BOSTON - When any high-scoring team struggles in the postseason, a scapegoat will be found.
Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez have experienced it in recent years, drawing the ire of Yankees fans for poor October performances. The same goes for Nick Swisher, now with the Indians.
These days, Tigers fans have Prince Fielder in their sights.
They let him have it during Thursday night's 4-3 loss to the Red Sox in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, a game that put their team on the brink of elimination and continued the first baseman's penchant for postseason flops.
And Fielder, who signed a nine-year, $214-million contract with the Tigers before the 2012 season, did not further endear himself to those fans afterward.
"I can't worry about the crowd because if they could do it, they would play, so I'm just trying to hit the ball hard," Fielder said. "It's [the booing] definitely not pleasant, but they're fans. That's what they do. They paid to come."
Fielder is hitting .243 with a .317 OBP, one double and no RBIs in 10 games this postseason, including a 4-for-19 performance this series. In 160 career postseason plate appearances spread over 38 games, Fielder has a slash line of .199/.288/.340 with five homers -- none in his last four postseason series -- and 11 RBIs, none in his last three series.
But the Red Sox are approaching Fielder, a past Home Run Derby champion who had 25 homers and 106 RBIs this season, as a player who can break out at any moment.
"We're just trying not to make too many mistakes to him, knowing that he can be that impact bat," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
Boston leads Detroit three-games to two in an ALCS characterized by razor-thin margins between victory and defeat. Four of the five games have been decided by one run, including all three Red Sox wins, and it's reasonable to assume that with the Tigers' Max Scherzer opposing Clay Buchholz Saturday night, Game 6 will go the same way.
A critical Fielder hit could be the difference between the Tigers playing in a Game 7 -- in which they would have Justin Verlander on the mound against John Lackey -- or taking a quiet flight back to Detroit.
"That's real important for us, no question about it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Fielder getting going. "Sometimes you're just not doing anything wrong. Sometimes you're just not getting to the ball or you're hitting the ball and not having any luck . . . I think he's been a little bit of both. He's hit the ball well sometimes, but probably not often enough."