10/18/2013 5:41 P.M. ET
Peralta's production only surprising part of his return
Shortstop-turned-outfielder shows no signs of rust after serving 50-game suspension
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
DETROIT -- The guys on the Red Sox grit their teeth when he comes to the plate and rips a base hit, and that has happened surprisingly often in this American League Championship Series.
This is not an opinion expressed publicly, because a couple months back, when Jonny Gomes and John Lackey voiced displeasure over Alex Rodriguez's ability to play while appealing his 211-game suspension, they caught a lot of flak. There is such a thing as due process in this country, and that's a fact Gomes and Lackey were thoroughly reminded of in the wake of their A-Rod comments.
Ask around, however, and the reports about some consternation and frustration on the part of the Red Sox while watching Jhonny Peralta at the plate this postseason are true. There is, indeed, a sentiment among some that Peralta has no business playing a part in the postseason in the near-immediate wake of the 50-game suspension he served for violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
To this notion, though, Peralta provides a voice of reason.
"There's nothing they can say," he said. "That's how the rules are. The rule is that I can come back here, so there's nothing for me to worry about, what other players are saying."
Those players all serve under the same binding collective bargaining agreement, after all, so any displeasure over Peralta's playing time is purely pointless.
Now, Peralta's situation might very well prove to be a talking point should the league and the union revisit the penalty structure for offenders of the drug program. Several players, including Peralta's teammate, Max Scherzer, have indicated an increasing willingness on the part of the players to stiffen that structure.
But that's another topic for another day.
In the here and now, Peralta is a man who served his time under the terms of his negotiated suspension -- remember, he didn't fail a drug test, but his name appeared in documents from the Biogenesis clinic -- and was welcomed back into the Detroit dugout because of the teammate he is and the performance he can provide.
Realistically, though, the Tigers could not possibly have envisioned that performance would be this impactful after so much time away.
Through nine games in the Division Series and LCS, Peralta is batting .367 with a homer, four doubles and six RBIs. Other than Victor Martinez, he's been the Tigers' most consistent hitter.
That's a strong showing in any small sample, but it's especially prominent given the strength of the pitching we've seen this month. It has been timely for the Tigers and timely for Peralta, a pending free agent.
"I don't know how this is happening," manager Jim Leyland said. "The thing that's surprised me is the timing he's had at the plate has been so good. He got very few at-bats in the instructional league, which is where we sent him to work out and play a little bit. His timing offensively has been so good."
Perhaps the output ought not be a total shock. Peralta had a solid .816 OPS with seven homers and 18 RBIs in his first 35 career postseason games. Far from an emotive player, Peralta's calmness has often been mistaken for disinterest from critical fans, but it's his steady heartbeat that is a strength in this setting.
Desperate for any kind of offensive strength from left field, the Tigers took the bold step of placing Peralta in that position after a brief trial period in instructs.
Suffice to say that hasn't always been the smoothest experiment, as evidenced by the two fly balls Peralta misplayed in Game 5 at Comerica Park. But the Tigers, frankly, will take the trade.
What seems strange, in hindsight, was that there was any debate whatsoever over Peralta returning to the Tigers' active roster. Knowing his name was linked to Biogenesis and bracing themselves for a suspension that seemed inevitable, the Tigers traded for his immediate and long-term replacement at short, Jose Iglesias.
"I know they needed to do something," Peralta said. "They needed to bring in somebody, and the decision was to bring in Iglesias. It was the best decision for them."
The Peralta decision was trickier. The Tigers knew this wasn't a Melky Cabrera-like situation, in which the suspended slugger immediately became persona non grata in the Giants' clubhouse. But they didn't know whether a guy who missed such a significant stretch of the season would be worth thrusting back in the lineup when he became eligible for reinstatement for the last series of the regular season.
Peralta, though, did what he could to stay sharp in his native Dominican Republic, hitting the field with a couple of friends, fielding grounders, taking swings. When he got the call to meet the club in Chicago and start working out with the Tigers pregame (under the terms of his suspension, he was allowed in uniform until the gates were opened), he was shocked to learn they wanted to try him out in left, but he was willing to give it a shot.
Here in October, Leyland has made Peralta a constant in the middle of the order, bouncing him between left and short, depending on the matchup. Peralta certainly doesn't expect his newfound "versatility" to play much of a part in his free-agent pursuits -- in fact, he acknowledges that his future might be back at third base, where the Indians employed him in the final season of his Cleveland tenure -- but he views what's happened here these last few weeks as a rebirth, of sorts.
"I have a new life," he said. "A new opportunity for me is important. Detroit gave me the opportunity to be back here, and I appreciate everything."
But this wouldn't have happened if his Tigers teammates didn't buy in. Peralta addressed them collectively upon his return, and he also made a point of speaking to a select few players one on one; it would not be a surprise if Scherzer, an outspoken critic of drug cheats, was involved in one of the latter conversations.
"Everybody welcomed him back," Ramon Santiago said. "That doesn't happen everywhere, but we've got a good clubhouse. Everybody welcomed him back, and that was a key. Torii [Hunter] made a good point. He said, 'He paid his dues, so we've got to forgive people.' That's the way this country goes."
Alas, not everybody looks at it that way. In Boston, there is certainly some bitterness that Peralta is here on the October stage.
The surprise is that Peralta has provided so much production to be bitter about.