Red Sox fired up to feast on October

BOSTON -- Apparently, you folks anticipating the onset of winter have it all wrong, those of you who stashed your grills in the garage, emptied the propane tanks, hung up your tongs and spatulas and two-pronged forks, and folded up the umbrella over the picnic table.

At David Ortiz's house, barbecue season has just begun. The man they call Big Papi was out there grilling last week before the Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series, and again Thursday, two nights before the Sox open the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday at Fenway Park.

"And everybody showed up," said pitcher Ryan Dempster, noting that Ortiz's invitation list consisted of the Sox roster, plus wives, kids and significant others. "They're not showing up out of a feeling of guilt. It's because it's a fun time -- we truly enjoy hanging out with each other. Our off days, we don't spend them away from each other, we spend them with each other.

"It's like nothing I've been around, and I've been on some great teams."

We should note, as catcher David Ross pointed out, that Big Papi didn't actually grill himself. There were chefs on duty. "It's like with me," Ross said. "If I have a plumbing problem, I call a plumber.

"David sticks to what he does best. That's hitting."

The suspicion here is that Ortiz has at least two other cookouts tentatively scheduled: one for after the ALCS, and one to celebrate the outcome of the World Series.

But the weather doesn't pose the only threat to Ortiz's social calendar. There are potential party crashers to contend with in the Tigers, the defending American League champions who were swept four straight in the World Series by the San Francisco Giants and are hungry to return to the Series for the third time in the past eight seasons, this time to finish the job.

"I will say this, we were embarrassed last year in the World Series," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said Friday. "When you lose four straight it's not good. We'd like to stretch it out a little bit."

The Tigers are back by following the same script they did last season in the ALDS, eliminating the Oakland Athletics in five games, with Justin Verlander throttling Oakland in Game 5 just like he did a year ago.

"Like I said in Oakland yesterday, we were just trying to get to the final four," Leyland said. "It's almost like the basketball tournament. We're in the final four. And we'll see what happens."

The presence of the Tigers here makes for the entirely unappetizing prospect of facing monster masher Miguel Cabrera (Ross: "The best right-handed hitter on the planet") and a rotation that features the majors' leading winner in Max Scherzer, the 29-year-old right-hander who went 21-3 and is a virtual lock to win the AL Cy Young Award, and Verlander, who in his past four starts, including two in the postseason, has not allowed a run in 27 innings, while striking out 43 and walking six.

Scherzer, who pitched out of the bullpen to bail out the Tigers in Game 4, will pitch Game 2 and Verlander Game 3. Right-hander Anibal Sanchez, the former Sox prospect who has a no-hitter on his résumé and this season had the league's lowest ERA (2.57), is scheduled to pitch Game 1.

The Tigers' rotation, which also will include 14-game winner Doug Fister in Game 4, had the league's best ERA (3.44), which underscores the challenge facing the Red Sox's lineup. Daunting? Sure. But the Sox just finished polishing off the Rays and a starting staff that included David Price, last year's Cy Young Award winner.

"Everyone in the Tigers' starting rotation has a loss, you know," said Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes. "Everyone in that starting rotation has given up homers. Everyone in that starting rotation just about has a shutout. All that says, is it possible to beat them? Anything's possible.

"Can you knock out David Price and Matt Moore back to back? Yeah. Can they throw shutouts back to back? Yeah. The playoffs are all about exposure and mistakes. I feel comfortable about our lineup. We don't sit back and wait on the home run. We don't just bunt and hit and run and manufacture runs that way. We've got a lot of ways to win."

Verlander, who faced the Sox only once this season and lasted just five innings, throwing 112 pitches while allowing four earned runs in a game the Tigers won 7-5, gave the Sox their due Friday.

"One through nine, they have a professional lineup," he said. "Obviously, they have superstars mixed in with guys that have had fantastic years, guys that just know how to play the game and how to have professional at-bats. They don't give away anything when they're at the plate. It makes you really work as a pitcher. You get your young lineups sometimes, they'll chase bad pitches the whole game. These guys don't do that, it makes you work.

"It can be very frustrating. I think the way to combat that is just pound the strike zone. Be aggressive in the strike zone, make those guys swing the bats."

And for all the praise being heaped on the Tigers' starters, Sox pitcher John Lackey, scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Detroit, issued a little reminder.

"We definitely take pride in our abilities," Lackey said. "We're still playing too for a reason. Let's see what happens."

No Sox pitcher is downplaying the challenge of facing Cabrera, last year's Triple Crown winner who had homered just once in his past 29 games before hitting a two-run home run off Oakland's Sonny Gray that proved decisive in Game 5. Even if he has been hampered for weeks by what GM Dave Dombrowski called a groin issue when the Tigers were here last month.

"Miguel Cabrera is too good a player to say he's hurt, we're going to throw him away, away, away," said Jake Peavy, who will start Game 4 for the Sox and saw more of Cabrera than anyone on the Sox's staff, having played in the AL Central for the White Sox. "If you don't think he can slap singles and doubles the other way, you're kidding yourself.

"Miguel's the best hitter in the game. You've got to mix him up, you can't pitch him just one way. It doesn't matter if he's standing there on one leg."

Injury, schminjury, Gomes said.

"Miggy's something else, he truly is.

"I got a chance to come up and watch Manny [Ramirez] from the other side. I went over to the NL and watched [Albert] Pujols. I came up in the minor leagues with [Cabrera]. I'm not buying into it.

"He could be faking an injury, so he could get one down the middle. He's on Planet Miggy. It's not like our reports going into the game are, 'Miggy's hurt, throw one down the middle and hope he pops up.' We're treating him just like his résumé demands, with respect."

That applies to everyone, Peavy said, with that classic Olde English "D" on their uniform.

"We're trying to knock these guys off," he said. "These guys are the defending AL champions, and that whole team is back, and has added Torii [Hunter]. They're experienced and not overwhelmed, playing here, playing us. It's a huge challenge.

"At the same time, we know we can play with them. We can play any team in baseball on any given day."

And have the barbecue sauce stains to prove it.