BOSTON - This series played the maximum number of games (five) possible without a team facing elimination.
Now, with Game 6 set for Fenway Park and an 8:07 p.m. ET first pitch, the Detroit Tigers face the unenviable task of having to beat the Boston Red Sox twice, on the road, to advance to the World Series.
Boston needs one win, either tonight or tomorrow, to punch its ticket to the big dance.
Both clubs have made a habit of appearing in the World Series over the last decade.
Boston has been twice, beating St. Louis in 2004 and Colorado in 2007.
Detroit has been twice, too, but has lost on both occasions, to St. Louis in 2006 and to San Francisco in 2012.
Four of the five games have been decided by one run and there's no reason to believe we won't continue to watch close games between the two best teams in the American League.
GAME SIX PREVIEW:
Tigers RHP Max Scherzer (Regular season: 21-3, 2.90, 0.970 WHIP; Playoffs: 3G/2GS: 2-0, 2.25, 0.875 WHIP in 16IP)
Game 2 vs. Boston: ND, 7 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 13 K, 0.571 WHIP.
Scherzer was dominant a week ago but exited the game after seven innings and 108 pitches. We all know what happened next (Tigers bullpen + Meltdown + David Ortiz grand slam + Jarrod Saltalmacchia walk off = Red Sox win.) When Tigers' manager Jim Leyland was questioned for his decision to remove Scherzer, Scherzer came to his skipper's defense saying he was "spent."
As for a pitch count in Game 6, Scherzer offered this:
"You know how your arm feels within the pitch count, when you reach 80 pitches, 90, 100, 110 pitches. But when you have a win or go home type game, you're going to pitch as long as you can physically execute pitches. I have to be smart enough to know when that limit is. That won't be a number. That will be something I'll be able to tell Skip when I have reached that limit."
Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit, who's given up a run in each of his last two appearances in this series (Ortiz grand slam included,) says he isn't spooked by the Red Sox and remains confident in himself and the entire bullpen.
"I think everybody has contributed and I think we going to be all right. I think we got a great group of guys and we have come in and out of tough situations pretty good."
LINEUP CONSIDERATIONS: Miguel Cabrera, who in Game 5 made a base running mistake resulting in him being thrown out at home, committed a costly error at third base and who grounded into a double play with runners at the corners and nobody out to quash a seventh inning threat as Detroit was attempting a comeback, will continue to play through the groin/leg injury which has rendered him limited.
Cabrera has only two home runs in the playoffs but one came off Boston's Game 6 starter, Clay Buchholz, in Game 2.
Both home runs, the other off Oakland's Sonny Gray in Game 5 of the ALDS, were mistake pitches left up in the strike zone, which allowed Cabrera to clear his hips through the ball and drive it out to left field.
The injury has rendered Cabrera unable to drive the ball to the opposite field. As long as Buchholz pounds the outer half of the strike zone, even cheats an inch or two off the plate and doesn't make a mistake, he should be able to contain Cabrera as a power threat.
Meantime, Prince Fielder is still looking for his first RBI of this postseason. He heard boos from the hometown crowd after grounding out to end the eighth inning of Game 5.
Catcher Alex Avila, who fouled a ball off his right foot in Game 4 and left Game 5 with a strained tendon in his left knee following a home plate collision with David Ross, is questionable for Game 6.
Jose Iglesias will get the start at shortstop. Jhonny Peralta will be bumped to left field, his bat too valuable to remove from the lineup.
Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz (Regular season: 12-1, 1.74, 1.025 WHIP; Playoffs: 0-0, 6.17, 1.542 WHIP in 11.2IP)
Game 2 vs. Detroit: ND, 5.2 IP, 5 ER, 8 H, 0 BB, 6K, 1WP, 1HBP, 1.141 WHIP.
Buchholz seemed to hit the proverbial wall in the sixth inning of Game 2. Through five innings, he'd held the Tigers to a run on three hits. But, after retiring Torii Hunter to lead off the sixth, he hung a curveball to Miguel Cabrera, who promptly deposited the pitch over the Green Monster. Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez followed with doubles and, two hitters later, Alex Avila hit a two-run home run. After Omar Infante singled, Red Sox manager John Farrell came to get Buchholz.
Farrell showed in Game 5 his willingness to go to his three best relievers for extended work. He yanked Jon Lester after only 5 1/3 innings and relied on right-hander Junichi Tazawa, left-hander Craig Breslow and right-handed closer Koji Uehara to record the game's final 11 outs.
Farrell knew he had an off day before Game 6, so he leaned heavily on the three he trusts most out of his bullpen. Will he have a quick trigger for Buchholz if a similar situation crops up on Saturday night? Detroit's the team in the must-win situation but Boston surely doesn't want the prospect of facing Justin Verlander in a winner-take-all Game 7.
Manage with the intention of winning Game 6 and worry about the ramifications of Game 7 later, I say.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia will draw back in at catcher.
Xander Bogaerts will make his second consecutive start at third base. Will Middlebrooks will be on the bench.
GAME SIX PREDICTION:
From the beginning, this series had seven games written all over it and it has shaped up to be a series we'll talk about for a long time.
Scherzer outduels Buchholz and the Tigers score enough to give their rickety bullpen some wiggle room late in the game.
The Tigers win, 5-3, and we play a seventh game on Sunday night at Fenway Park.