MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 25: Andy Dirks #12 of the Detroit Tigers congratulates Alex Avila #13 on scoring against the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning on May 25, 2012 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Drew Smyly won his 2nd game of the season for the Tigers, his record now 2-1. Making his first start since April 19th, Twins' starter Anthony Swarzak fell to 0-4 on the year. Alex Avila led the Tigers' not offensive offense with a pair of doubles and 3 RBI, Brennan Boesch and Prince Fielder each added 3 hits and 2 RBI. Brian Dozier and Jamey Carroll had 2 RBI apiece for the Twins.
Early on, it was deja vu all over again for the Tigers.
In the 1st inning, Miguel Cabrera grounded into a 6-4-3 double play after Andy Dirks singled. It was double play number 42 for Tigers. They entered the game fifth in the AL, behind the Orioles 50), Twins (49), Yankees (42) and Blue Jays (42).
The Twins scored 2 in the their half of the 1st off of Jhonny Peralta. Yes, Peralta. With Twins on 1st and 2nd, Joe Mauer grounded what should have been a tailor made double play ball to Peralta. He got the out at 2nd, but threw wild high, pulling Fielder off the bag. The Twins then loaded the bases, but Justin Moureau's soft liner to short should have ended the inning. Instead, it was only the 2nd out. The inning extended with bad defense, Brian Dozier lined a double to left, giving the Twins a 2-1 lead.
Smyly, who is on pitch count of 100 pitches, ended up with a 30 pitch inning thanks to the silly defensive shenanigans. All Tigers fans had to be thinking, "Here we go again..."
But the Tigers offense proceeded to...not sputter, but explode!
Fielder led off the 2nd with a single. Delmon Young's single set the table for Boesch. Boesch just missed going yard, doubling off the wall in right center, Fielder rumbling home. But Peralta weakly fouled out, and the cries of "Here comes the squander" could be heard through Tigers Nation. But Alex Avila followed with what may have been best at bat of the season
Immediately falling behind in the count 0-2, Avila stretched the at bat to 10 pitches.The 10th he lined for a 2 RBI ground rule double to left center, giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead. It was a marvelous plate appearance, and sparked a dormant Tigers offense. With 2 out, Berry singled just inside the bag at 3rd, Avila scoring. Aggressively running the bases, Berry was out at 2nd (though replays show he beat the tag). What looked to be a 1 run inning turned in a 4 run rally and a 4-2 Tigers lead.
In the 2nd, Tigers were 3-for-5 with runners in scoring position. In the Cleveland series, they were 3-for-28. Things change...
In the 4th, the offensive explosion continued. Boesch again just missed a home run, doubling high off the right field wall. With 1 out, Avila drilled an RBI ground rule double to left, Boesch strolling home. Ryan Raburn singled Avila home, the Tigers up 6-2. Rabun's hit sent Swarzak to the showers, charged with 6 runs and 9 hits in 3 2/3 innings.
The Twins nicked Smyly for a run in the 4th, but the Tigers got the run right back. Cabrera singled, then stole 2nd after being allowed to get a ridiculously massive jump. Fielder doubled Cabrera home to up the Tigers' lead to 7-3.
What do the numbers 30, 18, 19, 11, 6 signify? Smyly's pitch counts per inning through 5. Smyly had retired 11 of 12, but you could tack on just 4 more pitches. Jim Leyland did his best Sparky "Captain Hook" Anderson initiation, yanking Smyly after Morneau singled to lead off the 6th.
Brayan Villarreal took over, and quickly induced a double play ball from Dozier. What should've been a 1-6-3 double play...wasn't. Villarreal's throw to 2nd was wild, both runners safe. So Villarreal got another double play ball off the bat of Plouffe. No problem, right? Wrong. What looked to be a 3-6-1 double play...wasn't. The umpire ruled Villarreal didn't keep his foot on the bag. Replays showed Villarreal may have had his foot on the edge of the bag. But he made the mistake of stabbing at the bag twice, convincing the ump otherwise. Tigers fans wanted to get stabby themselves, as the Twins ended up with a gift run. Alexi Casilla's sac fly brought home Morneau.
But Villarreal just kept on giving. He threw a pick off attempt into right field, Plouffe advancing to 2nd. He scored on Jamey Carroll's single to center, Carroll going to 2nd when Berry's throw hit the mound, bouncing wildly behind the plate. Phil Coke had to bail out Villarreal and end the inning.
What had been a relatively comfortable 7-3 lead was suddenly 7-5, thanks to a comedy of errors and mistakes. The inning totals: 3 pitchers, 2 runs, 2 botched double plays, 2 errors, 1 questionable umpire call. I'm surprised it wasn't worse, to be honest.
After the cluster that was the 6th, the Tigers offense badly needed to counter punch...and they did.
Leading off, Berry bunted his way on. After Dirks failed to move him over (you would think Leyland would realize DIRKS CAN'T BUNT), Berry did so on his own, stealing 2nd. With 1st base open, the Twins walked Cabrera. As was the design before the season, Fielder made them pay, lining a single up the middle. Berry scored standing up. Young kept the rally going with an RBI double to right, Cabrera lumbered home. Boesch's bloop drifted out of reach of Dozier, falling in short left for an RBI single and a 10-5 Tigers lead.
But the Tigers couldn't help but keep the Twins in the game. In the 7th, with 1 out and Mauer on 1st, Josh Willingham hit a foul fly to right. Raburn, now in the outfield for "defense," drew a bead on the foul pop, leaped...and whiffed, the fly dropping behind him. I have no idea on God's green earth what the Hell happened. The at bat extended, Willingham doubled to left, Mauer ending up at 3rd. He then scored on a ground out, keeping the Twins within shouting distance at 10-6.
Despite it being the dreaded non-save situation, a finally healthy Jose Valverde (sporting a reddish blonde goatee, almost as ridiculous as the Tigers' defense) took the mound for the first time since May 15th to close out the Twins. After allowing a lead off double, the Big Potato channeled the power of the goatee to send the Twins down 1-2-3, striking out the final 2 batters. In other words, vintage Valverde.
The losing streak is over. Amazing how much better the Tigers look when they swing the bats as advertised, isn't it?