The Detroit Tigers weak bullpen once again imploded late in a 10-inning, 3-2 walk-off loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Tigers started the season with four straight victories. They have now lost two straight.
Carl Crawford had three hits for LA, the biggest of which was his double to plate the walk-off game winner.
Torii Hunter's home run streak ended at three games. The 39-year-old was forced to leave the game in the fifth inning after sliding into the wall attempting to make a catch. He's day-to-day with a knee contusion.
The Tigers wasted a solid effort from starter Max Scherzer. He pitched seven innings, giving up just two runs on eight hits, while striking out eight. Receiving little run support, Scherzer was taken off the hook for his first loss of the season when the Tigers rallied tor the game-tying run in the ninth.
Dodgers' starter Dan Haren shut down the Tigers for six innings, also earning a no-decision. Haren allowed just one run on three hits, striking out four and walking one.
It would be Chris Withrow who was originally in line to get W by pitching a scoreless seventh. But Kenley Jansen blew his first save of the season, serving up a run with two out in the ninth. The winning pitcher for the Dodgers would be J.P. Howell, thanks to tossing a scoreless tenth.
Before Crawford's 10th inning heroics, the Dodgers' offense did just enough to take a narrow lead off Scherzer. Dee Gordon led off the game with a completely unexpected home run, only the third of his career. Justin Turner gave the Dodgers a seventh-inning lead against Scherzer with a sacrifice fly.
Until their ninth-inning rally, Austin Jackson was the sole source of offense for Detroit with a second-inning home run. Ian Kinsler doubled to lead off the ninth, Victor Martinez extending the game with an RBI single with two down in the ninth.
There's lots to complain about in tonight's loss. The offense was MIA for a second consecutive game. The outfield defense in both right and left was an adventure, at best. Hunter taking an unnecessary risk which got him injured forced the Tigers to use what little outfield depth they have (Does Kelly make the 10th-inning play in left if he wasn't forced to play right?).
But all anyone will want to talk about, to no one's surprise, is the Tigers' shaky bullpen.
There's not much more you can say about Phil Coke at this point. If there is a way to get even deeper into the the fan base's dog house, Coke found it tonight. Since his playoff heroics in 2012, he's been given chance after chance after chance, only to cough up lead after lead after lead. When you can't even be trusted as a LOOGY, why are you still on the roster?
But Coke had help. Joba Chamberlain pitched great in striking out the side in the ninth. Yet in the tenth, he lit the fuse on Coke's explosion by walking the lead-off man. And time and time again we've seen bad things happen when you walk the lead-off man in the late innings.
We knew going into the season the bullpen would be a work in progress. So seeing Chamberlain and Coke combine fail to come through in a high leverage situation should be no surprise. What we see in the pen today won't be what we see four months from now (God help us all if it is).
But that doesn't make tonight's loss any easier to take.
Rajai Davis manufactured a first-inning threat with his legs. The lovers of small ball shed a tear. Everyone else would be crying a good three hours later.
Leading off against Dan Haren, Davis looped a soft liner which landed just out of the reach of Hanley Ramirez at short for a single. He was able to steal second without drawing a throw, taking third when Ian Kinsler gave himself up on a ground ball to the right side.
Third base is where Davis would remain. He was forced to hold on Torii Hunter's comebacker to Haren. Miguel Cabrera bounced out the left side to end the threat. The west coast swings starts with a TTBDNS,
Just as in his first start, Max Scherzer's first inning was not a thing of beauty.
Going into tonight's game, Dodgers' lead-off man Dee Gordon (owner of a career .317 SLG%) had two home runs in 644 career at-bats. Make it three in 645. The count 1-2, Gordon smoked Scherzer's 92-MPH meatball over the right field wall, a shocking no-doubt shot which gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
The next batter was Carl Crawford, greeting Scherzer with a single to right. The Tigers were able to save themselves a run when Alex Avila threw out Crawford trying to steal. He likely would have scored on Adrian Gonzalez's two-base hit. Instead, the bases were empty when the first baseman's liner found the right field corner.
Scherzer would finally get out of the inning when Andre Ethier went down swinging.
One down in the second, Austin Jackson just needed one swing of the bat to tie the game at 1-all. Entering the game slugging .696 to start the season, Jackson's power surge continued when he yanked a Haren off-speed pitch over the scoreboard in left, over 375 feet away (MLB.com video).
One down in the bottom half of the second, the Tigers and their fan base received a huge scare. Attempting to catch a foul fly off the bat of Tim Federowicz, Hunter slid hard into the wall down the right field line. He didn't get up. BYB's Phil Coke's Brain summed up the reaction of the Tigers' broadcasters and the fan base.
Torii running into a wall is like dropping your phone. You just panic and pray.— PCB (@PhilCokesBrain) April 9, 2014
Hunter rolled on the turf gingerly holding his left knee, everyone expecting the worst. After he was checked out by the trainers, a limping Hunter jogged back out to his position and somehow remained in the game. Hunter had taken an unnecessary risk on a ball he had approximately 0% chance of catching. He was damn lucky not to be carted off with a severe leg injury.
GREAT SIGH OF RELIEF— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 9, 2014
Bottom of three and the score still 1-all, the speedy Gordon reached base in a far more typical way - a swinging bunt. A cat-and-mouse game between Scherzer and Gordon took place, but the battle ended thanks to the Tigers' defense-first shortstop. Crawford rocketed a one-hopper which Andrew Romine gobbled up, and proceeded to turn a pretty 6-3 double play, stopping any trouble before it could get started.
After four full innings, the Tigers had one run on three hits, the Dodgers one and five.
The Tigers played more of the NL-style small ball in the top of the fifth. Romine worked a one-out base on balls, Scherzer (a career .169./.210/.208 hitter) sacrificing him to second. Davis couldn't come through with a runner in scoring positon, flying out to end the sorta-kinda threat.
Hunter's misadventure in right field finally caught up with him. Don Kelly took over in right field in the bottom half of the inning. The Tigers are calling Hunter's injury a left knee contusion.
While the Tigers' offense struggled to do anything against Haren, Scherzer was pitching into, and out of, trouble.
Bottom of five, Scherzer would find himself in a one-out jam when the Dodgers' light-hitting catcher, Federowicz, doubled into the left field corner. The hit would go to waste, Haren and Gordon bouncing out to end the inning.
Bottom of six and one out, Crawford reached on an infield single, stole second and advanced to third on a ground ball. Scherzer would dance with devil and come out unscathed when Ethier bounced out.
Haren's night was over after six innings, replaced by right-hander reliever Chris Withrow. The last Tiger to have a base hit was Avila with a second-inning single. Despite the piching change, the seventh was more of the same as Wirthrow retired the side in order.
Ian Krol warming up, Scherzer remained on the mound to start the seventh, his pitch count at 87. Scherzer's dance with danger continued. Matt Kemp fell behind in the count 1-2 before working a walk. Juan Uribe followed with a fly ball to deep right, Kelly crashing awkwardly into the wall as the ball landed for a double. Kemp should have scored standing up, but the Tigers caught a break. Be it due to injuries or just a bad read, Kemp was forced to hold up at third.
After dodging several bullets, Scherzer got clipped. Pinch-hitter Justin Turner flied out to center, deep enough to plate Kemp and give the Dodgers back the lead. Jackson's throw was not good, well up the line and Avila unable to knock it down, which allowed Uribe to advance all the way to third.
Scherzer got out of the inning allowing just the one run, much in thanks to Romine's glove. The young shortstop made a nice play, charging a dribbler, throwing out Gordon for the third out. But the Dodgers had snapped the tie, taking a one-run lead at 2-1.
Former Indians' closer Chris Perez entered the game in setup duty. for LA. There would be no implosions. Romine led off, walking for a second time. But Davis bounced into an easy, tailor-made 4-6-3 double play to empty the bases.
Krol would keep the Tigers in the game by tossing a scoreless eighth, giving the Tigers a shot against hard-throwing Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. As always, the Tigers refused to go down without a fight.
Leading off the ninth, Kinsler became the first Tiger to have a base hit since the second inning, legging out a double on a liner to right. The Tigers in need of at least a productive out, all Kelly could do was bounce to short on a 3-1 pitch.
But the Tigers had the meat of the order coming up, starting with Cabrera. Throwing high-90s heat, Jansen struck out Cabrera, who was in midst of having an uncharacteristically bad night at the plate.
It was left up to Martinez. The count 1-0, Jansen threw another heater. Martinez lined it right back up the middle, Kemp unable to make a sliding catch. Unbelievably, after struggling all night long, Martinez's RBI single allowed to Kinsler to scamper home, knotting the game at 2-all.
Then we saw aggressive strategy from Brad Ausmus come back to bite him. He asked the slow-of-foot Martinez to try a delayed steal. He was thrown out to end the inning. Ausmus challenged the call, but it was correctly upheld.
Unexpected baseball meant the Tigers were forced to go deeper into their bullpen. With three right-handers due up for the dodgers, Joba Chamberlain go the nod for the bottom of the ninth. A fired-up Chamberlain pumped his fist as he struck out the side.
Joba strikes out the side. PINCH YOURSELF! PINCH ME.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 9, 2014
On to extras we go!
The Tigers reverted back to their scoreless ways in the top of the 10th. Despite three left-handers due up, Ausmus elected to keep Chamberlain on the mound. The strategy looked good when Chamberlain got up 1-2 on pinch-hitter Chone Figgins. Chamberlain went on to commit a pitching Cardinal sin - He walked the lead-off man, the light-hitting and speedy Figgins getting a free pass.
DOOM would ensue.
This is when fans of NL-style ball get excited, as Ausmus went with the double-switch. Romine and Chamberlain were pulled, Alex Gonzalez taking over at short, Phil Coke (GULP) on the mound.
Trying to advance the runner, Gordon instead did Coke and the Tigers a favor by popping up to Martinez. But Coke has been living on borrowed time for two years. Once again, he couldn't get a left-hander out.
It would cost the Tigers the game, with a helping hand from Davis.
Crawford sliced a line drive to left. It wasn't an easy play, one Andy Dirks likely makes. But Davis isn't known for his glove. He showed why when he left his feet and allowed the ball to get by him. Figgins was able to score without a play.
Game over. The Tigers fall 3-2 in 10 innings. So much for the double-switch, huh?
An ugly way to end an ugly game. A good start wasted. A comeback wasted. A night's sleep wasted.
Wednesday's game two between the Dodgers and Tigers is also the series finale. Anibal Sanchez (0-0, 4.50 ERA) takes the mound for the Tigers. Sanchez earned a no-decision in his first start of the season, allowing two runs on two hits, tossing only four innings due to a rain delay. Dodgers' right-hander Josh Beckett was activated off the disabled list after tonight's game, and will make his first start since May of last year. Beckett missed the majority of the 2013 season after being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which required surgery to correct.
First pitch at Dodger Stadium is scheduled for 10:10 P.M. EDT.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Before the game, Dodgers' manager Don Mattingly, who was Brad Asumus' hitting coach in his last two seasons as a player, had nothing but good things to say about the Tigers' rookie skipper.
"Brad's got a great personality. He's funny, he's smart. He's a blend of different things. He's not a guy who takes himself too seriously, he's not a guy totally immersed in numbers. He's got a great temperament."
"We all kind of new that Brad was going in that direction."
How to survive West Coast night baseball in the Eastern time zone:
Commence chugging caffeine— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 9, 2014
Kudos to the Dodgers. With the Tigers in town, they are serving Detroit's traditional coney dog.
The Detroit Coney Dog available at Dodger Stadium with the Tigers in town: pic.twitter.com/daUYCHoHUY— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) April 9, 2014
Meanwhile a TV station in San Diego, the next stop on the Tigers' road trip, has pissed off the city of Cleveland with this tweet. The replies from Tribe fans are about what you'd expect.
Austin Jackson went yard in the second, which meant the Tigers matches a feat last accomplished a decade ago. The Tigers have now hit at least one home run in the first six games of the season for the first time since 2004. That team started the season 5-1, only to finish 20 games out of first with a 72-90 record.
Victor Martinez confused everyone in the fifth, running out a nubber which had obviously hit his foot. What should have been a foul ball was instead the second out of the inning. Only thing I can figure is Martinez did not feel the ball bounce off the armor on his lower leg.
On a night the offense struggles, Torii Hunter leaves the game with an injury, and Don Kelly is the fourth outfielder, it would figure ex-Tiger Avisail Garcia would do this:
Hypocritical move of the day: Dodgers fans booing Miguel Cabrera. Odds are it's due to his monster contract. Wait, what? The Dodgers' payroll for this season is a mere $234 million, the most ever spent by one team in MLB history.
Watch what you say on social media. The internet never forgets. Someone gets to lick Joba's thick, bushy, grubby beard.
If he gets another out I will lick Joba's beard. Just, do this.— TB (@TomduhB) April 9, 2014
Max Scherzer: Need more proof wins and losses don't mean all that much? Tonight Scherzer pitched very well, good enough to win most games, but fell to 0-1 on the year by taking the loss in just his second start of the season. The Tigers lost Scherzer's second start of 2013, but wasn't the pitcher of record. Ultimately, Scherzer didn't record his first loss in 2013 until start number 19.
Austin Jackson: Has been the Tigers' most powerful hitter this season. His home run was all the Tigers could muster in the first eight innings.
Victor Martinez: The game looked all but lost, until Martinez came through with the game-tying base hit.
Ian Kinsler: Martinez doesn't get to the plate without Kinsler's hustle double to lead off the ninth.
Andrew Romine: Reached base twice, played excellent defense at short. I'd really like to see more of Romine, but do the Tigers feel the same way?
Miguel Cabrera: Had some of his worst swings of the young season. Cabrera bounced out weakly in his first three at-bats before striking out with the tying run on base in the ninth.
Phil Coke: The Tigers are overloaded with left-handed arms at Triple-A Toledo. You'd think ONE of them would be an upgrade over Coke.
Right field at Chavez Ravine: The unfamiliar outfield confounded the Tigers to no end. Torii Hunter crashed into the wall knees first, and was forced to leave the game. Don Kelly had just as much trouble, awkwardly running into the wall twice.
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GAME FIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Justin Verlander was victimized by a lack of run support, pitching well enough to win most games. But his five-hit, two-runs-allowed-in-eight-innings performance was enough to take 81% of the vote, easily winning the player of the game.