The thrill ride continues. This is no ferris wheel. It's not a carousel. Bumper cars? Maybe, but not enough drama. The Tigers' race with the Minnesota Twins for the AL Central is a roller coaster. And we're all riding in the front car.
After losing the first game of yesterday's doubleheader, Detroit had to win if they wanted to hold onto first place. Not to mention that you never want to waste a Justin Verlander performance. (Especially not after wasting Rick Porcello's excellent effort earlier in the day.) And once again, Verlander did what pitching aces are expected to do. For his first five innings, he only allowed two hits while striking out six.
Meanwhile, the Tigers ran out to a 5-0 lead, thanks to timely hitting that was so elusive in the matinee. Magglio Ordonez smoked a two-run, two-out double in the third inning. (Was that his biggest hit of the season?) And in the fifth, again with two outs, Brandon Inge drove in another two runs with a single.
But you knew the Twins wouldn't just go away. They haven't gone away all season. How many of us wrote them off back in late August? Yet here they are. And did any of you figure the Tigers had this one, leading 5-0? If so, you haven't been paying close enough attention.
Verlander saved his bad inning for the sixth, giving up three straight one-out hits, followed by a sacrifice fly. That brought in two Minnesota runs, and served notice that this would still be a ballgame. The Twins rallied again in the eighth, with Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel driving in runs to cut the Tigers' lead to one. Verlander was running on empty.
But would he come out? Jim Leyland went out to the pitching mound to see if his ace had anything left. Or to give him a pep talk. Regardless, Verlander had enough to get Michael Cuddyer to ground out to third base and hold the Twins off. (Leyland said after the game that he told Verlander, "I don't have anyone better than you."
Curtis Granderson gave Detroit a much needed insurance run in the bottom half of the inning with a homer off Matt Guerrier. That turned out to be incredibly important, because the Twins threatened one more time in the ninth. And strangely enough, Granderson was responsible for it.
Grandy badly misjudged Nick Punto's fly ball to left-center, letting the ball get over his head for a double and bringing in Delmon Young. What should've been the game-ending out ended up cutting the Tigers' lead to one run.
And with Denard Span (.438/.462/.521 vs. Detroit this season) coming to the plate next, a tie looked almost certain. But Fernando Rodney set him up nicely with two change-ups before coming inside with a fastball. Span hit a shallow fly ball to left field to end the game, and the Tigers had their two-game first-place lead back.
One of the big differences in Verlander's game this season is that he has a game plan against hitters, rather than trying to just blow them away with his stuff. Look at how he handled Cuddyer, whose bat was sizzling coming into this series. (.884 OPS, eight homers, 24 RBIs in September.)
Knowing Cuddyer jumps on fastballs early in the count, Verlander consistently threw breaking balls to get ahead. Then when Cuddyer was expecting the slow stuff, Verlander came back with 98 m.p.h fastballs. It was a masterful job of pitching, which resulted in an 0-for-4 night for Cuddyer.
Comment of the Night:
When life gives you bad juju
by Dale S