Anibal Sanchez had been cruising, shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates on two hits and one run through 6 1/3 innings. Down 3-1, the Pirate would knock Sanchez out of the game as part of a four-run rally in the seventh, coming from behind to beat the Detroit Tigers 5-3.
Bryan Morris (2-2), the second of four Pirates pitchers, tossed a scoreless seventh to receive credit for the victory. Jason Grilli shut down his former team for the second straight night, recording save number 22.
In his first start after carrying a no-hitter through 8 1/3 innings, Sanchez (5-5) looked to be on track for his second straight victory. Instead, he was tagged with his fifth loss, allowing five runs and seven hits, striking out nine, in 6 2/3 innings.
Neil Walker had a pair of hits for the Pirates, including his fourth home run. Pedro Alvarez chipped in a two-RBI double which would tie the game. Travis Snider's RBI double was the game winner. Miguel Cabrera supplied the majority of the Tiger's offense with a two-run home run, his 15th of the season. Cabera leads MLB with 59 RBI.
It was two games for the price of one. The Tigers dominated for 6 1/3, the Pirates coming back to win the game in the final 2 2/3 innings.
Two out and Torii Hunter on base via a missed call (a catch which was ruled a trap), Garrett Jones booted Prince Fielder's ground ball to first. With the shift on, third baseman Alvarez was in position to pick up the muff, and proceeded to throw the ball over the head of Burnett, who was covering the bag. When the dust had settled, the Tigers had runners on the corners, while the Pirates were charged with two errors (Jones and Alverez) on the play.
Despite the Tigers getting five outs in the inning, they couldn't convert on the gifts. Jhonny Peralta was rung up looking to end what was a pretty ridiculous half inning.
The Tigers threatened again the second, courtesy of NL style baseball, which is two walks and a sacrifice bunt by the pitcher.
Alex Avila led off with a base on balls. After the umps had blown another call for the first out (Omar Infante incorrectly called out on a bang-bang play), Don Kelly drew a walk. With Sanchez batting ninth, everyone knew what was coming. Because what you do in the NL is bunt all the damn time. Regardless, Sanchez laid down a prefect sacrifice, moving the runners over. But Andy Dirks bounced out to end anther threat.
While Pirates starter A.J. Burnett was pitching into and out of trouble, Sanchez was plain dealing against anyone not named Walker. Last night's hero, Neil Walker, the most famous brother-in-law in Tigerdom, singled with one down in the first. From that point, Sanchez retired eight straight.
When Walker came around to bat again in the fourth, he continued his morphing into a Tiger Killer. First pitch swinging at a 93 MPH fastball, Walker's fly to deep right center just cleared the wall at the 375' mark. Walker's fourth home run of the season (second in two games) had given the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
Walker had been the only player from either team to cross home plate since Russell Martin scored for the Pirates in the eighth inning of Monday's game. The Tigers themselves had not scored a run since the seventh inning on Monday, their scoreless skein reaching 16 innings.
The Tigers moved Donnie Baseball into scoring position in the fifth, thanks to more oh-so-fascinating NL-style baseball. For some reason, only God knows why, Burnett walked the .186 hitting Kelly for the second straight at-bat. Sanchez whiffed trying to lay down a bunt on what was ruled a wild pitch, Kelly advancing to second.
After failing in his first at-bat, Dirks came through with a runner in scoring position the second time around. He ripped an RBI double to right center to plate Kelly, knotting the score at 1-all.
Once Dirks had ended the scoreless streak, Miguel Cabrera gave the Tigers their first lead since hanging on to win on Memorial Day.
The Mighty Cabrera launched Burnett's 2-2 belt-high fastball to the opposite field, well into the right field seats. The two-run shot was Cabrera's 15th home run of the season, the Tigers up 3-1.
The Tigers continued to hit Burnett hard in the inning after taking a lead. Fielder and Peralta followed Cabrera's big fly with back-to-back singles. With runners on the corners, the not so mighty Avila struck out swinging to end a long 29-pitch inning for Burnett.
For some reason Burnett absolutely refused to throw strikes to Kelly (but threw strikes to Cabrera, go figure), walking him for a third time in the sixth. Sanchez would sacrifice him to second, where he would be stranded by Dirks, flying out.
It wasn't much of a threat, but Don Kelly walking three times needed to be written up for posterity. It's a feat we'll never see again, up there with the 28-out perfect game.
Sanchez shook off the Walker home run, going on a tear, retiring another eight straight Pirates. Make it nine. Sanchez finally got Walker, striking him out to end the sixth.
The first Pirate to reach base who was not related to Don Kelly was Jones, who singled with one down in the seventh.
All Hell then proceeded to break loose.
A suddenly wild and hittable Sanchez walked Martin. Alvarez pounced on a first-pitch fastball, driving it past Kelly in center for a two-RBI double, the game tied in the blink of an eye.
As quickly as the game was tied, the Tigers just as quickly lost the lead.
Snider doubled off the wall in right, Alvarez scoring to make it 4-3 Pittsburgh. Once Snider advanced to third on a wild pitch, the Buccos then caught the Tigers napping. Jordy Mercer laid down a perfect squeeze bunt. Sanchez didn't have a play; Mercer was safe at first as no one was covering the bag, Snider sliding home with the fourth run of the inning.
Mercer stole second as pinch hitter Gaby Sanchez was striking out. But Starling Marte kept the inning alive, reaching on an infield single to deep short. And that was that for Sanchez.
It would be Drew Smyly to the rescue, getting the last out of a stunning inning when Walker (of all Pirates) flew out to right.
Sanchez had been dominating, allowing just two hits and one run through 6 1/3 innings. The game then took a complete 180-degree turn. Sanchez went from dominant pitching to throwing batting practice. He would face seven more Pirates, retiring only one, allowing four runs on five hits, a walk, a wild pitch, and a stolen base. I needed a neck brace from the whiplash.
Smyly holding the Pirates at bay, the Tigers would have to come back against the best closer in baseball this season, Jason Grilli. (I can't believe I just used the word "best" when writing about Grilli, but 21 saves are 21 saves).
Pinch hitting in the number nine spot, Victor Martinez led off the ninth with a single. Martinez was eliminated from the base paths when Dirks bounced into a force. Avisail Garcia, who replaced Hunter after he was hit by a pitch in the seventh, was caught looking for the second out.
Two down, it would be up to Cabrera, who represented the tying run.
First pitch swinging, Cabrera made a bid, hitting a fly to deep right center ... but not deep enough, dying at the warning track for the final out.
Grilli had save number 22, his second straight against his former team.
A very odd game, over.
Sanchez's performance turned in the blink of an eye. That happens, but you never expect it, especially when Sanchez had been mowing down any Pirate not named Walker. But as bad as Sanchez's seventh inning was, the Tigers' offense was far worse. The Tigers have scored only three runs since they plated two in the seventh inning of Monday's 6-5 win. Since then they have scored a mere three runs and have only 12 hits in their past 21 innings. A brutal lack of production like that won't win you a game, let alone two.
But the Tigers still have a chance to split with the Pirates with a win on Thursday. I'd take it and run.
As for the standings, the Tigers have lost two straight but hold onto first place the AL Central over the Indians (who snapped a five-game losing streak, beating the Reds) with a 29-22 record. The 33-20 Pirates are now tied for second in the NL Central with the Reds, two games back of the Cardinals.
In the finale of the four-game home-and-home series at PNC Park, the Tigers will ride the right arm of the tall man who leads MLB in HBP, Doug Fister (5-2, 3.65 ERA). The Pirates will counter with lefty Jeff Locke (5-1, 2.45), who hasn't lost a game since April 7.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
There was a temporary change in the FSD booth tonight. Craig Monroe covered for an absent Rod Allen. C-Mo? This will not end well.
Oh dear. Monroe is filling in for Rod tonight. FSD hates us all.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) May 29, 2013
Shouldn't Craig Monroe call a few games in Lakeland first?— Matt Sussman (@suss2hyphens) May 29, 2013
No worries, the outfielder who terrorized pitchers in Japan will be back in the booth soon.
All is good on my end, I'll be back in Pitt tmrw. Thank You for your love and concern.— Rod Allen (@RodAllen12) May 30, 2013
In the first inning, the umpires missed a call instant replay could have easily and quickly reversed. Travis Snider made a nice diving catch of Torii Hunter's sinking liner, but first base umpire Manny Gonzalez called it a trap. Replays confirmed what the naked eye watching on TV could see; it was a catch. After a meeting of the umpire minds at the request of Clint Hurdle, the missed call was upheld, Hunter credited with a base hit. MLB has deemed it necessary the "human element" must be involved, even if it means bad calls aren't corrected.
The upside of the human element was that Hunter's hitting streak reached ten games.
The human element named Manny Gonzalez continued to blow calls in the second inning. Omar Infante had beat out an infield single by a half step, but was called out by Gonzalez. Once again, replays showed the call was missed. The first thing to come to mind after this close call went against the Tigers?
Make-up call?— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) May 29, 2013
If you absolutely have to bunt, this makes too much sense not to happen.
Next time Leyland wants to bunt he should just send a pitcher up to pinch hit. They're better at it than 90% of his position players— Grey (@spacemnkymafia) May 29, 2013
Jim Leyland has said in the past Miguel Cabrera has the most opposite field power he's ever seen during his decades in baseball. Cabrera flashed that insane opposite field power in the fifth to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead.
Six of Miggy's 15 home runs have gone to right or right-center field. #Tigers— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) May 30, 2013
Sixty-eight of Miggy's 336 career HRs (now t98 all time) were to right field or right-center. #Tigers— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) May 30, 2013
Let's not forget about Cabrera's crazy 59 RBIs on the season, still tracking near MLB-record pace.
With the 2-run HR, Cabrera now has 59 RBI and is back in a tie with Greenberg (1937) for most by a Tigers player in 1st 51 games. #tigers— Rick Thompson (@Thompson_Tigers) May 30, 2013
A.J. Burnett must fear Don Kelly as much as Jim Leyland fears not having Kelly on his roster. Burnett walked Kelly in three straight at-bats, a career high for Donnie Baseball. Only one of the walks came back to haunt Burnett, Kelly scoring in the fifth.
Any pitcher who walks Don Kelly three times deserves to be on the hook for a loss. Burnett was pulled after six innings, replaced by lefty reliever Bryan Morris.
Hunter was hit in the elbow by a Morris pitch in the seventh, and was pulled from the game. The Tigers announced X-rays were negative. There's been no word if Hunter will miss any time.
Brandon Inge pinch hit in the eighth and was part of a bizarre strike 'em out, throw 'em out with Andrew McCutchen. Inge was punched out looking (to no one's surprise), but a confused McCutchen had stopped running, apparently believing it was ball four. Brayan Pena will never have an easier caught stealing.
National League baseball in a nutshell: Sanchez never swung his bat, attempting (sometimes successfully) to sacrifice bunt in every plate appearance. Do NL apologists actually prefer this over the designated hitter?
What a miserable night. The Tigers lose, Sanchez gets hit hard after an awesome six innings, Hunter is hurt, the Tigers' offense remains MIA and Jason Grilli gets the save.
Anibal Sanchez for 6 1/3 innings: Absolutely dominant, allowing just two hits and striking out eight as the Tigers led 3-1.
Miguel Cabrera: Gave the Tigers what looked to be their winning margin with a two-run home run. That is, before Sanchez imploded faster than a supernova.
Don Kelly: Put the fear of God into Burnett, who refused to pitch to him, reaching base all three at-bats.
Anibal Sanchez for 1/3 inning: Absolutely hittable, giving back the lead on five hits and four runs. Sanchez left the game on the hook for the loss, the Tigers down 5-3 after seven.
The Tigers' offense: Save for tonight's three-run fifth inning, the offense has been nonexistent for two games.
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Rick Porcello pitched the best game of his career, yet didn't get a decision. The BYB readership awarded Kid Rick a consolation prize of PotG with a near whitewash, taking 218 of a possible 219 votes.