The Boston Red Sox, by virtue of leading the ALCS 3-2 after five games, afforded themselves two opportunities to win a fourth game and book their ticket to the World Series. They only needed one of the opportunities, defeating the Detroit Tigers 5-2 Saturday night in what proved to be the deciding game of the ALCS. By implementing one of their most tried, tested, and proved winning strategies, the Red Sox continued their inexorable march to a World Series title in an incredibly fitting way.
As the Red Sox have won so many games during the regular season and the postseason, the strategy employed by the club on Saturday was to ride a wave of proficient pitching and a big run-producing inning all the way to victory.
The most proficient practitioners of pitching for the Red Sox on Saturday were starter Clay Buchholz and relievers Brandon Workman and Junichi Tazawa, who had to limit the Tigers attack while pitching in the highest-leveraged situations.
Buchholz was pretty close to dominant on the mound on Saturday, at least for the five first innings of his appearance. During those five innings, Buchholz only allowed four of the 18 batters he faced to reach base; none of the four batters were on base at the same time as Buchholz spread out the Tigers base runners, limiting the damage they could do.
Buchholz faltered in the sixth inning, however. He walked Torii Hunter, the leadoff batter for the inning, and then followed up that six-pitch plate appearance by conceding a single to Miguel Cabrera before he was removed from the contest. He then had to sit in the dugout and watch as reliever Franklin Morales allowed both Hunter and Cabrera to score, giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead and Buchholz two earned runs to add to his statistics.
Despite the two earned runs he was eventually charged with, the pitching that Buchholz did himself in the contest still netted him a win probability added of 0.135, the second-highest win probabiliy added by a Red Sox pitcher on Saturday. Of course, his total win probability added was helped by the fact he also faced the most Tigers batters in Game 6.
Buchholz's win probability added was beat out only by Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman, who had to come into the game and clean up the mess left behind by Morales. With no outs, base runners on first and third bases, and the Tigers possessing a robust run expectancy of 1.87, Workman had to mix in a bit of luck along with good pitching in order to prevent the Tigers from scoring any more runs.
He got both as poor Tigers baserunning and heads-up defensive play from the Red Sox defense resulted in a double play after Tigers left fielder Jhonny Peralta hit a grounder to second base. Workman then struck out Alex Avila to end the inning.
Workman was also fairly successful in the seventh inning, when he recorded two outs. Had he not also allowed two Tigers hitters to reach base, one because of an error he made, his appearance in the game would have been even more valuable, but his work in getting the Red Sox out of a jam in the sixth inning was instrumental in the club securing a victory.
Making sure that the Tigers did not benefit from having runners on first and second bases with two outs in the seventh inning was reliever Junichi Tazawa, who induced Miguel Cabrera to ground out. Cabrera was the only batter Tazawa faced, but Tazawa's appearance still proved to be important because it was also the highest-leverage situation Red Sox pitchers would face for the rest of the contest.
With the Red Sox pitchers, outside of Franklin Morales, making sure the Tigers could not expand upon their one-run lead, the Red Sox offense finally stepped up to capitalize on the limited amount of work needed to swing the balance of the game in their favor. In the bottom of the seventh inning, still facing a 2-1 deficit, three of the first four Red Sox batters worked their way on base, loading the bases for Shane Victorino.
Having the bases loaded and one out, the Red Sox were expected to score an average of 1.59 runs. Instead, the Red Sox scored four as Shane Victorino hit a home run to left field that gave the Red Sox a 5-2 lead and a win expectancy of 93.6 percent.
The decided advantage was one the Red Sox would not even come close to relinquishing for the rest of the game as relievers Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara retired six of the seven Tigers batters they faced, easily closing out the ALCS.
Now the best regular-season team in the American League, the Boston Red Sox, will be facing the best regular-season team in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals, to determine the World Series champion. For those who prefer to watch the best against the best, it will be a must-see series.