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Jackson finds top form in unfamiliar spot

Jackson finds top form in unfamiliar spot

Jackson finds top form in unfamiliar spot

DETROIT -- On Wednesday morning, before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson woke up to a text message from hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. The message read that Jackson, bumped down from the spot he occupied for much of this season, wouldn't be leading off in Game 4.

Entering the game -- a 7-3 Detroit win over Boston that evened the ALCS at two games apiece -- Jackson was batting .091 (3-for-33) with 18 strikeouts during the postseason; he was 1-for-13 with five strikeouts in the ALCS. Tigers manager Jim Leyland contemplated benching Jackson, but he instead moved the 26-year-old speedster to eighth in the order.

Despite the shift, Jackson's first plate appearance of the night came in a big spot. With one out in the second inning, Jackson stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. He drew a four-pitch walk, giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

That set the tone for the rest of the night, as Jackson went 2-for-2 with two walks, two RBIs, a run scored and his first stolen base since Sept. 17.

ALDS
"After the walk, it definitely made me relax a little more," Jackson said. "It was a big situation right there to try to get something done, and I think after I'd seen a couple of pitches, I was able to kind of just take some deep breaths and relax a little bit."

It had been awhile since Jackson could relax. During his struggles, fans at Comerica Park booed Jackson, who had to answer questions from the media after each game about when he might turn it around. Even when he received McClendon's text message, Jackson knew it was just a matter of time before something changed.

"Honestly, I really didn't have too much of a reaction," Jackson said. "I know that I've been scuffling this postseason -- it's not a secret -- so I really didn't have too much of a reaction. I was happy that I was still in there."

And he made the most of the opportunity.

"He's still a young guy, but tonight, you could tell he was relaxed and relieved," teammate Torii Hunter said. "He was up four times and had four great at-bats, two walks. If we get Austin Jackson going, we are going to create some havoc."

Despite hitting at the bottom of the order, Jackson remained the Tigers' catalyst. In the Tigers' 93 regular-season wins, he hit .319 and scored 79 runs. In their 69 losses, he hit .195 while only scoring 20 runs.

In his second plate appearance of the night in the fourth inning, following a leadoff double by Omar Infante, Jackson hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who had made a diving play against Jackson earlier in the series. But this one bounced off Pedroia's glove, scoring Infante.

"It was a relief, really, to see that," Jackson said.

A relief that has eluded Jackson for the past two weeks. His teammates tried to encourage him by offering positive messages. Jackson was finally able to overcome his postseason struggles on his own.

"He came out a little bit tonight, and hit the ball hard a couple of times -- really hard," Leyland said of Jackson. "I was thrilled with it."

Jackson's teammates were thrilled as well. Jackson was the first player to hit in the batting cage before Game 4, and he was rewarded.

"It's great because Jackson is a great guy," Ramon Santiago said. "He doesn't get very high or very low; he's always in the middle. That helps him to come back. He's having a tough playoffs so far, but today he was relaxed and had a perfect day at the plate. I'm so happy for him because I know what he's going through."

Jackson may have saved the Tigers' season with a broken-bat go-ahead single in Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Oakland. On Wednesday, he was back to producing, helping the Tigers even the ALCS.

While Jackson may not have been in his typical spot at the top of the lineup, he was finally back to where he wanted to be.

"It felt good to contribute to a win," Jackson said, "and just relax, really -- just get a chance to go out there and not put so much pressure on yourself, just have fun and relax and just play the game like you know how."

Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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