Rays 4, Tigers 2: Ninth-inning meltdown costs Detroit, Verlander

April 11, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) in the dugout after being taken out in the top of the ninth inning after letting in three runs against the Tampa Bay Rays at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE


Final - 4.11.2012 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Tampa Bay Rays 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 4 5 0
Detroit Tigers 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 6 0
WP: James Shields (1 - 0)
SV: Fernando Rodney (3)
LP: Justin Verlander (0 - 1)

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It doesn't take one long to figure out who the whipping boys are among Tigers fans: Brandon Inge when he doesn't hit, and Daniel Schlereth when he doesn't get the out. So when Schlereth was called into the game in the ninth inning and didn't immediately put the third out on the board, it wasn't really hard to see what was coming next: the rage of a thousand Tigers fans scorned. (Just look at Twitter if you dare. You probably shouldn't. )


If you want the nuts-and-bolts recap, check out the snap reaction:
Rays 4, Tigers 2


Detroit led Tampa, 2-0, through eight innings. Justin Verlander allowed one hit and one walk. He had a pitch count of 81. Verlander returned to the mound to go for the complete game.

Absolutely the right decision by manager Jim Leyland there. On opening day, Verlander threw 106 pitches at the same point. There was no compelling reason to send him out to the mound in his first game after spring training, knowing that he'd probably hit 120 pitches by the time the game ended. With a much-lower pitch count, the situation was completely different on Wednesday. It just didn't work out.

Verlander allowed three hits and a walk while getting just one out in the top of the ninth. His day ended with a 2-2 tie, two base runners on, no chance at winning the game and in need of help from his bullpen and/or batters to avoid getting tagged with a loss in a game that had began so well.

While things unraveled for Verlander, Schlereth and Jose Valverde warmed up in the bullpen. The latter because he's the closer. The former because Leyland likely wanted someone who could get left-handed batters out. He makes for a good LOOGY. Left-handers don't hit particularly well (.212 BA) nor with particular much power (.151 ISO) -- though like everyone else they let Schlereth beat himself and take a walk. Lefty Matt Joyce was due to hit. Schlereth came out of the bullpen. Switch-hitter Elliot Johnson came up. If Leyland knew the splits, he knew Johnson doesn't bat particularly well against anyone. So it seemed a safe bet to use Schlereth here, even if Valverde would have been a better choice. Schlereth walked him. Bases loaded. Still one out.

Valverde came in to face Ben Zobrist. Valverde got ahead of him at 2-2, but Zobrist took the seventh fastball offering of the at bat up the middle, a bit out of reach of Ramon Santiago, to score two runs. 4-2, Rays. Still one out.

Valverde got out of the inning a few minutes later, but the damage was done. The Tigers went quietly in the ninth off former closer Fernando Rodney.

So I return to Schlereth's role as the whipping boy. It's unfounded. He played a part. But so did the Valverde, who couldn't get out of the inning and allowed two runs. So did Verlander, who though magnificent through eight was anything but dominant in the ninth and allowed four base runners. I don't like this whipping boy business, as a rule, and I especially don't like it when fans aren't even putting the loss on the right shoulders. The loss really isn't the fault of the guy who put one runner on. If you're going to flog Schlereth, flog the rest, too.

In the end, a loss is a loss. It's not that big a deal. It's baseball. Expect, at the minimum, another 60 or so to occur.

3 ROARS

Verlander through eight innings.

Miguel Cabrera's two-hit, one-RBI day

Andy Dirks for 1-for-3 with a balk

3 HISSES

Verlander in the ninth inning

Ninth inning bullpen

People who annoy me

GAME 4 PLAYER OF THE GAME

Voters gave it to Austin Jackson by a narrow margin.

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