The Detroit Tigers beat the Washington Nationals at Comerica Park 5-1 Tuesday, punctuated by Alex Avila's first-career grand slam. Anibal Sanchez (9-7, 2.59 ERA) takes the win, tossing seven solid innings of five-hit, two-walk baseball. With the victory, the Tigers snap a three-game winning streak for the Nationals, handing Stephen Strasburg his eighth loss.
With two talented pitchers and a sometimes-expansive strike zone, scoring opportunities would be at a premium for both teams for much of the game. But it didn't necessarily appear the way to start the game, the Nationals opening with a three-hit first inning to take the early lead.
Leading off against Sanchez in the top of the first, Bryce Harper smacked a 2-1 slider deep to right, bouncing off the right field wall. The ball took an unexpected carom, shooting past a surprised Torii Hunter toward center field. By the time the ball got back to the infield, Harper was standing on third with a lead-off triple.
Miguel Cabrera held off inevitability, neatly snatching Anthony Rendon's scorcher down the third-base line. But Ryan Zimmerman's RBI single up the middle put the Tigers in an early 1-0 hole. Sanchez allowed another baserunner when he couldn't pick up Jayson Werth's ground ball while running to cover first, but got Ian Desmond on a 6-4 putout to limit the damage.
After three hits and one run, the Nationals turned the bats over to Detroit for the bottom of the first inning. The Tigers couldn't reciprocate, advancing two baserunners on Cabrera's 2-out single up the middle and a Prince Fielder walk before Victor Martinez's fly ball to center ended the inning.
After a shaky, 23-pitch first inning, Sanchez settled in, retiring the side in the second on only nine pitches. For his part, Strasburg must have decided that looked like a good idea, because he did the same in seven.
Fast-forward to the bottom of the fourth, the Nationals clinging to a 1-0 lead, Andy Dirks facing Strasburg. With Fielder and Jhonny Peralta on and two out, Dirks laced a 95 MPH fastball down the third base line, bouncing just fair and rolling into the glove of a leaning fan. GAME OVER. For that guy. The two-out RBI would tie the game, Fielder roaring home from second. Peralta was held at third on the fan-interference, ground-rule double, where he would be stranded on Alex Avila's fly ball to center.
The top of the fifth inning proceeded almost uneventfully, Sanchez now locked in and cruising after the early inning trouble. Cabrera flashed some glove on a diving stop of lead-off man Wilson Ramos' ground ball, but showed some discomfort after the next play attempting a difficult barehand grab and throw that just missed nipping Chad Tracy at first. Cabrera seemed to try to stretch it out, and remained in the game.
Bottom of the fifth, Strasburg one-upped himself, retiring Santiago, Jackson, and Hunter on just five pitches.
Back out for the top of the sixth, Sanchez faced his first real challenge since early in the game. Adam LaRoche hit a one-out, unassisted ground-rule double to left center, the ball bouncing over the bullpen fence. LaRoche advanced to third on Jayson Werth's routine ground-out to short. Ian Desmond walked and stole second to put two men in scoring position, but Sanchez would get out of trouble on a 4-3 putout of Denard Span. Long time Tigers fans will remember Denard Span from DOOOOOOOM.
The Tigers would finally break the game open in the bottom of the sixth. After Cabrera's fly-out to Span in center, Fielder singled, and Martinez turned a 1-0 fastball just inside the bag past LaRoche at first, ending up on second with Fielder holding at third. Peralta took Strasburg to a 3-0 count before finally walking on pitch seven to load the bases with only one out.
Facing Andy Dirks, Strasburg's first pitch got away from Ramos, but not far enough to score Prince. After just missing the strike zone with a 2-2 fastball on the inside corner, Strasburg finally got Dirks to whiff on a curveball low in the zone.
Two outs, bases juiced, Alex Avila stood at the plate. He foul-tipped a 96 MPH fastball, then watched two more 96 MPH fastballs miss inside and low.
The next 96 MPH fastball didn't miss. Neither did Avila.
The .193-hitting lefty raised his average to .195 in magnificent fashion, ripping a no-doubt homer deep into the right field seats for his first career Grand Salami (I don't know; ask Rod Allen), and also his first Grand Slam. 5-1, Tigers. Santiago would ground out to end the inning, but the damage had been done.
Coming out for one final inning, Sanchez kept things stress-free, retiring the side on eight easy pitches.
Giving up a grand slam didn't appear to shake Strasburg in the least, striking out both Jackson and Hunter swinging in the bottom of the seventh. Cabrera would make it interesting, ripping a liner toward left field. But Ryan Zimmerman made a leaping, twisting catch to send the Nationals off the field.
It would be the last action Cabrera would see on the night, with Santiago sliding over to third to start the eighth, and Hernan Perez coming in at second. But the story of the inning would be on the mound, with Sanchez giving way to Dave Dombrowski's latest acquisition, Jose Veras. Veras' first appearance as a Tiger got off on the right foot, mixing a 95 MPH sinker, a splitter at 84 and a 77 MPH curveball to retire Rendon, Zimmerman, and LaRoche without incident. Let's hope Detroit's newest JV has a better season than the previous JV did.
Cabrera's absence would not be felt the rest of the game, with Joaquin Benoit coming in to notch his tenth save of the year, his only blemish a two-out single given up to Span (DOOOM) before calmly ending the game on a routine fly out.
GAME OVER. For everyone this time.
The Tigers improve to 60-45 on the season, having won four straight and eight of the last nine. They do not pick up any distance on the Cleveland Indians, though, who came from behind against the White Sox late to hold serve with Detroit. They remain 2 1/2 games back in the AL Central.
FANGRAPHS WIN-EXPECTANCY CHART:
- Let's not make August Avila a thing. I still have some hope for July Avila, not to mention June, May, and April Avila. Still, August Avila may be here early. In the eight games since the All-Star Break, the 26-year-old Avila is batting .310/.355/.517.
- In the battle of no run support, Anibal Sanchez has nothing on Strasburg:
In case you haven't been following the narrative, Stephen Strasburg gets an average of 2.71 runs of support (91st of 92 qualifying Ps)— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) July 31, 2013
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GAME 104 PLAYER OF THE GAME: