Victorious Rick Porcello (4-3) was brilliant once again, shutting out the Twins over seven innings on only three hits, striking out five.
Jose Valverde, a pariah in Detroit after blowing his third save earlier this week, was given the ball in the bottom of the ninth in what was a non-save situation. He didn't give fans much to be encouraged about, falling behind two of the batters he faced, walking the lead off man and hitting another. A double play ball with no one out allowed Valverde to pitch out of trouble and close out the win.
Losing pitcher Scott Diamond (4-6) ended his day with 5 2/3 innings pitched, allowing four runs on five hits, striking out just one. The Tigers could do nothing against the Twins' bullpen, Casey Fien and Ryan Pressly combining for 2 1/3 hitless innings. But it wasn't enough, the Tigers having done all their damage in one inning, the sixth.
The Twins could do little against four Tigers pitchers, held to just three hits. The Tigers could only muster five hits of their own, but they still accomplished a rare feat on offense. All five base hits were doubles.
Prince Fielder led the way with two doubles, including a sixth inning two-bagger of the two RBI variety which broke open a scoreless game. Jhonny Peralta chipped in with two doubles of his own driving in one. Victor Martinez was the final serial doubler, adding an RBI.
The talk of Detroit the last two days was nothing but Jose Valverde, Jose Valverde, Jose Valverde, with a dose of Jim Leyland thrown in.. You had to figure Leyland would put his closer right back on the bucking bronco known as the ninth inning horse the opportunity arose. It would be up to Porcello to see he got that opportunity.
Target Field, Jamey Carroll and the Ghost of the Metrodome combined to save Diamond a run in the second inning.
With two down, Peralta smacked a fly ball to the 365 mark in deep right center, but it stayed in the park due to it landing 22' up on Target Field's 23' high wall. Instead of a home run, Peralta was forced to hustle for a two base hit. Matt Tuiasosopo followed with a hot shot down the third base line, but Carroll made a diving stop (his second in two innings), then threw out Tuiasosopo to end the inning - an inning with traits of the very bad things we used to see regularly in the Homer-Baggie-Horror-Metrodome.
A pitcher's duel would ensue, neither team able to get on the scoreboard. Considering how well Diamond does against the Tigers and how well Porcello has been throwing of late, it wasn't a surprise.
Despite the game being scoreless, the Tigers were hitting Diamond hard, but Twins defenders were flashing their glove leather to great effect. But Porcello was just plain dominant, mowing down the first six batters he faced on 20 pitches, striking out four. Most impressively, Porcello made both Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau look silly, needing only six pitches to dispose of them via strikeout.
Porcello allowed his first hit in the third, off the bat of Clete Thomas. Of course, it would be an ex-Tiger doing the damage. Thomas also ended the inning when Alex Avila threw an absolute strike to second, catching the former leader of Clete's Cult stealing. Porcello had still faced the minimum at this point.
The Tigers had their second two-out double of the night in the fourth, Fielder legging out a gapper to right-center, landing with a head-first
slide crash. The Tigers also had their second "Threaten but do not score" moment when Martinez flew out to right to end the inning.
The first Twin to reach second did so in a very Twins-esque way - Twins Hit and throwing error.
Two out in the fourth, Omar Infante tried to bare-hand Ryan Doumit's swinging bunt, but would have been far better served eating it. He proceeded to make a weak, off-target throw which dribbled into into the dugout. The play was correctly scored single, E-4. Porcello pitched out of trouble on his own, carving up Willingham on a wicked 3-2 bender, striking him out to end the mini-threat.
After the Tigers went down in order in the top of the fifth, the Twins started to get good wood on Porcello's pitches. Morneau sent a warning track fly to deep left, causing Rod Allen to blurt out Target Field was a "Graveyard" for fly balls. Which meant the next batter, Oswaldo Arcia, would drill a line drive to dead center over Austin Jackson's head for a one out double.
No matter, the game would remain scoreless, the Twins pulling a "Tigers" by stranding Arcia. Porcello retired Cletus on a liner to center, then ending the threat on Brian Dozier's come-backer.
Five innings in, the the Twins and Tigers had combined for five hits, no runs and four runners stranded in scoring position. It was becoming one of "those" games.
All of a sudden, it wasn't. The sixth inning arrived, so did the Tigers' bats.
For the the third inning against Diamond, the Tigers had a base runner reach scoring position with two out. This time they would string together three two-out base hits to take a lead the Tigers would not give back .
Jackson reached base for the first time since May, walking with one down. Hunter moved him over with a ground ball. Two down and first base open, Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire elected to face Fielder instead of Miguel Cabrera, issuing the AL's leading hitter an intentional pass.
Gardenhire would pay the price for his strategy.
Fielder entered the game hitting .471 with two homers and 23 RBIs after a Cabrera walk. Make it .486 with 25 RBIs after he drilled a double off the base of the wall in right-center. Jackson scored easily, Cabrera ran through Tom Brookens' stop sign as the Twins' throw went to second base. Fielder had broken the ice, putting the Tigers up 2-0.
Martinez followed with a double of his own to left-center, Fielder crossing the plate to make it a three run inning.
Peralta made it three consecutive doubles, Arcia waving at the line drive, allowing both Martinez to score and Diamond to exit the game.
Another ex-Tiger, right-hander Casey Fien, would end the inning by striking out Tuiasosopo. But the Tigers had already parlayed two walks and three doubles into a 4-0 lead. Diamond was charged with all four Tigers runs.
Given a four run lead, Porcello did just what he was supposed to do. He tossed a shutdown bottom of the sixth, retiring the Twins in order. He did get help from Hunter, who made a spectacular tumbling shoestring catch on Pedro Florimon's dying quail for the first out.
After the half inning, there was no sign of a "Handshake of doom." Made sense, considering Porcello's pitch count was a mere 79 pitches through six. But hedging his bets, Jim Leyland had Drew Smyly was warming up in the top of the seventh.
So it figured Porcello would unleash a ridiculous looking one-hopper which hit on the edge of the infield grass15 feet in front of the plate when facing the lead off man, Doumit. He recovered from the cricket-like pitch to toss a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh. This time give an assist to Peralta (actually, he did get an assist, but hey), who ventured deep into the hole to throw out Morneau for the third out.
After setting down the final eight Twins he faced, Porcello was finally the recipient of Leyland's "Handshake of doom" after 94 pitches. Having wrapped up his fourth straight quality start, Porcello has now allowed just four earned run in those games.
After the Tigers went down in order in the eighth (of course they did, it's after the seventh inning!), Smyly took over for Porcello in the bottom half of the inning. Warming up were Joaquin Benoit (no problem) and Jose Valverde (GAK!).
Pitching coach Jeff Jones paid a visit to Smyly after he walked Thomas with one down, then went 2-0 on the .222 hitting number eight hitter, Dozier. With the count 3-2, Dozier fouled off a pitch, but hit Avila's glove in the process. Dozier was given first base on catcher's interference, Avila was charged with an error and Smyly was yanked for Benoit.
Benoit to the rescue! The possible closer-in-waiting was excellent. He struck out Florimon, the ended the threat by inducing a 4-3 ground ball off the bat of pinch-hitter Chris Parmelee. A lights-out Benoit kept the shutout alive.
You could hear sphincters clenching all over Tigerdom. The game was being set up for a Valverde to pitch in a non-save opportunity.
Leyland is going to put the Potato right back on the horse.— Dave Hogg (@Stareagle) June 15, 2013
#Tigers Valverde did not sit down after the eighth - still warming up— Tom Gage (@Tom_Gage) June 15, 2013
Potatoes are served.— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) June 15, 2013
Yes, it would be Valverde in the ninth, but Phil Coke was warming up in the pen as a fallback option. Valverde immediately walked Joe Mauer on five pitches (cue facepalms all over Detroit).
Valverde was then was the recipient of a pitcher's best friend - the tailor made 6-4-3 double platy. Doumit hit Vavlerde's 0-1 fastball hard, but on the ground right at Peralta, who quickly started the Twin killing. You could hear sphincters un-clenching all over Tigerdom.
With two down, Valverde did throw a splitter to Willingham. But it bounced in the opposite batter's box, the splitter still undependable. Compounding matters, Valverde couldn't get out the inning easily. He went to a full count before plunking Willingham, who would advance to second on your obligatory Tigers ninth inning defensive indifference.
Valverde finally closed out the game when Morneau was punched out looking to end a stressful, but successful ninth inning - which was to the disappointment of some.
VALVERDE DIDN'T CRAP THE MOUND. NIGHT RUINED.— NOT BUSTER OLNEY (@TRIPPINGOLNEY) June 15, 2013
But a win is a win. Plus any sign Valverde can return to a semblance of effectiveness is a good thing.
But the story of the night was Rick Porcello. You could throw a ton of superlatives out there about his performance, and all would work. Terrific, great, excellent, brilliant, they all fit. It now feels like Porcello's oft-mentioned nightmare game in Anaheim was another life-time ago.
One other thing we need to remember. Despite all the dramatics and calling for the head of (name of respective manager or reliever here), the Tigers are 7-3 in their last ten games and have the biggest lead of any team in the AL (and second largest lead in MLB). This team isn't perfect, Valverde is still closing, but they remain in damn good shape, regardless what the doomsayers may claim.
The Tigers take a 4 1/2 game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the Central with the victory, raising their record to 37-28 and15-18 on the road. The pesky Kansas City Royals won again, hovering in third place at five games out.
In game two of the weekend series, the Tigers start Anibal Sanchez (6-5, 2.65 ERA). Sanchez was scratched from his last start due to shoulder tightness, but is 2-1, 2.38 with 30 strikeouts his last three starts. The Twins counter with Samuel Deduno (2-1, 3.47 ERA), who has been lights out in his last three starts (2-0, 1.50) since the Tigers pummeled him for nine hits and six runs in 5 1/3 innings on May 24. That game is also notable for Sanchez no-hitting the Twins for 8 1/3 innings, losing the no-no on a ninth inning Joe Mauer single. First pitch is at another oddball time of 7:15 ET, thanks to the game being broadcast on FOX. Prepare for a blackout depending on the game FOX schedules for your area.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
The game started approximately a half hour late due the Twins naming Eddie Guardado into their Hall of Fame, a player with a career 4.50 ERA and 116 saves in 639 career appearances over 12 Minnesota seasons. Essentially, it would be comparable to the Tigers honoring, lets say, Mike Henneman.
Meanwhile, in the Tigers' radio booth:
@VivaTigres Tui-grumble-popo isn't correct?— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) June 15, 2013
Meanwhile, in C-bus:
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia:
Clete's Cult unite! Ex-Tiger Clete Thomas is back in the bigs with the Twins. He started the game in center, coming off a career night of four hits and two RBI on Wednesday. Thomas also seemed to be very, very concerned.
Or was he just shocked by his recent success?
Clete always looks like he's surprised/terrified/pooping.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) June 15, 2013
In the fourth inning Prince Fielder
slid crash landed head-first into second base.The reaction was swift.
Pretty sure 2B will never be the same. RT @chefsws: Yikes! I think he killed 2nd base.— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) June 15, 2013
Picture Prince running at full speed and tackling, say, Jered Weaver. Try not to smile.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) June 15, 2013
Great hustle, even better slide.
I think I can, I think I can, I knew I could!
Rod Allen quote of the night:
"It looks like the Tigers have made an adjustment against Diamond" yes they're hitting routine fly balls instead of routine grounders!— Grey (@spacemnkymafia) June 15, 2013
Held scoreless through five, the Tigers looked to be on their way to wasting another Rick Porcello quality start. But let's look at the bright side!
Hey, at least our fifth starter is going toe-to-toe with their ace— Detroit4lyfe (@Detroit4lyfeRob) June 15, 2013
A game with no offense to speak of meant it was becoming a rough night for the hard-working beat writers:
The Tigers have two hits through four. The Twins have one through three. A sneak peek at the game story. pic.twitter.com/DyIBoCGmoW— Chris Iott (@Chris_Iott) June 15, 2013
Other game notes: -- Ryan Doumit has good walk-up music. -- Fans don't want to see Valverde. That's all I've got.— Chris Iott (@Chris_Iott) June 15, 2013
The Twins issued an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera in the sixth (resulting in a four run rally). It was the ninth IBB of 2013 for Cabrera, tying Joey Votto for the MLB lead.
Tigers fans are all over the map in regard to Drew Smyly, who was warming up in the seventh.
Smyly would be best used as a starter or the closer or in middle relief or against lefties or in Toledo, depending on which fans you ask.— Chris Iott (@Chris_Iott) June 15, 2013
After seven innings, Porcello was yanked, but Smyly was ineffective. Cue the angst.
SMYLY FOR CLOSER THOUGH RIGHT? RIGHT? COME ON GUYS HE'S PERFECT HE WALKS PEOPLE AND EVERYTHING— Grey (@spacemnkymafia) June 15, 2013
How is that "yank the effective starter" strategy working today, Jimmy?— Patrick OKennedy (@Tigerdog_1) June 15, 2013
This is setting up perfectly for a Valverde save opp in the ninth.— Alexandra Simon (@catswithbats) June 15, 2013
So Papa gonna face Mauer, Doumit, Willingham…
We hope. Well, sort of.
And that, my friends, is how you spell DOOOOOOOOOM.
Meanwhile, back in Philly:
Watching Phiilly/Col. Papelbon gives up leadoff single in 9th. Runner steals second easily. Yeah, this could work in Detroit.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) June 15, 2013
All Leyland would really say about Valverde (and Smyly, for that matter) was the lead off walks were "no-no's."
"You can't walked the lead off hitter in the ninth, you can't walk the left-hand hitter in the eighth."
At least the Tigers' cranky skipper spoke to the media tonight, rather than throwing another hissy fit. With a five man starting rotation putting up numbers like the following, Leyland has no reason to be upset.
Rick Porcello: After reaching a season high ERA of 11.08 after the "Death by paper cuts" loss to the Angels, Porcello has lowered his ERA by almost seven runs. He ended his latest quality start (now at four straight) with a far more respectable ERA of 4.37, thanks to a 2.84 ERA in his past nine starts.
Prince Fielder: Led the Tigers' offense with two hits, including the game-breaking double. One of these days the opposition will pitch to Miguel Cabrera with first base open. Until that time, Fielder will continue to make teams pay.
Joaquin Benoit: Was absolutely lights out, extinguishing a two on, one out threat in the eighth with ease. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your outlook), Benoit's effectiveness as the setup man will keep him in the eighth inning role!
Jhonny Peralta: Played solid defense, reached base three timers, now hitting .333 after a 2-for-3 night
Jose Valverde: Yes, he didn't allow a home run, or even a run. But Valverde did walk the lead off man, plunked another and went to full counts on two of the four batters he faced. Let's just say it wasn't the sort of appearance to engender confidence.
Post seventh inning offense: One Tiger reached base in the seventh through ninth innings, Peralta drawing a ninth inning walk. The lack of late game scoring is more a fluke than anything, but it's becoming very annoying.
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All but forgotten in all the closer drama over the past 48 hours was Justin Verlander's seven shutout innings. JV wasn't forgotten in BYB's PotG poll at 97% of the vote, taking all but five of the ballots cast.