Gamble on Peralta pays off for Tigers in Game 3
Shortstop-turned-left fielder handles himself in field, drives in two runs
DETROIT -- Scoreless game, top of the second, runner on first, nobody out. That's when the moment that Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew would make him hold his breath happened.
Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick went the opposite way on a pitch from Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez and lifted a long fly to left. Jhonny Peralta turned one way. Then he turned the other way. Back, back, back...
Peralta was in the Tigers' lineup for his bat. And, as Leyland admitted before the game, "You have to live with what could happen defensively."
Peralta is, after all, a shortstop by trade. But when he sat out 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy, the team went out and got Jose Iglesias to play that position. When Peralta came back, after some at-bats in the instructional league in Florida and a cameo appearance the last weekend of the regular season, it was as an outfielder.
Peralta went to the warning track for the second-inning fly ball, back-pedaled a couple steps and made the catch.
All things considered, that roll of the dice paid off in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Monday at Comerica Park. The Tigers lost, 6-3. But Peralta came through with a big base hit to drive in two of Detroit's runs in the fourth.
"He did fine," Leyland said after the game. "He knocked in two runs. That's why we put him out there, hoping we would get a little punch. And he did that to tie the game up. And he did fine in the outfield.
"When you put a guy out there who hasn't been out there, you're saying you're willing to accept what you get defensively for what you might get offensively. And, in this game, Jhonny got us a hit that gave us two runs. That's as simple as it is. There's no tricks to it. You know you're risking that when you put a guy out there who hasn't been there before. But at the same time, you're getting the bat in there."
Prince Fielder was impressed.
"I thought he did good. He caught the balls that were hit to him. That's all he can do," the first baseman said.
Right fielder Torii Hunter conceded that he had a moment of doubt as the ball left Reddick's bat.
"In the second inning, I said, 'Here we go,'" Hunter said with a laugh. "But he was able to turn himself around with some good footwork and made a pretty good catch. Jhonny did a pretty good job. He's a shortstop. Shortstops can play anywhere. They're good athletes."
The only time it might have been noticeable that he was playing out of position came in the top of the fourth, when Oakland had catcher Stephen Vogt on third with one out. Coco Crisp hit a fly ball to left, not that deep. Peralta made the catch without a hitch but his throw was off line, and Vogt was able to tag up and score easily.
Asked about that throw, Hunter deflected it with humor.
"Um, uh. Do you want to ask Jhonny that? All I know is, uh ... I don't want to talk about that one," he said, laughing again.
It can't be assumed, of course, that even an experienced left fielder would have thrown Vogt out. So, on balance, Peralta accounted for more runs than he might have let in. Putting him in left may have been a bit of a gamble, but on Monday, at least, it paid off for the Tigers.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.