Earned His Tiger Stripes: Gary Sheffield 3-4, HR (21), 2 RBI (58), 2 runs scored, .196 WPA
Coming into the game, everything looked to be in the Red Sox favor. Daisuke Matsuzaka had been dominant in his past four starts, while Nate Robertson was still trying to get back to what he once was. In addition, the Tigers' bullpen was likely worn out from five innings of work the night before, so Robertson couldn't go deep into the game (which he hadn't been, since early in the season), there might be trouble in the later innings.
On paper, that's how it looked. But the Tigers took that piece of paper, crumpled it up, and threw it in the garbage. Detroit took Dice-K deep three times, highlighted by Marcus Thames' titanic blast to dead centerfield that made the FSN cameramen wonder if their station needed more shelter.
But it was Gary Sheffield's shot to left field in the first inning that set the tone. Matsuzaka hadn't given up a home run in his last five starts, so he might have been shaken out of his comfort level right away. Sheff added two doubles for the day, Carlos Guillen later hit a two-run homer of his own, and even Craig "Mendoza" Monroe knocked two singles. It all added up to Dice-K's worst start of his first major league season. How about them apples?
Robertson got the win, but let the Red Sox right back into the game when he served up back-to-back home runs to Jeff Bailey and Julio Lugo. Yes, that's the same Julio Lugo with the .197 average that has C-Mendo saying, "Hey, I ain't that bad." Except Nate made him look like Tony Frickin' Gwynn, as Lugo went 3-for-3 on the day, with two RBI and one stolen base.
The Tigers won the game, and a sweep of the Red Sox going into the All-Star break is damn impressive, so I don't want to get too negative. But I think it's worth asking if Jim Leyland sent the wrong starting pitcher to the bullpen. Clearly, Robertson was dealing with some kind of injury (though he tries to deny it) when he was put on the disabled list. And he probably needs to regain his stamina after coming back.
Pitching into the seventh inning today was a good sign. But that's where he gave up the two home runs. Guillen's error on Dustin Pedroia's grounder didn't help things, but would Leyland have let Robertson face David Ortiz anyway? Maybe it's not quite fair to judge Robertson against a powerful Red Sox lineup that works pitchers hard, but Nate doesn't look like he has the juice to go much more than five innings.
Ask yourself this: Who's the weak link in the Tigers' starting rotation right now? Would it be better with Chad Durbin in that fifth spot?
Curtis Granderson = Willie Mays Hayes
I can't write a recap of this game without mentioning Curtis Granderson's play on Wily Mo Pena's home run in the fourth inning. There was no home run because Granderson leaped up and reached over the fence to snatch the ball out of the air. And just for a little cherry on top, Curtis sno-coned the ball in his glove as he fell to the ground. (Here's Amalie Benjamin's description from the Boston Globe's "Extra Bases" blog.) That was a SportsCenter highlight, that was a Web Gem, that was a "This Week in Baseball" play of the week (if they still do those).
Given the surrounding circumstances, Neifi's stab of Gabe Gross' grounder up the middle to preserve Justin Verlander's no-hitter might be the Tigers' defensive play of the year. But Curtis' catch is either a strong #2 or 1A. It was an outstanding play.
Up Next: Thursday vs. Seattle, 10:05 p.m. EST - following the All-Star break.