Benoit clarifies comments; Red Sox thrive at home
Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit insists he meant no disrespect to the Oakland Athletics when he said he felt Detroit was ''already on the verge of the World Series again'' after a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the AL division series.
Benoit said he clarified his comments with manager Jim Leyland, an old-school skipper who is all for confidence but also one for players keeping their mouths shut and handling their business with class.
''That message was taken the wrong way,'' Benoit said in the dugout before Saturday night's Game 2. ''We went to the World Series last year, and what I was trying to say is, this is the feeling that we would like to have if we can go back to the World Series.''
Nobody could have blamed Benoit for being a bit excited after Friday night's game. He retired the final four batters with three strikeouts on the way to his first career postseason save in front of a towel-waving sellout crowd of 48,401 in Oakland.
''It's really tough when you're trying to say something and they take it the wrong way,'' said Benoit, a native of the Dominican Republic. ''It's really hard, and sometimes it doesn't matter what you say, they're going to put it up there the way they feel like. If it was taken the wrong way, I apologize. I didn't really mean to say that we were going to go to the World Series. There's a lot of baseball to be played, but hopefully we do.''
Leyland said he's not about to tell his players what to do or say publicly, but he would encourage them that less is more - especially on the October stage with more attention on everybody.
''It's probably best to say less. Sure, I like a confident team,'' Leyland said. ''I don't know that you need to go on stage and talk about it, but I like a team that's confident and I think you show that by the way you play. I just like to watch 'em go out and play, and they usually show their energy and confidence and everything by the way they play. If guys want to talk about it, that's fine, more power to 'em. They're grown men. I don't tell anybody what to say and or not to say. I don't give advice, but I do say there is no sense in fueling fires. We don't need to do that. We just need to go play.''
HOME COOKING: No team in the American League had more of a home-field advantage this season than Boston.
The Red Sox went 53-28 at Fenway Park, the best home record in the league. And they won the first two games of their AL division series against the Tampa Bay Rays at home, thanks in part to the old ballpark's quirks and odd configuration.
''I think we got out-Fenwayed tonight, kind of,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said after his team's 7-4 defeat Saturday in Game 2. ''They took advantage of the quirks; we did not. And they got on top. ... It was kind of a weird night the way everything set up for them and against us.''
In a five-run fourth inning Friday that turned a two-run deficit into a three-run lead, Will Middlebrooks' line drive took a strange hop off the standings posted on the Green Monster scoreboard. That allowed Stephen Drew to score and might have helped Middlebrooks make it to second base.
''You've got so many different angles,'' Boston manager John Farrell said. ''You get team plates. You've got different things that are hanging on that, so there's going to be a lot of potential caroms that are going to be inconsistent.''
Farrell said the team practices taking balls off the 37-foot-high wall every day. But players can never really anticipate all the different ways a ball can fly when it hits a hook or ladder on the Green Monster.
Plus, there is an assortment of surfaces, producing different ricochets.
''It's a matter of getting comfortable with the space that an outfielder plays with it out there,'' Farrell said. ''Whether it's Jonny Gomes, (Daniel) Nava or (Mike) Carp, there's daily work that goes on there. Part of why it's home-field advantage.''
Rays left fielder Sean Rodriguez struggled all game playing caroms off the wall. But the Rays' biggest problem in the fourth couldn't really be blamed on Fenway Park. Right fielder Wil Myers went back to catch David Ortiz's high fly in front of the Red Sox bullpen, but he backed off at the last minute when he saw center fielder Desmond Jennings out of the corner of his eye.
At first, it appeared perhaps one of the Boston relievers might have called out to confuse the fielders, but Myers said that's not what happened.
''No, no, no. There's no chicanery by the Red Sox,'' Maddon said. ''Although I would not put it past them.''
LONG TIME, NO SEE: The last time the Braves were at Dodger Stadium was nearly four months ago, while Los Angeles right fielder Yasiel Puig was completing his amazing first week in the majors. Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla had three homers and five RBIs in the final two games of that four-game series to help the Braves earn a split.
At the time, Atlanta was 7 1/2 games up in the NL East, while the last-place Dodgers were 7 1/2 games off the pace in the West. Needless to say, the clubs took different routes to winning their respective division titles.
Game 3 in their best-of-five playoff series is set for Sunday in Los Angeles.
''I don't think there's ever been another season where one team in a series has been seven up and one's been seven down,'' Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. ''But it's a long season and there's so many games that if you would have asked me at that point, I could have said: 'Yeah, that's pretty possible.'''
Dodgers fans will get their first opportunity Sunday to boo Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who beat out Puig for the final NL All-Star spot in online fan voting. Freeman had the better second half, batting .335 with 14 homers and 48 RBIs while Puig hit .273 with 11 homers and 23 RBIs in an identical 66 games after the break.
''He's made a lot of adjustments. Maybe he hasn't shown it numbers-wise, but he's made a ton of adjustments and he's become a much better ballplayer,'' Dodgers infielder Mark Ellis said. ''He helps us win a ballgame every day by doing something. He can do so many things on the basepaths and so many things with his bat.''
Uggla, the three-time All-Star second baseman, was left off the Braves' roster for this series but accompanied the team to Los Angeles after the teams split the first two games at Turner Field.
BYRD IS THE WORD: The Pirates were hoping for a key bat and a veteran presence when they acquired well-traveled outfielder Marlon Byrd just before the waiver deadline in August. The 36-year-old has proven to be even better than advertised.
Byrd hit .318 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 30 games for the Pirates and has kept it going in the playoffs. He hit a home run in the wild-card win over Cincinnati and scored twice in Game 2 of the NL division series against St. Louis.
''This guy has thrown aces all over the table,'' Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ''Clubhouse demeanor, the game edge, the quality at-bats, the ability to defend in right field, modeling the behavior you're looking to see late in the season at the plate, in the batter's box. Young players get to see it.''
''Both he and (Justin) Morneau were able to do it. For a guy with no playoff experience, you would think he has a bunch,'' he said.
Byrd's play has been so steady he's forced Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones to the bench. Tabata filled in capably in left field when Starling Marte was injured down the stretch and Jones hit .321 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 17 games against St. Louis this season.
TRAVEL TIME: Neither the Oakland Athletics nor the Detroit Tigers planned workouts for Sunday at Comerica Park given the overnight travel challenges awaiting them.
Game 2 of the AL division series was set for Saturday night in Oakland. Game 3 was Monday afternoon in Motown.
The A's were scheduled to land in Detroit sometime around 6 a.m. EDT on Sunday, depending on how long Game 2 took.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin will alter his club's typical pregame routine for a day game by taking batting practice Monday at Comerica.
''It's an interesting turnaround. It's one that's unique,'' Melvin said. ''But there's not a problem with adrenaline in the postseason. We usually don't hit before day games, we hit in the cage and don't usually hit on the field, but this is one you do have to hit on the field to get used to the conditions on the field.''
NOT-SO-CLOSE CALLS: For two teams so evenly matched, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals don't play a ton of tight games.
Only five of the 21 games between the two NL Central rivals this season have been decided by two runs or less. Instead, 13 have resulted in margins of five runs or more, including a 9-1 win for St. Louis in Game 1 of the NL division series and a 7-1 romp for the Pirates in Game 2.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny pointed out the teams went into extras a couple of times, including a 14-inning marathon at Busch Stadium in August. Matheny figures it's the drive in each team that has led to the unusually high number of blowouts.
''Even the other day when we had the lead, we wanted to keep the throttle down and know that that team would keep coming,'' Matheny said. ''And I know, I sense in their dugout they believe the same thing. Our offenses both have the ability to explode, which makes any game a close game.''