What the front office did in 2013 was find an optimal mix of veteran talent and youth infusion. A club built mostly within the Cards’ farm system used a Major League-most 20 rookies, as it overcame injuries to key players like Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Jason Motte, Jaime Garcia and Allen Craig.

Fitting, then, that it would be a trio of rookies who combined to pitch a shutout in Friday’s clincher. Wacha led the group with seven dominant innings to extend his sensational October run. After it was over, he was named the NLCS MVP.

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“Since he joined the ballclub, all he has done is given us an opportunity to win ballgames,” Beltran said of the rookie hurler. “You guys are going to hear a lot from that kid, because that kid is very special. He wants to be there. He loves the moment. It’s great to watch a young kid be able to come through like that.”

About an hour after Scott Van Slyke and Joe Kelly engaged in a playful stare down to open the night, the Dodgers blinked first in what many predicted would be the second Kershaw-Wacha pitching duel of the series. That blink initiated an unraveling.

The Redbirds seized control during a 48-pitch third inning that showcased the qualities that have come to define this offensive unit all season. It began with Carpenter grinding out an 11-pitch at-bat that ultimately resulted in a one-out double. The hit, one of 13 the Cardinals had, would jump-start a four-run inning in which St. Louis sent 10 batters to the plate.

“I’ve taken pride all season in being a guy who works counts and has those kinds of at-bats, and so far in the postseason, I really hadn’t hit my stride in terms of the way I have been at the plate,” Carpenter said. “In my career, that’s going to be one of my more memorable at-bats.”

Beltran drove home the game’s first run with a single to right. He’d finish the evening with a three-hit game and a highlight-reel diving catch in right-center field.

Kershaw was peppered with two-out hits as the third inning continued. Yadier Molina collected his first NLCS RBI. A single by Freese and a walk to Matt Adams brought the inning to Shane Robinson, who, given his first start of the postseason, made Matheny look brilliant.

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Robinson’s two-run single — one of two hits he had off Kershaw — pushed the Cardinals’ lead to four. That equaled the total number of runs the Dodgers’ ace had served up in his last five starts combined. The Cards became the first team since 2009 to bat around against Kershaw, who lost all four of his starts against St. Louis this year.

“It’s kind of fitting how it worked out like that,” said Craig, who expects to be healthy enough to join the World Series roster. “Matt had the at-bat of the season — against Kershaw, a lefty that’s a tough matchup. From there, we got base hits and took good at-bats. That’s what we’ve been doing all year.”

No other club had near that success against a pitcher who is expected to be named the NL’s Cy Young Award winner next month.

“I just didn’t pitch good,” a terse Kershaw said afterward. “I don’t have an answer. I just wasn’t good enough.”

Though Wacha needed none of the extra support, the Cardinals batted around again in the fifth. Three consecutive hits to open the frame sent Kershaw to the dugout. The Cards’ lead was nine by the end of the inning; this from a team that had scored just 12 runs and batted .178 through the first five games of the NLCS.

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The Cardinals, who hit .330 with runners in scoring position during the regular season, went 6-for-14 in such spots on Friday.

“When you face quality pitchers like the Dodgers have, it’s going to be tough,” hitting coach John Mabry said. “Runs are going to be hard to come by. But these guys just kept on doing what they do. They believed in each other and kept working on it.”

As the Cards knocked around the Dodgers’ pitching staff, Wacha again stood tall in what continues to be a special October for the 22-year-old rookie. Less than two years removed from pitching at Texas A&M University, Wacha’s encore performance against Los Angeles was better than his first.

Case Keenum Jersey Wacha shut out the Dodgers for 6 2/3 innings in Game 2 of the NLCS. On Friday, he did so for seven innings. In the two starts combined, Los Angeles mustered just seven hits and two walks off the right-hander, who struck out 13. The NL West champs advanced only one runner into scoring position against Wacha, who responded to that adversity by not allowing any of the next three batters to push a ball out of the infield.

“These past four games, I just try to come up to the park every day, get my work in and try to approach every game just the same,” said Wacha, who has allowed one earned run on nine hits in his last 29 2/3 innings. “I just try to not let the moment get too big on [me].”

From one rookie, Matheny turned to two others to secure his first NL pennant as a manager. Martinez struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth. Trevor Rosenthal preserved the shutout and threw the final pitch of the night.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to be in an organization that winning is a tradition, winning is an expectation,” Matheny said. “We start talking early on about the history and the championships, the great players who have been through here and people who have made their mark on this organization and in the game. … These guys have been training themselves, I think, in the expectation that we need to put together a season that’s representative of what this club stands for.”

Stunning grab caps Iglesias’ reel-worthy night DeAndre Hopkins Jersey

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All David Ortiz could do was smile and clap his hands. Max Scherzer laughed. The legend of Jose Iglesias’ defensive mastery seems to grow with each game.

After making some of the best defensive plays in the Majors throughout the regular season, Iglesias, the Tigers’ shortstop, added to his reputation by taking away a third-inning single from Ortiz with a remarkable over-the-shoulder grab in shallow left field.

“That was a tough play,” Ortiz DeAndre Hopkins Texans Jersey said. “But I’ve seen him do so many crazy plays, all I can do is clap.”
In the fourth inning, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ground ball to second base with a runner on first. Tigers second baseman Omar Infante tossed the ball to Iglesias, and the shortstop showed off his arm to get the speedy Ellsbury at first, completing an inning-ending double play.

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To end the eighth, Iglesias had to stride into the middle of the left field to make a catch.

“This dude was all over the place today,” Hunter said. “We’re excited to have him over here. He came over from Boston, and he’s making those plays. He’s having Deandre Hopkins Women’s Jersey fun — it looks like he’s a big kid out there. [Miguel Cabrera’s] hurt and Jhonny [Peralta’s] not really a left fielder, and this guy is covering it for everybody.”

While Iglesias has impressed with his glove, he’s still improving in the batter’s box. He surpassed expectations by hitting .303 across 109 regular-season games with the Tigers and Red Sox.

Iglesias singled in an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off the bottom of the seventh before eventually scoring and cutting Detroit’s deficit to one run.

Iglesias nearly created more offense when he tried to bunt for a single with a runner on first in the fifth inning. Instead, he learned what it’s like to be on the other end of a defensive gem when Boston’s starter, Jon Lester, fumbled the ball before flipping it with his glove to the first baseman to beat Iglesias by a half-step.

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Even against Red DeAndre Hopkins Jersey Sox closer Koji Uehara, who has held hitters to a .148 batting average in the postseason, Iglesias was able to foul off four pitches before popping out to end the game.

“I feel good,” Iglesias DeAndre Hopkins Shirts said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it done, but I feel like I battled the whole time.”

Iglesias may not have been able to come through in Game 5, but he’s made observers confident that he will find ways to contribute throughout his career. He’s under contract through the 2018 season and will have countless more opportunities to impress the baseball world with his glove.

The legend continues.

Case Keenum Jersey Leyland pushes the right buttons in Game 4

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 You have to love a manager who decides to give the critics an earful even before they’ve spoken.

“You can say I’m nuts, you can say I’m dumb, you can say whatever you want,” Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said Wednesday afternoon.

Is there an appropriate followup question for that?

“It does give you something to write about,” he said. “So here it is, have a good time with it.”

“And I will be willing to answer the questions after the game,” he said flatly. 

That sounded like a dare, didn’t it? He said all of this before his Tigers beat the Red Sox, 7-3, in Game 4 of the American League Championship Houston Cougars Case Keenum Jersey Series, which is now tied 2-2.

So this is how Leyland’s afternoon began. He walked briskly into the interview room at Comerica Park 4 1/2 hours before first pitch and announced he’d made a “huge change” to his lineup.

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After watching the Tigers score a total six runs while falling behind two games to one in the ALCS, he shook things up.

He decided on the switch at his home Tuesday night after a 1-0 loss to the Red Sox in Game 3 while watching the Cardinals and Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

“I’m not afraid to try something,” he added.

Leyland did more than that. If he’d wanted to try something, he would have benched slumping center fielder and leadoff hitter Austin Jackson.

Leyland decided that switching a couple of names might not have the impact he wanted. He did what a lot of managers never would have. He changed the whole thing.

“I didn’t want something to be comical,” he said. “I just felt like I thought the biggest thing was to move Jackson out of the leadoff spot and work around that however I felt would be the best way to do it. This is what I came up with.”

He dropped Jackson, hitting .091 in the postseason, from first to eighth and moved everyone else up. That change meant that his best offensive player, third baseman Miguel Cabrera, was bumped from third to second in the order.

Cabrera hadn’t hit second since his second year in the Majors in 2004, and guys like him, guys who’ve had so much success in one spot, sometimes get skittish about a move.

Leyland moved first baseman Prince Fielder, too, from fourth to third. Again, a big change. Fielder had batted fourth for 320 of his 324 regular-season starts for the Tigers.

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If this sounds like no big deal, you’re wrong. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and they take ownership of their places in the lineup. They understand the role and the responsibilities that come with those spots, and when they’re shifted, they see it as a dramatic change in job description.

For instance, right fielder Torii Hunter was bumped from second to first, where he hadn’t batted since 2000. He said leading off the bottom of the first inning made him feel like “a sacrificial lamb.” He meant that one of the duties of a leadoff hitter is to look at some pitches and give the other hitters on the team a chance to check out what the guy is throwing.

On the other hand, he understands his manager.

“Leyland Case Keenum Jersey, anything he does, he has a meaning behind it,” Hunter said.

Anyway, Leyland showed again why he has been one of the most successful and respected managers of his generation. Few managers have done a better job of reading the mood of his team and communicating with his players.

Some men were born to lead, and that’s what Leyland brings to the table. After the Tigers scored one, five and zero runs in the series’ first three games, Leyland wanted his players to come to work and see a lineup card that caught their attention.

He’d had one of his coaches, Lloyd McClendon, text the players to inform them of the change, but there was still that moment when they saw it for the first time.

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“I don’t know if they went, ‘Whoa,'” he said. “And maybe sometimes just a jolt like that gets you back in sync a little bit.”

Players say that one of the keys to succeeding in the postseason is to keep routines and schedules and mindsets as normal as possible. Leyland did the opposite. He let them know that Game 4 of the ALCS is not just another game.

His Tigers were in danger of falling into a 3-1 hole in the best-of-seven series. By making an eye-opening change, he may have gotten everyone’s attention, which may have been as important as the specific changes.

Regardless, it worked. The Tigers scored five runs in the second inning on their way to tying the series. Hunter drove in three runs from the leadoff spot, and Cabrera had two hits and two RBIs. And best of all, Jackson, mired in that terrible slump, was on base four times with two walks and two singles. He also drove in two runs.

Afterward, Leyland did what the great ones almost always do. He deflected credit, pointing out it was the players who’d done the heavy lifting.

That’s another thing about baseball’s best managers. When things are going bad, they accept the blame. When things are good, they want it to be about the players, and, yes, there’s a method to the madness.

“This has nothing to do with Jim Leyland; this is about the players,” Leyland said. “They executed, they came out, they played well. And this is playoff baseball, and we’ll see what happens. It’s tied, 2-2. We’re happy with that. We know we’re going back to Boston for sure, either one up or one down. Really not a lot to say. We’ll come out tomorrow and get after it again.”

All that’s true. Still, this victory began with the manager, the guy who has filled out 3,499 lineup cards in the regular season and has set an incredibly high standard for all his peers.

Oh, he said he would use the same lineup again in Game 5, airing at 8 ET Thursday night on FOX.

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