Twins 3, Tigers 2: Phil Coke blows save, second guessing commences

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

When Phil Coke faces right-handed bats, it rarely ends well. It didn't today.

The Tigers' bullpen by committee experiment hits the first speed bump of the season, Phil Coke blowing the save when the Twins rally for two runs in bottom of 9th for a 3-2 come-from-behind victory.

Closer Glen Perkins pitched the 9th inning for the Twins, picking up the victory. Kevin Correia pitched seven innings, allowing both Tigers runs. Anibal Sanchez tossed five scoreless innings in his first start for the Tigers. Coke takes both the loss and credited with a blown save.

Eduardo Escobar drove in the game-winning runs with a two-RBI double. Miguel Cabrera led the Tigers with two hits and two RBI.

The game was in the Tigers' hands all afternoon long. But they failed to capitalize on their few offensive opportunities, the defensive miscues returned en masse and a nightmare bottom of the 9th allowed to Twins to wins in the Twins way - painful to watch fashion.

Struggling with command early, Sanchez had a 26 pitch 1st inning, walking two. But with a runner in scoring position, a two out 6-3 ground out by Ryan Doumit got the Marlins ex-pat out of trouble.

Sanchez settled down after the long 1st inning, the next six Twins going down in order.

The Tigers scored first, thanks to what is proving to be a dynamic duo at the top of the order, Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter. Jackson worked a ten pitch walk with two out in the 3rd inning. Hunter kept the inning alive by singling to right, Jackson moving into scoring position. Miguel Cabrera's seeing eye RBI single between Pedro Florimon and Trevor Plouffe gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

The Tigers' much and deservedly maligned defense extended the 4th inning for Sanchez. With runners on 1st and 2nd, Sanchez got a double play ball off the bat of Trevor Plouffe. Jhonny Peralta made a nice feed to Omar Infante for the force, but Infante's throw was in the dirt, Prince Fielder unable to pick it.

Instead of inning over, the Twins had runners on 1st and 3rd with Chris Parmelee at the plate. Sanchez took the defense out of the equation, striking out Parmelee looking on a chest-high fastball.

The Tigers added to their lead in the 5th. Infante singled with one out, Hunter followed with his second single. Infante advanced to 3rd, setting the table for Cabrera. The reigning AL MVP knocked in his second run of the game, looping a single off the end of the bat. Infante walked home to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.

Sanchez was pulled after 95 pitches and five solid innings. For the second straight game, the bullpen would be asked to make a 12 out appearance.

Coming off a strong spring training and asked to do more than get left-handed bats out, lefty bullpen committee member Darin Downs made his season debut on the mound.in the top of the 6th.

Downs was on his game, as was his breaking ball, striking out two on the right side of the plate in a 1-2-3 inning. What a difference one day makes in middle relief.

Still mixing and matching his relievers, Jim Leyland had Downs start the 7th inning. After walking the lead off man, Plouffe, Downs struck out Parmelee looking.

Out went Downs, in came...no, not Octavio Dotel. Leyland called on bullpen committee member Brayan Villarreal to face the right-hand hitting bottom of the Twins' order.

But the Twins made it game, thanks to the damned "Twins Hit."

Villarreal stuck out Brian Dozier for the second out. The Tigers had a chance to end the inning with a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play, but Alex Avila dropped Villarreal's pitch, Plouffe stealing 2nd. He would score when pinch hitter Wilkin Ramirez cued a ball just inside 1st base for an RBI double.

With Ramirez in scoring position, Villarreal struck out Aaron Hicks to get out of the inning, the Tigers still leading 2-1.

Bullpen committee member Joaquin Benoit started the 8th. After Mauer bounced out, Benoit was up 0-2 on Willingham...and walked him. But consecutive ground ball outs from Morneau and Doumit (with Willingham in scoring position) kept the game 2-1 Tigers.

It would be 9th inning Opening Day deja vu, Leyland using both Benoit and Phil Coke. Benoit started the inning after being forced to clip his fingernails on the mound by the umpire. Unlike Opening Day, he walked the lead off man, Plouffe.

Bullpen committee member Phil Coke would go for his second save of the young season, replacing Benoit. Despite his not-good career splits against right-hand hitting, Coke would be asked to get at least two right-hand batters out.

Left-hand hitting Parmalee harmlessly flew out. Then the bullpen by committee experiment hit its first controversy.

Right-hand hitting Dozier singled, pinch-runner Jamey Carroll sprinted to 3rd.

Batting from the right-side, switch-hitting shortstop Eduardo Escobar, and his career .259 SLG, drilled a fly ball deep to the left center warning track. But what looked like a game-tying sacrifice fly turned into a game-winning extra base hit when Dirks and Jackson didn't communicate. causing Jackson to pull up, the ball landing at the base of the wall for a two RBI double.

Game over.

The Tigers' defense showed what all knew; its remains, well, not good. There was a blown double play to extend an inning. Avila allowed a stolen base when he dropped the ball, the runner ultimately scoring. Most unexpectedly, Jackson and Dirks allowing a catchable fly ball to drop for a game-winning hit.

The middle of the order did not do their job. The four through seven hitters combined to go 0-16. Two runs isn't going to cut it against anyone, even the lowly Twins.

WALKS ARE EVIL. LEAD OFF WALKS ARE THE TOOL OF THE DEVIL. Tigers pitching combined for six base on balls.

If Leyland is going to forced to use a bullpen by committee, he needs to put his relievers in a position to succeed. Using Coke against right-hand bats? That's not putting your player in a position to succeed.

But remember, it's just one game, played in miserably cold weather. The Tigers are still going to win far more than they lose. And we knew there would be games like this when Bruce Rondon flamed out in spring training.

Regardless it only being two games into the season, let the second guessing of Jim Leyland, and for that matter, Dave Dombrowski, begin.

This pretty much says it all.
Source: FanGraphs

BULLETS:

It was a good 20 degrees warmer in Minneapolis this afternoon compared to Opening Day. Prince Fielder ditched the completely covered head look. It rook until the 8th inning for the ski mask to be broken out, by Infante.

Austin Jackson, professional lead off man. He singled in the 1st, but more telling was his 3rd inning base on balls. It was a wonderful ten pitch battle with Correia, Jackson coming out the victor. The at-bat set the table for the Tigers' first run.

Miguel Cabrera will not go 0 for the season. His first hit of the season was of the seeing eye variety, but it looks like a line shot in the box score.

Most retro walk up music on the day goes to Josh Willingham: The Outfield, "Your Love."

After Andy Dirks nearly ended up in the left field seats chasing a foul pop, Rod Allen said The Neck plays the game like Darin Erstad and Grady Sizemore. I only hope Dirks is better than Erstad and healthier than Sizemore.

Sanchez had a no-hitter in play until Justin Morneau's 4th inning single. Hey, it could happen!

Spring has truly returned. Robins have returned, the snow is gone, the Tigers butcher a double play.

The Tigers continued with the aggressive base running we saw on Opening Day. On Cabrera's 5th inning RBI single, Hunter tried to run on the Twins' right fielder, Parmalee. It took a prefect throw from Parmalee to nail him.

The Tigers' pen started warming up as Sanchez, just like Justin Verlander on Monday, reached the 90 pitch mark in the 5th inning. The Tigers have been pitch count hawks in the early spring Minnesota cold. Considering the money currently invested in the rotation and a long, long season ahead, I can't blame them.

Tigers' starting pitching ERA in ten innings: Zero point zero zero.

For the second consecutive game, the Twins' starter was more efficient, pitching deeper into the game than the Tigers' starter. But it was Verlander and Sanchez, not Vance Worley and Correia, putting donuts on the scoreboard.

FSD quote of the day: Mario: "If it's free, it's for me." Rod: "And I’ll take three!" That's good advice, thanks big fella!

Twins announced attendance was 22,963. It's the smallest crowd in Target Field history. Seems the new stadium smell has worn off.

High on the list of rough introductions to the major leagues is the Twins' rookie lead off man, Aaron Hicks. He's 0-7 with five strike outs and a walk against Tigers pitching.

Both @PhilCokesBrain (3rd inning, "Prince is going to go yard here.") and Mario Impemba (8th inning "I'm calling it!") predicted a Fielder home runs. Unable to deal with such high profile pressure, the big man grounded out to 1st and stuck out swinging.

Bad pun of the day belongs to @BlessYouBoys: "Didn't take long for a closer by Cokemmittee"

First Phil Coke finger point of the season: 9th inning of game two, fly ball to right off the bat of Parmelee.

First blown save of the season: Coke, game two.

THREE ROARS:

Anibal Sanchez - 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K, 95 pitches: An extended 1st inning elevated Sanchez's pitch count, ending his day early. But I'll happily take five shutout innings from Sanchez in his first start of the season

Miguel Cabrera: 2-4, 2 RBI: Miggy WAS the offense.

Middle relief: Darin Downs and Brayan Villarreal pitched very well, and into a little bad luck.

THREE HISSES:

Middle of the order: Fielder, Martinez, Dirks and Peralta were hitless in 16 at bats.

Phil Coke - 1/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R: Closers get all the glory. They also get all the blame when things go south.

Jim Leyland: In case the manager needs to be reminded, these are Coke's numbers against right-hand hitters in his career - .299/.370/.431, .801 OPS

GAME ONE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Five shutout innings was enough to give Justin Verlander the first of what should be several BYB player of the game honors.

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