By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland changed up the lineup to get Austin Jackson out of the leadoff spot, and in his first day batting eighth, Jackson responded with a walk, two hits and two RBIs.
Jackson hit .273 during the regular season, but in the postseason, he had slumped dramatically. In 33 at bats, Jackson managed only three hits. His batting average was an astoundingly bad .091. He had 18 strikeouts in eight games.
The center fielder got help from the skipper with the lineup change, but he also got a hand from Boston’s Jake Peavy. The Red Sox starter walked Jackson with the bases loaded in the second inning.
“It definitely made me relax a little more,” Jackson said. “It was a big situation right there to try to get something done. And I think after I seen a couple of pitches I was able to kind of just take some deep breaths and relax a little bit and not worry so much about the result, just try to get a good pitch, make sure you’re seeing the ball and take some good swings when you get your pitch.”
Instead of being the first hitter of the game to try and pick apart the opposing pitcher, Jackson got to watch seven other guys do it first, and he said it helped.
“It felt a little different,” Jackson said. “Just hitting down in the order and coming up after guys have already hit and getting a chance to see what he’s done to guys and just have a game plan when you go up there.”
As much as Jackson had been struggling, he expected some kind of lineup change to happen. He was just happy to still be in the lineup, and when he got his first hit Wednesday, a sharp line drive that Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia nearly snagged, the prevailing feeling was one of relief.
“It felt good to contribute to a win and just relax, really, just get a chance to go out there and not put so much pressure on yourself, just have fun and relax and just play the game like you know how,” Jackson said.
Leyland needed to get Jackson away from the crucial, scrutinized role of leadoff man so he could relax, but the manager also had to find a way to inject some life into a lineup that had practically flatlined in two of the first three games of the ALCS.
“I tried to figure it out where it wouldn’t really be drastic,” Leyland said. “I didn’t want to have something drastic. I didn’t want something to be comical. 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 to win,” he added.
It worked Wednesday, at least, and whether the batting order really made a difference or not, Jackson got back on track. The offense as a whole scored more runs in Game 4 than it had in Games 1, 2 and 3 combined. Though players did not seem too shaken up after the game by the switches, Leyland said any shock factor that did exist might have helped.
“They might not have believe [hitting coach Lloyd McClendon] when he texted them, but they believed it when they saw it,” Leyland said. “I don’t know if they went, ‘Whoa.’ And maybe sometimes just a jolt like that gets you back in sync a little bit.”
Even though his dramatic change resulted in a decisive win, Leyland had no sentimental attachment to the lineup card itself to remember the victory. He said he will probably just throw it out.
“I’m not really one of those guys,” Leyland said. “I don’t save stuff.”
That aside, the skipper liked the lineup. He said he is for sure using it Thursday too.