BOSTON -- On a night when the Detroit Tigers set a team record for home runs allowed in a game with eight, the significant question that emerged nonetheless dealt not with power, but with speed:
If there is a Tigers-Boston Red Sox playoff series next month, could the Tigers lose because of their inability to prevent stolen bases?
Ominously, that inability is what allowed the East-leading Red Sox to score the run that put them ahead to stay in a 20-4 thumping of the Central-leading Tigers on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
The four pitchers who gave up the eight homers might see little action in close playoff games. They are Rick Porcello (three homers), Al Alburquerque (two), Jeremy Bonderman (two) and Evan Reed (one).
Porcello apparently would be the long reliever in the playoffs because teams need only four starters in the postseason due to open dates. So as stunning as the Red Sox's power show was, it's not necessarily material for a playoff analysis.
The Red Sox, who feature AL stolen-base leader Jacoby Ellsbury, probably would be starting on steal attempts in the playoffs against many Tigers pitchers.
The Tigers have the worst percentage of throwing out baserunners of any AL team (approximately 18 percent), and they haven't thrown out anyone trying to steal for nearly a month.
With the score 4-4, Shane Victorino singled with one out in the Boston fifth and then took off. Catcher Alex Avila threw the ball wide of the bag and into center. Victorino went to third. That makes 23 straight steals against the Tigers since they last threw out anyone trying to steal. It was the 111th steal allowed by the Tigers, second most in the AL behind Boston. Victorino scored the unearned run on Dustin Pedroia's lineout to left.
It was a glimpse of how a stolen base can make a difference in a playoff game between evenly matched teams or comparably dominant starting pitchers.
The Tigers have 32 steals, fewest in the AL. So even though the Red Sox give up a lot of steals, the Tigers don't appear to have the speed to take advantage of that. In the seven-game season series against Boston this year, they stole two bases. (Quintin Berry, the Tigers' base-stealer last season, is a September call-up for Boston and had two hits after he entered this game at the blowout stage.)
Shortstop Jose Iglesias -- who brings a speed element to the Tigers -- produced two runs Wednesday with his legs, then left in the fifth inning with shin splints. He said he hoped to play Friday after today's open date.
Iglesias said he developed the shin splints while running on the sand in the off-season and has dealt with them all season. When they affect both legs, which became the case Wednesday night, it's hard to play.
In the third, Iglesias bunted on his own for a hit, went first to third on a single and scored on a groundout. In the fourth, he barely beat out a potential inning-ending double-play grounder to drive in the go-ahead run.
But the final go-ahead run came from Boston's speed.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland later summed up the season series between the teams: "We won four of seven."
For the Tigers to prevail by that or any margin in a playoff series, they might have to improve at slowing the running game, and fast.
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