The Kansas City Royals bullpen shut down the Detroit Tigers, not allowing a hit over the final 3 2/3 innings. But their starter Bruce Chen was raked for six runs, more than enough for the Tigers to take a 6-3 victory. The victory ensures the Tigers' AL Central lead holds steady at six games.
From start to start for much of 2013, you couldn't be sure which Justin Verlander would be on the mound for the Tigers. Tonight was the good Verlander, earning the victory by allowing three runs while scattering nine hits, striking out seven in 6 2/3 innings. Verlander snapped a six start winless streak, the longest he's gone without a victory in his career. Joaquin Benoit retired the final four Royals to earn his 19th save.
Chen was once nicknamed "Cy" for his seeming dominance over the Tigers. Tonight, Chen was in "Bruce" mode, rocked for six runs on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings to take the loss. Francisley Bueno, Louis Coleman and Donnie Joseph locked down the Tigers over the final 3 2/3 innings to keep the Royals in the game. It wasn't enough.
Thanks to the Royals' bullpen, the Tigers were outhit 10-7. But the Tigers out-extra-hit the Royals 4-1, the difference in the game. Prince Fielder led the Tigers with two hits, one a two run homer and three RBI. Austin Jackson had a pair of doubles, scoring twice. A still banged-up Miguel Cabrera also doubled and scored a run. Torii Hunter didn't have an extra base hit, but did have three RBIs with a single and ground out.
The usual suspects did the damage against Verlander. Billy Butler and Salvador Perez always seem to knock around Verlander. Tonight was no different, combining on a 4-for-7, three RBI, one run scored night, supplying all the Royals' offense.
The Tigers are that much closer to playing .500 ball against the always pesky/annoying/PITA Royals. But they'll need a sweep to take the season series, currently on the Royals' side of the ledger at 9-8. But in something more importantl than any season series win, the Tigers shrink their Magic Number to ten with 15 games left to play.
On "Pink out the park" night at Comerica, Justin Verlander retired the the Royals on three fly balls to left. A good sign the often inconsistent Verlander was on his game.
In a weird bottom of the first, the Tigers took the lead in spite of Bruce Chen needing only seven pitches to retire the side. Leading off, Austin Jackson yanked the first pitch he saw from Chen into the left field corner. Alex Gordon had trouble corralling the ball, allowing Jackson to reach third standing up on what was ruled double, E7. Normally an excellent defensive outfielder, it was Gordon's first error of the season.
Also swinging at the first pitch was Torii Hunter. Alcides Escobar went to deep into the hole at short to make the play, throwing Hunter out by a step. But Jackson scored on the 6-3 ground ball, the Tigers up 1-0 just two pitches into the game.
Chen was able to set down Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, ending the inning. As for the Tigers swinging early and often? There was a method to the madness, as noted by BYB contributor GWilson.
Verlander had a routine top of the second, which included a routine single by Tiger Killer Billy Butler. Verlander shrugged off Country Breakfast's continued pwning, tossing a shutdown inning after being given a lead.
The third inning was more of the same from Verlander, retiring the Royals in order. It was refreshing to see an efficient Verlander, who was averaging just 14 pitches an inning.
Speaking of efficient, Chen was in "Cy" mode through three full innings, needing a mere 28 pitches while holding the Tigers to two hits.
Top of four, Emilio Bonifacio led off with a single to left. The entire world knew he would be running. The count 0-1 on Eric Hosmer, Bonifacio did. Despite Verlander throwing a breaking ball, Alex Avila was able to fire an absolute strike to nail Bonifacio. A throw from a catcher doesn't get much better than the one Avila unleashed.
But the Royals being the Royals, they would still cause trouble. Hosmer reached base on a swinging bunt, taking second on Country Breakfast's ground ball to third. Two strikes on Salvador Perez, Verlander found too much of the plate with an inside fastball. Perez smoked a line drive off the left field fence, just missing a home run by a couple of feet. He would have to settle for a long RBI single, knotting the game at 1-all.
Leading off the bottom half of the fourth, Cabrera launched a fly ball to Death Valley in deep right center. Right fielder David Lough got there after a long run, but could not make the catch, sliding into center fielder Jarrod Dyson. The kerfuffle in front of the scoreboard allowed the still gimpy Cabrera to lumber into second with his first extra base hit since August 24.
At least Cabrera didn't have to run hard to score.
Fielder up in the count 2-0, Chen was forced to throw a 74 MPH off-speed pitch ... in the strike zone. Fielder didn't get it all, but got more than enough of the pitch to clear the right field wall at the 330' mark, The fence scraper was Fielder's 24th home run and RBIs 100 and 101, giving the Tigers back the lead at 3-1 (MLB.com video).
Top of five and two out, Dyson reached on another Royals' Twins Hit, a swinging bunt which rolled down the third base line. With 30 steals on the season, once again the entire planet knew he would be running. Which meant Verlander knew as well, and he was not going to let it happen. With Gordon at the plate, a cat and mouse game ensued.
Verlander threw to first, Dyson dove back to the bag.
Verlander threw to first, Dyson dove back to the bag.
Verlander threw to first, Dyson dove back ... and was easily picked off, ending the inning.
A giddy Verlander hopped off the mound, quite happy his tenacity paid off.
Bottom of five, the Tigers put a pair of runners in scoring position with less than two out. Avila led off with a base on balls. One down, Jackson doubled for a second time, bouncing on one hop over the left field wall.
Chen was no longer in "Cy" mode.
Two on and one out, Hunter came to the plate. He has been in a brutal slump, hitting .167/.189/.194 in September including some awful at bats with runners in scoring position. Not this time. The count 2-1, Hunter went the opposite way with a chest high breaking ball, lining a single to right. Lough's throw was well up the line, allowing Hunter to advance to second as two runs crossed the plate.
That was mistake number one.
First base open, manager Ned Yost elected to walk Cabrera, preferring a lefty-lefty match up between Chen and Fielder.
That was mistake number two.
Mistake number three came when Hunter saw Mike Moustakas playing so far off the third base bag, he took off while Chen was still in the stretch. Chen was so flustered, he committed a balk as Hunter beat Moustakas to the bag.
Mistake number three was Chen's 71 MPH floater, which Fielder lined to right for an RBI single. Hunter scored, the Tigers now holding a 6-1 advantage.
Chen's night was over, pulled by Yost and replaced by Francisley Bueno. The journeyman right-hander would end the inning without further damage. But the Tigers had scored three runs on three hits, two walks and some boneheaded baseball by the normally fundamentally sound Royals.
The Royals countered with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth, mostly due to the fact Verlander can't do a damn thing with Butler or Perez.
Gordon led off with a single, taking second on a Verlander balk, third on Hosmer's ground out.
Butler followed with an RBI single to left, Gordon scoring. Perez drilled an RBI double to the scoreboard in right center to plate the lumbering Butler, who scored all the way from first.
The two Royals Verlander has trouble now done causing trouble, he struck out Moustakas to end the inning, the Tigers still holding a 6-3 lead.
Top of seven, Verlander was still on the mound for the Tigers. But his pitch count at 99, Verlander was on a short leash. With one out, Escobar's bloop dropped in front of Jackson. Verlander bounced a pitch to Dyson, allowing Escobar to take second on what was scored a wild pitch.
Verlander proceeded to strike out Dyson. Gordon due to hit, Jim Leyland made the call to replace Verlander with Drew Smyly.
Escobar got a huge jump on Smyly, stealing third without a throw. Smyly fell down in the count 2-0 to Gordon. Three pitches later, the inning was over, Gordon stranding the runner 90 feet away by striking out.
In the meantime, the Royals bullpen has shut down the Tigers' bats. Bueno and Luis Coleman had held the Tigers hitless over 2 2/3 innings. As the game rolled into the eighth, the Tigers were still holding a three run cushion at 6-3.
Top of eight and one down, the Tigers' relievers stopped throwing strikes. Probably because it was Friday the 13th.
Smyly walked Hosmer on four pitches. Leyland brought out the hook, calling on Jose Veras to face Butler. Veras walked Country Breakfast on four pitches. Eight straight balls brought Perez to the plate as the tying run.
Perez took ball one, then popped up what would have been ball two for the second out. Hooray for an undisciplined at bat!
Still fighting with his command, Veras was KOed by his wildness. He compounded matters by plunking Moustakas to load the bases.
Having seen enough, Leyland yanked Veras and called on Joaquin Benoit for what he hoped would be a four out save.
Benoit didn't mess around. Throwing mid-90s heat, Benoit needed just four pitches to strike out Lough, leaving the bases juiced, bailing out Smyly and Veras.
Did someone just explain "high leverage" to Mr Leyland? Very well done!— Patrick OKennedy (@Tigerdog_1) September 14, 2013
Donnie Joseph pitched the ninth for the Royals, continuing their bullpen's mastery over the Tigers by striking out the side. After taking over for Chen, the Royals' pen had twisted the Tigers in knots. Bueno, Coleman and Joseph retired 11 straight, striking out seven.
Top of nine, Benoit allowed the lead off man to reach, Escobar slapping a chopper up the middle. The Royals switched Escobar for Dyson on a comebacker. Benoit got the lead runner, but Dyson beat the throw to first.
Dyson swiped second, as expected. That steal was also the last gasp for the Royals. Gordon's can of corn to left was out number two. Benoit slammed the door when Bonifacio bounced out.
Your final score is Tigers 6, Royals 3.
Shockingly, the Tigers and Royals don't play a one run game and it's the good guys who end up with the bigger number. But you never feel comfortable when the Tigers play the Royals. Bad things, weird things, odd things happen. We saw it again tonight, Smyly and Veras suddenly forgetting how to throw strikes in the eighth. The Royals found themselves one swing away from making the game far too interesting, especially one the Tigers led from the first inning on.
Thanks to Benoit, "far too interesting" turned into "ho-hum" when he entered the game.
With an overall record of 85-62 (.578) the Tigers have the third best overall record in the AL. They'll be in a battle for second overall. At 85-61 (.582) the Athletics have won seven of ten and are on track to win again tonight. As for the Central, the Tigers are in fine shape, up six on the 79-68 (.537) Indians.
The penultimate game of the season series between the Royals and Tigers has right-hander Ervin Santana (8-9, 3.35 ERA) taking on Doug Fister (12-8, 3.77 ERA). Santana's last win was on August 4, the Royals 2-5 In his last seven starts (0-3, 4.76 ERA). Santana did beat the Tigers July 19, tossing 71/3 shutout innings in a 1-0 Royals victory.
Fister has been alternating wins and losses over his last four starts (2-2, 4.74 ERA). The Tall Man's last start was against these same Royals, allowing five runs in 6 1/3 innings in a 5-2 loss.
Saturday night's first pitch is set for 7:08 PM.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Craig Monroe, rocking the pink bow tie!
Does Craig Monroe know his bow tie is being attacked by a cravat?— Bill Shea (@Bill_Shea19) September 14, 2013
Meanwhile in Boston, Robinson Cano is bunting
to move the runner a single for doubles!
Prince Fielder's fourth inning big fly gave him 100 plus RBIs for the sixth time in his career. The 100 RBI mark is nice milestone. But what's better for the Tigers is ever since Fielder's family issues were exposed, he's hitting like vintage Prince Fielder.
Miguel Cabrera is still laboring when on the field, his lower body all but useless. All the more reason to take care of business on this final home stand, so the Tigers can rest their cornerstone player.
I can't stand it. Stop playing Miggy until he gets right. He is swinging arms only. Little or no torque in lower body. Stop. Sit. Heal.— Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) September 14, 2013
Prince Fielder: Big game for the big man with a home run, single and three RBIs pushing him over the 100 RBI mark on the season.
Austin Jackson: Triggered the offense with a pair of doubles, scoring both times.
Joaquin Benoit: Though Leyland doesn't like to use his closer in the eighth, that's how you close out games! The situation in the eighth called for your best reliever, so you should use him. Leyland did. Considering how little Benoit has pitched as of late, a four out save should not be a big deal.
Justin Verlander: Saw long stretches of the dominant Verlander tonight. But I would be fine if he just walks Country Breakfast every time from here on out.
Torii Hunter: Still fighting through a slump, but drove in three runs with a single and ground out.
Late game walks: Smyly and Veras know better. The eighth was far more stressful than it needed to be.
The Royals: The Kansas City PITAs are on track to join the Twins at the top of the teams I hate list.
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