The Detroit Tigers woke from a three-game offensive funk, scoring in four of their first six innings in Camden Yards. But five runs would not be enough to protect the lead with Jose Valverde in 2012 playoff form. The Baltimore Orioles walked off thanks to a pair of ninth inning home runs to win 7-5.
The Tigers held a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the the ninth. Valverde surrendered four hits to the six Orioles he faced, including a lead-off home run to Nick Markakis and a walk-off, three-run shot to Chris Dickerson.
The Tigers had scored only three runs in their past three games, which included a pair of extra inning shutouts. The Tigers have lost in walk off fashion in two consecutive games and in the final inning in three of four.
Max Scherzer remained undefeated, allowing three runs and three hits over eight innings. Scherzer got better as the night went on, retiring the final 16 Orioles he faced after Adam Jones homered with two down in the third. But he would not be around for a decision. Jose Valverde (0-1) blew his second save in nine opportunities, suffering his first loss of the season.
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez hadn't won a game in five weeks. He still hasn't, and was taken off the hook for the loss thanks to his teammates' ninth-inning heroics, after being dinged with all five Tigers' runs and seven hits. Vulturing a victory was Darren O'Day (3-0), who retired the one batter he faced in the ninth inning.
Before the Tigers discovered a new way to waste a quality start, it appeared they would end their losing streak.
Despite putting together eight solid innings, a game is nine innings long. And the Tigers couldn't close it out, thanks to the pitcher whose only job is to close things out.
Miguel Cabrera and his young doppelganger, Avisail Garcia, supplied the offense for the Tigers. Both had two hits and two RBIs, Garcia hitting his second homer of the season.
Before Markakis made it a game and Dickerson ended it, Jones provided the majority of Orioles' offense with three hits and two RBIs, including his 11th home run.
After being shut out in two of their last three games, unable to score in their last 15 innings and crossing the plate in just one inning of their last 32, it took a mere three batters against the Orioles before the Tigers found themselves holding a 2-0 lead. As you might guess, it was that third batter, the mighty Cabrera, who did the damage.
With the undefeated Scherzer on the mound (the Tigers 8-2 in his ten starts), two runs might just be enough. Unproductive as the offense has been, Scherzer might not get much more in the way of run support.
The stranding of runners in scoring position, which reached epidemic proportions against the Pirates, continued in the second. Alex Avila walked with one out, advancing to second on Avisail Garcia''s ground ball. But Don Kelly was unable to come through with a two-out base hit, fouling out to end the inning.
The first hit of the game off Scherzer was literally off Scherzer. Adam Jones hit a line-drive comebacker off the lower back of Scherzer, ricocheting into center for a lead-off single. Scherzer shook off trainer Kevin Rand, saying he was fine.
The only player in the AL giving Cabrera competition in the Triple Crown categories, Chris Davis, followed a single to right, Jones advancing to third. Matt Wieters would drive in Jones with a sacrifice fly, pulling the Orioles to with a run at 2-1.
Appearing to get squeezed by home plate umpire Greg Gibson, Scherzer walked J.J. Hardy. Scherzer would then pitch himself out of the jam to keep the score 2-1. Dickerson was punched out looking, Ryan Flaherty bouncing to first.
As quickly as the Tigers' offensive outburst appeared, it just as quickly disappeared. The offense back in its shell, Gonzalez needed a whole six pitches to retire the side in the third.
Scherzer retired the first two Orioles he faced in the second, then proceeded to cough up the lead. After Markakis drew a walk, Jones inflicted more pain on Scherzer. This time the pain was mental rather than physical, crushing a two-run home run which cleared the 410' mark in dead center. The Orioles had now scored three unanswered runs to to lead 3-2.
The Tigers bats awoke after a two-inning slumber to actually manufacture a run in the fourth. You can thank that rare beast, the two-out RBI hit.
Victor Martinez singled to left with one out. Orioles uber-rookie Manny Machado bobbled Jhonny Peralta's ground ball to third, but still had time to force the slower-than-cold-molasses Martinez at second. Alex Avila worked a two-out base on balls, which proved crucial when Garcia bounced an RBI single to center to tie the game at 3-all.
Scherzer settled down to pitch a 1-2-3 fourth inning. Top of five, the Tigers made a bid to break the 3-3 tie.They would, thanks to the legs of Martinez. Yes, I said "Legs."
One down, Dirks singled to right, then advanced to second on Gonzalez's wild pitch. Cabrera ripped a single through the left side, Dirks holding at third with Fielder due up. Gonzalez would load the bases, walking Fielder on four pitches.
Bases juiced for Martinez, he hit a high hopper to the left of Flaherty at second base. Smelling RBI, Martinez hustled down the line to beat out the double play by a step. The RBI fielder's choice pushed the Tigers back into the lead at 4-3. With runners on the corners, Peralta could not come through with a two-out hit, striking out to end the rally.
After the Orioles had taken the lead, the Tigers answered with consecutive one-run innings to take back the lead. Wait, make it three straight innings with a run for the Tigers to extend their lead.
With one out in the sixth, Garcia truly looked like Mini-Miggy, going the opposite way. A long way, actually. Garcia hit a fly ball over the scoreboard in right for a one-out solo home run. His second home run of the season made it 5-3 Tigers.
Scherzer had buckled down as well, retiring ten straight Orioles after Jones' big fly. After six innings, Scherzer had himself a quality start, three runs allowed on just three hits, striking out seven. At a pitch count of 97 pitches, Scherzer was good for at least one more inning.
Refusing to give Cabrera anything to hit with one out in the seventh, reliever Troy Patton pitched around the most dangerous hitter in baseball, walking him. As what always seems to happen after Cabrera is issued a free pass, Fielder would mash. He smoked a rocket of a line drive off the glove of the first baseman (Davis) for a single.
Unfortunately, no one else would mash, ending the three-inning scoring streak. Patton struck out Martinez, and the Orioles third pitcher of the night, Steve Johnson, would get Peralta on a can of corn to center.
A now lights-out Scherzer was still mowing down Orioles, needing only eight pitches to retired the side in the seventh. His pitch count at a reasonable 105, Scherzer had likely earned another inning, avoiding Jim Leyland's "Handshake of doom."
Pounding the strike zone (21 first-pitch strikes tonight), Scherzer reached double-digit punch outs for the fourth time this season, Flaherty and Nate McClouth going down swinging for Ks nine and ten. Scherzer would wrap up his excellent outing by retiring 16 consecutive Orioles when Kelly ran down Machado's fly ball to deep left center.
While Scherzer was dealing, four Orioles relievers had clicked the shutdown mode switch on the Tigers' offense, who were back in a late game funk. They could only muster one hit (Fielder's seventh inning single) over the final three innings.
Unable to do generate any offense post sixth inning, the Tigers couldn't extend their lead. The inability to Potato-proof the game in the early innings would come back to bite them. HARD.
Scherzer having been given the "Handshake of Doom," it would be up to Valverde to get the final three outs while facing the meat of the Orioles' order. He could only get two.
Up first was Markakis. He drilled an 0-2 pitch to deep right, just clearing the fence at the 375' mark for his seventh home run of the season. Garcia just missed pulling the fly ball back by a fraction of an inch, slapping his glove in disgust.
Jones would reach on an infield single, hitting a ground ball that Peralta would go deep into the hole to flag down, but have no play.
The Camden Yards crowd going nuts, Valverde had to face the slugging Davis. Meltdown mode in full swing, Davis lined a single to right, Jones taking third.
With Jones 90 feet away from tying the game, Valverde got a huge out when Wieters popped up to Fielder. Now a double play could bail out the Tigers.
Hardy helped out Valverde by swinging at a shoulder-high 2-2 fastball, which he stunningly popped up to short left. Peralta flagged the ball down, Jones unable to tag up.
Amazingly, Valverde had generated two consecutive pop-ups with the game on the line.
But he couldn't get a third.
Valverde served up a belt high 2-1 meatball to Dickerson. He didn't pop it up. Instead, Dickerson crushed Valverde's fastball, clearing the wall in right center for a no-doubt walk-off three-run bomb. Earl Weaver would have loved it. Not loving it was Valverde, who knew it was gone as soon as Dickerson swung the bat.
The Orioles walk off. One dumpster fire of an inning, and game over.
Also over is Tigers fans patience with Jose Valverde. If there was a game which finally sent fans over the edge in regard to the use of the bullpen, specifically the closer, this was it. This one STUNG, and won't be soon forgotten. Fans are not in a forgiving mood regarding Valverde.
But going by Leyland's track record, he'll continue to run an obviously in-decline Valverde to the mound, crossing his fingers every time.
With their fourth straight loss, the Tigers fall to 29-24. Worse, they have fallen into a first place tie in the Central with the Cleveland Indians. In the East, the Orioles are now 31-24 after wining their third straight game, and are 1 1/2 back of the Yankees.
In game two of the weekend series, Justin Verlander (6-4, 3.68 ERA), who is undefeated (7-0, 2.85 ERA) against the Orioles, hopes to get the Tigers back on track. He faces Jason Hammel (7-2, 4.98 ERA). Good thing the first pitch is 4:05 PM so we can all move on instead of stew over the loss.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
The ninth inning will give you whiplash in addition to the headache already given to you by the Tigers.
There was some confusion before the game. The original lineup strangely had Avisail Garcia in center and Don Kelly in right. The Tigers finally realized that didn't make sense.
Don Kelly in CF and Avisail Garcia in RF. Tigers clarified lineup just before first pitch. Initially listed the other way around.— Chris Iott (@Chris_Iott) May 31, 2013
Miguel Cabrera's first-inning home run set a few more career milestones (something he seems to be doing on a daily basis).
Cabrera with just his 6th home run at Camden Yards, but No. 199 in a #Tigers uniform and 337th career (98th on all-time list)— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) May 31, 2013
Miguel Cabrera: 1st Tigers player with 12 HR in month since Willie Horton, May 1968— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 31, 2013
The big fly was also a bit of a season milestone for the Tigers:
Cabrera's HR was first time #Tigers have scored first since Sunday.— Jason Beck (@beckjason) May 31, 2013
We all like Donnie Baseball, and he does have a role on this team, but he's playing entirely too much. After he ended the fourth with a lazy fly ball to short center, that cry you heard was the final straw being reached by many a Tigers fan.
@dnr_rogo I'd rather have Justin Verlander batting than Don Kelly right now— Christian Parkes (@parkes_c92) June 1, 2013
Speaking of fed up, apparently Mrs. Phil Coke's Brain has reached the limits of her patience with Alex Avila.
"Walking Avila is fine cause otherwise he'll just strike out" - is Mrs. Brain @mlivecommenter??— Eric Wayne (@PhilCokesBrain) June 1, 2013
Walk Cabrera at your peril. The Orioles did tonight, Fielder taking it personally. Chris Davis did get a glove on Fielder's seventh-inning line drive single, in self defense more than anything.
Walk Miggy, pay the Prince. Fielder now 7x7 with three doubles, eight RBI and a walk following last eight walks to Cabrera. #tigers— Rick Thompson (@Thompson_Tigers) June 1, 2013
A tale of two outfielders who can play center field: In 34 at bats, Avisail Garcia is hitting .268 with two home runs and seven RBIs. In more than twice the at-bats as Garcia (74), Don Kelly has a .178 average with two home runs and six RBIs. A Tigers nation looks to you, Jim. It's time to play the 21-year-old kid over Donnie Baseball yet? Please?
Jim Leyland spewed cliche after cliche after the game:
We obviously let one get away.
We just didn't close it out.
Scherzer was spent.
It was a no-brainer to bring in Valverde.
He got the last pitch right out over the plate.
One thing he's (Valverde) good at is turning the page.
Turn the page my ass. Good thing for Leyland the next game isn't at Comerica. I have a feeling the fans aren't ready to turn the page and would let Valverde have it with both barrels.
The Tigers broadcasters and Leyland continue to parrot "Valverde has been good this season." They all need to read Kurt's Detroit News column, "Some stats reveal ominous signs for Tigers closer Jose Valverde." We witnessed first hand much of what Kurt predicted tonight.
For pitches inside the strike zone, batters have offered more than 65 percent of the time, and made contact at a stunning 93-percent rate. Valverde is both worse than the MLB average and at or near career worsts in all those figures.
That's exactly what we saw. If a Valverde pitch was in the strike zone, the Orioles crushed it.
Max Scherzer: After Adam Jones went yard, a brilliant Scherzer retired the final 16 Orioles he faced. He also had a season-high pitch count of 119.
Avisail Garcia: Why he isn't getting the majority of playing time in center over Don Kelly is a mystery only Jim Leyland can answer.
Miguel Cabrera: Two more RBIs raise his league-leading total to 61.
Jose Valverde: Throwing meatballs will get you a hiss.
Jose Valverde: So will a blowing a save in nuclear fashion.
Jose Valverde: I told you this one STUNG. I'm a little bitter at the moment.
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Just as Rick Porcello two nights previous, Doug Fister had one of the better performances of his career, only to be rewarded with a no-decision. Just as Porcello, Fister received the BYB PotG award as a consolation prize with 98% of the vote.