Jhonny Peralta versus the Green Monster.
Presuming Peralta returns to left field for the AL championship series, he'll have to deal with baseball's most famous piece of architecture, Fenway Park's 37-foot high left-field wall, the Green Monster.
"I think the wall is going to work to our advantage with Jhonny, because he doesn't have a lot of ground to worry about covering," Tigers outfield coach Tom Brookens said.
That was one of the premier concerns about Peralta's move from short to left: could he cover the ground? Comerica Park is huge in left. Maybe this home-field advantage for Boston is an advantage for Peralta the left fielder.
Fenway Park's left field is the smallest in the American League. The Green Monster abruptly halts the left-field foul line a little more than 300 feet from home plate. The close proximity is compensated for by its extraordinary height. Some balls that would be homers elsewhere become doubles that slam high off it; balls that would be fly-ball outs elsewhere clear the Monster for homers.
"I think that's a good spot for him, left field in Fenway Park," Brookens said of Peralta. "It cuts down a lot of space for him. So with his range, I think that's a plus for us."
He planned to get Peralta acclimated with the Monster before Saturday night's game.
"We'll just have to get a feel of the wall and playing the balls off the wall more than anything," Brookens said. "That's a learning process for any left fielder that goes there."
Peralta said: "It will be a new experience. We'll take some practice and see how it feels."
Peralta's bat back where it was
The Oakland A's, and not the Tigers, likely would have been in Fenway Park for Game 1 on Saturday if not for several things that happened in Game 4 of the Tigers-A's series on Tuesday.
The first of those things was Peralta's tying three-run homer in the fifth inning. When he hit it, the Tigers had scored in one of their last 30 innings. They were trailing 3-0 in an elimination game. They were plunging into winter without a whimper.
"When I tied the game, the team looked so different," Peralta said. "They looked excited. It gave a lot of emotion to the team. After that, we never stopped."
Beginning with Peralta's homer, the Tigers outscored the A's, 11-3, for the remainder of the series. His first time up after the homer, Peralta delivered the double that led to the run that put the Tigers ahead to stay in Game 4.
Peralta said he took batting practice against a pitcher only a few times in the weeks that he was away from the Tigers during his 50-game suspension. He also hit in a batting cage against a pitching machine. He returned just in time for the playoffs and has resumed hitting with the same extra-base authority as just before he was suspended. He didn't get stale. "My swing is natural," he concluded.
Thus Peralta, the newest of Fenway left fielders, appears to be layoff-proof in the spirit of the greatest player ever to play left field there, Ted Williams, who would be absent for weeks or months with injuries and who missed three entire consecutive seasons to serve in World War II.
"Yet he always came back, and always looked like himself," wrote John Updike in "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," his indelible 1960 essay on Williams. "The delicate mechanism of timing and power seemed locked, shockproof, in some case outside his body."
At some point during Peralta's exile, general manager Dave Dombrowski considered reinstating him for the playoffs.
"What would you think of him playing left field?" Dombrowski asked his field staff. He asked Peralta the same question. When Peralta quickly said yes -- he was eager to return -- he then rejoined the Tigers and began working out in left field, all new territory to him.
Peralta didn't play in left in the first two games against Oakland. With the Tigers offense bogged down, Leyland put Peralta in left field for Game 3. He delivered a two-run single. It was his first start in left in a game that meant anything.
So here is now, less than a week later, dealing with left field and its big green wall.
An instrument of good or bad?
The wall can cause havoc for a left fielder who is new to it and who doesn't know how to play the caroms of the balls that hit 20 or 30 feet up. The most classic scene of disarray comes when a left fielder is chasing the ball back toward the infield.
"But I think Jhonny playing left field there -- if that's what Jim (Leyland) decides to do -- it will be OK," Brookens said. "It will actually help us."
Peralta has played only a handful of games in left field. But the Tigers obviously need his bat in the lineup somewhere. That will be left field, since Leyland has Jose Iglesias at shortstop. (In his Tigers' debut in 2010, Peralta hit homers over the Green Monster against Jon Lester, who will pitch Game 1 for Boston on Saturday night.)
Iglesias played games at shortstop in Fenway Park while with the Red Sox. He knows how a shortstop has to dart out into left field and back up the left fielder on balls that come off the Monster.
"That's true," Peralta said. "Iglesias has played over there, so he knows what's going on."
A Boston columnist once wrote that Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski played the Monster and all its quirks as if it were a grand piano. But Peralta's venture into the Monster's realm brings to mind another musical instrument.
Soon after Johannes Brahms unveiled his violin concerto in 1879, one disgruntled violinist didn't grasp its magnificence. He dismissed the masterpiece by saying, "It's a concerto against the violin, not for it."
Maybe Peralta and the Monster will be the reverse of that statement. It might seem the big wall will be against him -- or he'll be against it, watching the ball roll back toward the infield. But perhaps Boston's big wall will become an instrument in the Tigers' favor.
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