DETROIT – Between the hours of 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., a cell phone ring, ding or chime means something is very wrong. The worst is an early-morning call, of course, though sometimes a text message can be sneaky-bad. News that can’t wait until 9 a.m. is usually not news to be savored.
The phones of the Detroit Tigers' position players started buzzing around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Most were still asleep, the grind of the American League Championship Series and another flaccid day of hitting leaving them weary. Torii Hunter peeled his eyes open and read a message from Mac – Lloyd McClendon, his hitting coach: "You're leading off tonight. You OK with that?" Sure, Hunter replied, even though he hadn't done so in 14 years. Once Hunter gave the go-ahead, the other texts pinged through, and Jim Leyland's plan to rouse his team from its doldrums was in motion.
Leyland does not like change. He is not a tinkerer. He writes a lineup, sticks with it and rides it. This can be to his detriment. It is also why his players love him. They know what they're getting. So this – an on-the-fly overhaul that dropped Austin Jackson from the leadoff spot to the No. 8 hole and moved seven players up a spot – was Leyland's not-so-subtle way of saying even an old mule can grow tired of something, and he damn sure wasn't going to let the Tigers' season end on account of his inaction.
He didn't gloat after the Tigers rode the new-look batting order to a 7-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALCS, knotting the series and ensuring a return this weekend to Fenway Park.Leyland, in fact, dismissed causation, correlation or any sort of relationship between the runs – which in the first three games had come in trickles and drips – and his fiddling: "I don't know that it had anything to do with it. I doubt it very much."
Except there was Jackson, sitting atop the dais, in front of a microphone and a few Gatorade bottles in case he got parched from talking about his big night. And he was saying, yes, it did have something to do with it, and anybody who doubted that ought to take a leap inside his head to validate as much. Maybe this was confirmation bias, and maybe it was Boston starter Jake Peavy's willingness to blend erratic command with hittable stuff down the middle, and maybe it was nothing more than a good major league player, which Jackson surely is, being a good major league player.