By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Austin Jackson struck out swinging in the first inning. He struck out swinging in the fourth inning. He struck out looking in the sixth inning.
In the seventh, the center fielder smacked a broken bat single that scored the go-ahead run and kept the Detroit Tigers alive in the American League Division Series against Oakland.
After the game, Jackson could not stop smiling.
“I was just happy that it fell,” Jackson said. “Looking over in the dugout and seeing how pumped up they were for me, it just kind of gave me chills a little bit, and just happy to get it done in that moment.”
Jackson had struggled mightily early in the game. Each of his three strikeouts had come in a leadoff spot, starting off each of those innings with a sour taste. When he finally got the ball in play, it was a redemptive moment.
“I think that shows everybody how beautiful this game is,” designated hitter Victor Martinez said. “You can just fall and fall and fall, and then the game is going to give you a chance to shine at some point.”
Long before first pitch Tuesday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked about the offensive struggles Detroit had been weathering, and he specifically mentioned Jackson.
“We get Austin Jackson on base a couple times, moving around, we’re pretty dangerous,” Leyland said before the game. “If we don’t, we’re not really a manufacture team. We’re a team that hits the ball in the gaps and over the fence.”
Jackson, though, only managed one hit in 11 at bats through the first three games of the series, and the Tigers together had not managed a single homer. After losing 6-3 at home Monday and facing elimination, the mood in the clubhouse was solemn. Right fielder Torii Hunter, as he often does, tried to help bring up the mood of the team, help everyone reset.
The team’s massage therapist, Janet, printed off copies of a poem titled “A Tiger’s Prayer,” and Hunter passed them around the clubhouse to certain players, including Jackson, Prince Fielder, Andy Dirks, Donnie Kelly and Jose Veras. Hunter’s intent was to pump his teammates up and give them something positive.
“It’s all about what’s in your thoughts,” Hunter said. “If you’re struggling, that’s what slumps are. When you’re struggling and you’ve got negativity going on around you or in your mind, you’re not going to perform. When you’ve got things that are positive and you’re pumped up, you’re upbeat, feeling good, that’s when you come and you do great things in this game.”
Jackson had his copy taped up in his locker room, a fitting backdrop as he answered questions about his clutch hit that saved the Tigers from elimination.
“Hopefully that gets him going,” Leyland said. “As you know he’s struggled in this series a little bit, but sometimes that’s the magic that gets a guy going. SO hopefully that’s the thing that gets him going.”