BOSTON -- A few weeks ago, Jhonny Peralta wasn't sure if he'd ever play another game in a Tigers uniform. He was serving a 50-game suspension for his link to the Biogenesis scandal, his team had found its long-term shortstop in Jose Iglesias and Peralta -- a walking free agent -- was back in Florida, getting reps in left field on the off chance that he'd actually be activated again.
Now, with his team three wins away from a second straight trip to the World Series, Peralta has become the most integral offensive weapon on a Tigers team that has been starved for offense in these playoffs.
On Saturday night, in Game 1 of what figures to be a tight American League Championship Series from Fenway Park, Peralta -- starting only his seventh Major League game since being suspended 70 days ago -- provided the only run, his two-out single in the top of the sixth driving in Miguel Cabrera in the 1-0 victory that saw Anibal Sanchez and four relievers limit the Red Sox to one hit.
After going 3-for-4 with two doubles, the 31-year-old has eight hits and a team-high six RBIs in 16 postseason at-bats.
"I try to be positive and try to help our team and try to win games every day," Peralta said. "That's what I want to do more than anything. That's what I said to [Dave] Dombrowski, who gave me the opportunity to be here."
The Tigers could've pulled a Melky Cabrera, a la the 2012 Giants, and left Peralta off their playoff roster after he accepted his suspension. Through it all, though, he's been the anti-Alex Rodriguez, adored by his home fans and flying mostly under the radar as he prepared for the possibility of getting another chance in 2013.
On July 30, the Tigers were involved in a three-team trade to acquire Peralta's future replacement, Iglesias, from the Red Sox. Five days later, Peralta's suspension was official.
He went back to his Cleveland home for a week, flew to his native Dominican Republic to stay in shape and rejoined his team for workouts on Sept. 11. Peralta couldn't go down to the Minor Leagues because the Tigers' affiliates had finished their seasons. He went to the instructional league in Florida on Sept. 18, but rain limited his activity. And when he was finally added to the roster on Sept. 27, for a season-ending three-game series in Miami, Peralta had hardly seen a live pitch.
"In the Dominican Republic, I tried to work hard every day over there," Peralta said. "They called me, and they gave me the opportunity to be here, so I tried to work hard every day. I go to Florida for one week, working with the hitting coach over there. And that's what I tried to do more than anything -- prepare to be in the playoffs."
For Game 3 of the AL Division Series, after the Tigers went 17 straight innings without scoring a run, manager Jim Leyland gave Peralta his first postseason start in left field, and Peralta rewarded him with a two-run double in a 6-3 loss. As the left fielder again in Game 4, he hit the three-run homer that tied the game in the fifth and led to an 8-6 win. And in the decisive Game 5, Peralta made a surprising start at shortstop and went 2-for-4 in a Justin Verlander-dominated victory.
Starting him in left field for the opener of the next round became a no-brainer for Leyland, no matter how tricky that Green Monster can be.
"He's got to play," Leyland said. "He's got six RBIs in just a few games in the playoffs. Offensively, he's done exactly what we hoped he would do. He's done OK in left field; had one ball [on Saturday] and caught it. As a manager, if you're not willing to give up something to get something, then you shouldn't play him. But I wouldn't do that. If something happened bad in the outfield, then you take your criticism like a man. But the fact of the matter is, you have to give up something to get something."
The backlash over being linked to Biogenesis had mostly eluded Peralta, until he led off the second inning and 38,210 Red Sox fans greeted him with chants of "Ste-roids! Ste-roids! Ste-roids!"
Peralta ignored them -- and kept producing.
"Having to face that hasn't been easy, but I have to concentrate every day on the field," he said in Spanish. "I try not to listen to what other people say. I try to concentrate every day here and do my job. That's why I'm here."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less