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Bullpen, Injuries Were Tigers’ Downfall

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DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 04: Al Alburquerque #62 of the Detroit Tigers sits in the dugout after being pulled in the eighth inning of Game Four of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park on October 4, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

DETROIT, MI – OCTOBER 04: Al Alburquerque #62 of the Detroit Tigers sits in the dugout after being pulled in the eighth inning of Game Four of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park on October 4, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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A thin bullpen, mainly because manager Jim Leyland couldn’t use Al Alburquerque as much as he would have liked, and a thick list of nicked-up players hurt the Tigers’ chances of overcoming Texas in their six-game American League Championship Series.

The Rangers rolled up a nine-run third inning Saturday en route to a 15-5 trouncing of Detroit to advance to the World Series for the second straight year.

The Tigers could not match the Rangers’ lock-down bullpen, especially midgame ace Alexi Ogando. Alburquerque filled that role for Detroit when he joined the club early in the season — until getting hit in the head by a line drive during batting practice and suffering a concussion in mid-August.

Alburquerque was slow to recover physically and then never really regained the effective pitching he showed before the concussion. Leyland thus was unable to give him the work he needed while the club was trying to lock down first place in the AL Central.

The third-inning Texas rally was tailor-made for Alburquerque, whom Leyland liked to bring into crucial midgame situations because his killer slider resulted in a lot of strikeouts.

Alburquerque’s struggles with his control late in the season precluded his use while Texas was getting out to a 3-1 lead in the series. He could have made a difference in the two 11-inning losses.

The Rangers became only the second team to win a best-of-seven postseason series with no victories from their starting pitchers.

“All the games were really conducive to … it was just getting late where you were using (Joaquin) Benoit, (Phil) Coke and (Jose) Valverde,” Leyland said. “It wasn’t fair to some of our relievers. They just weren’t used in this series because the situation just didn’t present itself. That’s unfair to be upset about that. That would not be fair to them.”

Leyland never offered up injuries as an excuse, but at the same time it was a fact that the Tigers were unable to capitalize on the weakness of the Texas starters.

Delmon Young wasn’t even on the roster when the series began because of a strained side muscle — then all of a sudden he was on the roster again because Magglio Ordonez re-fractured his right ankle in the first game. Young hit two home runs in the fifth game but was limited before that and struck out three times in the sixth game.

Alex Avila had just three postseason hits, one a home run, because of knee and possibly hand problems.

Victor Martinez, who had three hits in the final game, was playing on a sore knee and with a sore side.

“I’ve managed a team that won a World Series,” Leyland said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a team than I am this team. They gave everything they had.

“Things were kind of stacked against us a little bit … tough travel, rain, days off. But I learned a long time ago you don’t sit up here and wonder about stuff like that. You give credit where it’s due. The Texas Rangers beat us and they are definitely the team that should rep the American League in the World Series.

“We’ve got a long time to rest up. About 10 days or so more than I would have liked.”

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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