The Detroit Tigers received another quality start, this time from Max Scherzer. But unlike Doug Fister on Wednesday night, the Tigers actually rewarded Scherzer's effort with run support in a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Scherzer (8-0) pitched a gem to remain undefeated on the season, holding the Rays to one run on four hits, striking out nine. It was the seventh time in his last eight appearances Scherzer had at least seven strikeouts. He also becomes the first Tigers pitcher since 2007 to start a season 8-0.
Making his first appearance since allowing two home runs to the Orioles while blowing his second save of the season, Jose Valverde bounced back to retire the Rays in order for his seventh save.
Rays starter Roberto Hernandez (3-6) took the loss, roughed up for ten hits and four runs in 5 1/3 innings.
James Loney was the only Ray with more than one hit or an RBI with two of each, respectively. Victor Martinez led the Tigers' attack with two hits and three RBIs, including a home run. Miguel Cabrera raised his league-leading average to .373 with a three-hit afternoon, adding his league-leading 66th RBI. Jhonny Peralta's two hits moved him into third in the AL batting race, the Tigers shortstop now hitting .335.
In a victorious game one of the series, the Tigers scored ten runs on 15 hits. In a game two loss, the Tigers were shut out on just six hits. Will the Tigers score in double digits, flail about helplessly or find a happy medium in the series finale?
Carmona Hernandez got himself into early trouble, the Tigers putting a run in scoring position for the fifth straight inning (including the last four in Wednesday's loss). The Tigers then failed to score with a runner in scoring position for the fifth straight inning.
Miguel Cabrera laced a two-out single to right. The Rays proceeded to pitch around Prince Fielder, giving him a base on balls. Victor Martinez couldn't make the Rays pay for their insolence, Hernandez struck him out on a 1-2 breaking ball. Another threat had died an ugly death.
The Rays had a couple of two-out base runners themselves in the top of the second, Luke Scott (of course) and Jose Molina had back-to-back two-out singles. Just like the Tigers, the Rays couldn't come through with a run-scoring hit. Yunel Escobar sent a can of corn to center, ending the inning.
The Tigers' scoreless streak reached 12 innings after the Tigers could do little with Hernandez in the first three innings.
The streak mercifully ended in the fourth.
One down after a Cabrera strikeout, Fielder singled. Martinez couldn't come through with a two-out hit in his first at-bat, but did manage a one-out hit this time around -- a huge hit which broke the scoreless skein. Martinez yanked a Hernandez fastball over the right field wall on a line. Martinez's fourth home of the season gave the Tigers their first lead since Tuesday night at 2-0 (MLB.com video).
Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila followed the big fly with consecutive singles, but Omar Infante bounced into a 6-4-3 twin killing to end the rally.
Scherzer, just as his compatriots in the rotation as of late, was dealing. Given a 2-0 lead, Scherzer tossed a shut-down fifth, having now retired ten of the last 11 batters he had faced.
Could the Tigers actually score runs in back-to-back innings? They had a shot in the bottom of the fifth.
Don Kelly led off with a single, then advanced into scoring position when Andy Dirks bounced out. With two down, Cabrera didn't hit the ball hard but still got enough on it to drop a looper in front of a diving Matt Joyce in shallow right center for a single. Kelly scored easily, the Tigers taking a 3-0 advantage on Cabrera's league-leading 66th RBI.
The Rays countered by manufacturing a run in the sixth off Scherzer. Ben Zobrist walked, stole second and rode home on James Loney's two-out single, only the fourth hit allowed by Scherzer.
The Tigers had a shot at making it three innings in a row with a run scored in the bottom half of the sixth. Leading off, Peralta shook off his rough game on Wednesday with his second hit of the afternoon, drilling a long double to Death Valley in right center. With one down, Infante singled to give the Tigers runners on the corners.
Once Hernandez was unsuccessful (three times) in his attempts to pick off Infante with Kelly at the plate, Joe Maddon went to the Rays bullpen, calling on lefty Jake McGee. Jim Leyland countered by pinch-hitting Avisail Garcia. Mini-Miggy did the job, his sacrifice fly to deep right plating Peralta, the Tigers back up by three runs at 4-1.
Scherzer wrapped up another marvelous performance by retiring the Rays in order in the seventh, including strikeouts number eight and nine. Despite a pitch count of 100, Scherzer was the recipient of Jim Leyland's "Handshake of Doom," the Tigers going to their bullpen for the final six outs.
Bottom of seven, Cabrera tried to Potato-proof the game on his own.
Caberera led off with a single off the leg of McGee, knocking him out of the game. He took advantage of the slow delivery of McGee's replacement, Jamey Wright, stealing second without a throw. Martinez then bounced a ground-ball single through the left side. Despite Sam Fuld playing extremely shallow, third base coach Tom Brookens had Cabrera challenge the left fielder's iffy arm. Fuld unleashed a Delmon Young-esque throw, a weak five- (ten-?) hopper to the plate, Cabrera sliding home with the Tigers' fifth run of the day.
Holding a four-run lead, the Tigers went by the bullpen bible, setup man Joaquin Benoit toeing the rubber in the top of the eighth. He found himself in a jam, thanks to the bane of relievers everywhere, the base on balls.
Benoit walked Zobrist with one out, Evan Longoria's two-out ground rule double moving Zobrist to third. Loney followed with a dribbler to third, a frustrated Cabrera having no play. The infield single drove home Zobrist, pulling the Rays to within three runs at 5-2. Desmond Jennings couldn't keep the rally alive, flying out to deep left.
Unless the Tigers could Potato-proof the game by adding an insurance run (or two, or three) in the bottom of the eighth, Jose Valverde would have a three-run lead to protect in the top of the ninth.
There would be no insurance runs for the Big Potato, the Tigers only able to muster a two-out Garcia single in the eighth.
Vavlerde would have to face Tiger Killer Luke Scott leading off. One pitch, one out, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The Tiger Killer wasn't, bouncing out 4-3.
It was all downhill from there -- for the Rays.
Valverde would transform into the confident Papa Grande, mixing his splitter and fastball to strike out pinch hitter Jose Lobaton and grounding out Escobar on a dribbler to Infante. Cue Potato dancing.
Your final score is Tigers 5, Rays 2. The happy medium was found!
The Tigers take two of three from the Rays, and now prepare for the arrival of the second place Cleveland Indians for a weekend series. A sweep would give the Tigers an early choke hold on the division. Get swept, and we're back to where things were a few weeks ago.
With the victory, the Tigers move to six games over .500 at 32-26, increasing their lead in the Central to 2 1/2 games over the idle 30-29 Tribe. Gotta love the Central; the Tigers actually have the biggest divisional lead in the AL.
The first game of the one vs. two divisional matchup is a battle of staff aces. A resurrected Ubaldo Jimenez (4-3, 4.83 ERA - 4-1, 2.74 ERA in his last seven starts) faces (a good, but not great as of late) Justin Verlander 7-4, 3.70 ERA - winner of three straight). First pitch is 7:08 PM, which means the time to start running away with the division has arrived.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Remember former Cleveland Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona? He was the Rays starter this afternoon, but now playing under his given, un-falsified and at-least-three-years-older identity of Roberto Hernandez.
If Tampa starter Roberto Hernandez looks familiar, it is because he's started 17 times against the Tigers as Fausto Carmona.— Dave Hogg (@Stareagle) June 6, 2013
Rod Allen battled, sometimes unsuccessfully, to not call Hernandez "Carmona."
Don Kelly does have one small advantage over Austin Jackson in center field. Kelly will actually leave his feet to make a catch. He robbed James Loney of a fourth-inning single with an excellent diving catch.
The Tigers finally scored a pair of runs in the fourth after being shut out in their 12 previous innings.
Dear Tigers: There are five more innings. The rules do not prohibit you from scoring again in any of the five.— MattinToledo (@MattinToledo) June 6, 2013
I think we all can agree with Rogo when it comes to Tiger Killer Luke Scott:
I like to think that Luke Scott was never born. He just spawned from the devil's afterbirth at some point.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) June 6, 2013
On FSD, here's Mario Impemba taking about Scherzer in the fifth:
"Max hasn't gone to a three ball count yet!"
You knew it was going to happen. Scherzer proceeded to walk the next batter.
Miguel Cabrera does more than punish pitching; he physically knocks them out of games. Leading off the seventh, Cabrera rocketed a one-hopper off the left shin of Jake McGee for an infield single. McGee was unable to continue, replaced by Jamey Wright.
Cabrera came up limping after sliding home with the Tigers' fifth run in the seventh. He was still favoring it while fielding Loney's infield single in the eighth. This bears watching, though odds are it's just a strawberry. I HOPE it's just a strawberry. After the game, reports out of the locker room had Cabrera telling Leyland he was fine.
The Rod Allen quote of the game came during the post game highlights. "Hernandez" was still giving him issues:
"Mr. Roberto Hernandez going up against his former teammate, Victor Hernandez..."
Don't ever change, Rod.
Max Scherzer: The last Tigers pitcher to start a season 8-0 was Jeremy Bonderman. Odds are Scherzer's season will end much better than Bondo's did. How good has Scherzer been? Including today's win, in his last four starts covering 29 innings, Scherzer has allowed a total of six runs on just ten hits, striking out 32. He also reached triple-digit strike outs on the season in the seventh.
The ninth strikeout today was Scherzer's 100th on the season. First #Tigers pitcher to fan 100 in team's first 58 games since 1972— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) June 6, 2013
Victor Martinez: His day would have been even better if Escobar hadn't robbed Martinez of a base hit in the fifth. Even when Martinez has a good day (two hits, three RBIs), he can't shake the bad-luck bug.
Miguel Cabrera: Not only had three hits, Cabrera manufactured a run in the seventh by stealing a base and scoring from second on a single to shallow left. Sabermetricians close their eyes, plug their ears and say "LALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
Jose Valverde: As much grief (much of it deserved) as the Potato gets, the converse should be true when he has a shut-down save. I LOVE 1-2-3 ninth innings. More, please.
Don Kelly: Just when you get fed up with Donnie Baseball, he has a good game. Along with his defensive gem, Kelly singled and scored in the fifth.
Jim Leyland: No bunts!!!
Andy Dirks: A miserable game in the lead-off spot, 0-5 with a K.
Torii Hunter: The number two spot wasn't much better; Hunter average dipped under .300 thanks to an 0-for-4 afternoon. Hunter hit .370 in April, but just .255 in May and is at a brutal .167 to start June.
Joaquin Benoit: Late-game walks often end badly. Benoit allowed a run in his one inning of work. That runner originally reached via a base on balls.
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TOP TEN COMMENTERS:
Doug Fister's quality start beat Alex Avila's defensive brilliance and Charlie the Singing Hot Dog Vendor's voice with 71% of the vote.