In what is a make or break five game series for the Kansas City Royals, the the Detroit Tigers took a further stranglehold on the American League Central race with a 4-1 victory. Once considered the hottest team in baseball during an 18-5 stretch, the Royals have lost three straight and have only won twice in their last six.
Tigers' starter and winner Anibal Sanchez (11-7) had a difficult first inning, but settled in to pitch into the eighth. Sanchez shut down the Royals for 7 1/3 innings, allowing just one run on seven hits, striking out five while walking only one. Joaquin Benoit pitched the ninth, converting his 16th save in as many opportunities.
Sanchez's Royals counterpart, Jeremy Guthrie (12-9), lasted seven full innings, but gave up 13 hits and all four Tigers runs. Guthrie didn't walk a batter, but only struck out two.
Prince Fielder ended a long home run drought with a two run shot in the first inning. Miguel Cabrera upped his league leading RBI total to 115 with a fifth inning single. Torii Hunter had a pair of hits, driving in the other Tigers' run. But it was slumping Andy Dirks who triggered the Tigers' offense. Moved to lead off when Austin Jackson was given the night off, Dirks responded with four hits and two runs scored.
Alex Gordon drove in the lone Royals run with a first inning single. With the top of the Royals order supplying most of the offense, Chris Getz and Eric Hosmer each had a pair of hits.
Given a chance to put a dagger in the hopes of a rival for the second time in less than two weeks, the Tigers broke out the blade with a victory over the once smoking hot Royals. First given the dagger was Sanchez, who dominated the Royals, putting a puncture in their playoff hopes with an excellent outing. With four big hits, Dirks got stabby as well, but the night truly belonged to Sanchez.
Anibal Sanchez found himself in first inning trouble, allowing back-to-back singles to lead off man Chris Getz and Eric Hosmer. Sanchez almost got out of the inning unscathed. Almost.
Tiger Killer Billy Butler bounced into an easy 6-4-3 double play, Getz taking third. Sanchez got ahead in the count 0-2 on Alex Gordon, and looked to be on his way to a scoreless inning. But Gordon got just enough of a 1-2 pitch, sending a looper to right, dropping in front of Torii Hunter (who was playing deep with two out, and then broke back a step) for an RBI single.
The Royals up 1-0, Gordon proceeded to steal second (getting such a huge jump, Brayan Pena didn't have a chance). Salvador Perez extended the inning by drawing a walk. But Sanchez kept the damage to a minimum, Justin Maxwell lining softly to Miguel Cabrera to end the inning. Sanchez needed 30 pitches to get out of the first, the most since back-to-back 32 pitch innings against the Rangers on May 18.
Andy Dirks, surprisingly slotted lead off, singled to to start bottom half of the first. One down, Cabrera made a bid to take Jeremy Guthrie deep, but his fly ball to right center died just short of the warning track. Prince Fielder, playing at home for the first time since his personal problems came to light, also made a bid. But Fielder's buggy whipped fly ball had more juice than Cabrera's, carrying over the scoreboard in right center. Fielder's 18th home run was his first since July 24, giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead (MLB.com video).
Top of two, the Royals manufactured small threat. Emilio Bonifacio slapped a lead off single to left, then stole second. Sanchez would strand Bonifacio at second, retiring the next three Royals in order. The Tigers did the same in the bottom half of the inning, Jeremy Guthrie stranding Don Kelly at second after a lead off single.
Sanchez got a much needed easy inning in the third, taking only six pitches to set down the Royals 1-2-3. It greatly helped what had been an elevated pitch count, now at more reasonable 50 after three.
There was a method to the assumed madness of having Dirks bat lead off. He started the bottom of the third with a liner in the right center gap for a two base hit. Things were looking good, until Dirks and Hunter had massive brain farts, committing a double TOOTBLAN*, running the Tigers out of the inning.
*Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop
Hunter bounced a one-hop comebacker to Guthrie. Dirks was caught too far off second, and was tagged out in a run down. Hunter, hoping to advance to second, strayed too far off first and was thrown out out trying to get back to the bag. Score it a 1-4-5-3 double play.
Replays showed Hosmer tagged nothing but dirt (Hunter confirmed it in the post game, saying, "He didn't tag me."). Unfortunately, instant replay review is a season away and it remained a dumb play all around.
Top of four, more small ball by the Royals created a scoring opportunity. Maxwell's liner dropped in left center, legging out a hustle double with one out, taking second on a ground out to first. But Alcides Escobar couldn't come through with a two out hit, Cabrera easily handling his high chopper, ending the inning.
Bottom half of the fourth, the scoring opportunities kept coming. One down, Victor Martinez slapped a liner down the left field line which fell just fair, good for a double. But in an ugly at bat, Kelly stuck out swinging on three pitches. After trying to will a base on balls with the count 3-0 (starting toward first on a pair of pitches called strikes), Omar Infante bounced out, stranding Martinez.
After four full innings, the Tigers were clinging to a 2-1 lead.
Another inning, another Royals threat. Top of five, Getz singled with one out, stealing second without a throw after two were down. The Royals were taking the extra base at every opportunity, Getz's steal the third in five inning for the Royals. Sanchez was able to pitch out of further trouble, Butler striking out. Yes, Tiger Killer Billy Butler was now 0-for-3.
Bottom half of the fifth, the Tigers were finally able to extend their lead.Pena led off with a single, but was eliminated on a ridiculous bunt by Jose Iglesias (odds are it was not a bench call). The bunt was too hard, directly to Guthrie, Pena a dead catcher running at second. But Dirks, hoping to start a rally after helping to run the Tigers out of an earlier one, reached base for the third straight at bat. Driks grounded a hard double down the first base line, Iglesias holding up at third.
Hunter, making amends for his base running blunder, singled to center. Iglesias scoring, Dirks stopping at third. Then Cabrera's power came into play, but not for the reason you'd think. Taking a big cut, Cabrera sent a high fly ball to short center. Jarrod Dyson, playing so deep he was closer to Oakland County, was initially fooled by the swing, then just had too much ground cover to make the play. The fly dropped in front of Dyson for an RBI Twins Hit single, Dirks racing home to push the Tigers' lead to 4-1.
Guthrie would get out of further trouble, stranding a pair of runners in scoring position on Martinez's ground out. But the Tigers managed to overcome a silly failed bunt to score two runs on four hits, up 4-1 on the pesky Royals.
His pitch count at 85, Sanchez needed a quick inning if he wanted a shot at pitching the seventh. He got it, retiring the Royals in order, ending the inning at 98 pitches. Just as Rick Porcello on Wednesday, Sanchez had recovered from a long first inning to pitch fairly deep into the game.
The Tigers had the start of a run scoring threat in the bottom of the sixth, but TOOTBLAN struck ... again. Infante singled with one out, Pena bouncing a single through the right side. As Infante raced to third, Pena took a crazy aggressive turn at first and was caught too far off the bag when the throw was cut off. Once again, this time the fault of his own, Pena was a dead catcher running for the second out. Having a rough game at the plate, Iglesias struck out to end the threat, stranding Infante 90 feet away.
But top of seven, Sanchez was in beast mode. He needed just ten pitches, all strikes, to retire the side. Suddenly, one more inning for Sanchez was in play.
Guthrie was still on the mound for the Royal in the bottom of the seventh. The Tigers appeared to be on the verge of adding an insurance run when Dirks and Hunter started the inning with back-to-back singles. Hoping for a dagger, instead Cabrera bounced into a textbook, tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. Dirks on third, Fielder ended the inning with a can of corn to left.
After seven full innings and in spite of God awful base running, the Tigers were holding on to a 4-1 advantage.
Jim Leyland looking to get one more inning out of his starter with his pitch count at 108, Sanchez took the mound for the bottom of the eighth. But the leash was short. One out, Hosmer bounced a single past a diving Cabrera. At that point, Leyland went to the mound to end Sanchez's evening, calling on the rookie fire-baller, Bruce Rondon.
Rondon came through big time. Country Breakfast finished off an 0-for-4 night by flying out to right. Rondon proceeded to viciously saw off Gordon's bat with a 3-1 fastball clocked at 97 MPH, resulting in a foul pop on which Cabrera made an inning ending sliding catch.
Bottom of eight, Guthrie's night was over, having surrendered 13 hits, but only four runs. On the mound was right-hander Louis Coleman, who has not allowed a run ... period. Called up in May, in limited duty Coleman has a 0.00 ERA in 17 innings over 15 appearances. Make 18 and 16, Coleman retiring the side in order, helped greatly by Dyson covering a massive amount of ground to run down Martinez's drive to deep right center.
Top of nine on tap, it was time for Joaquin Benoit.
Coming off a five out save on Wednesday, Benoit entered the game in a more normal closing situation, needing just three outs. But after that 27 pitch outing, appearing tonight would likely limit Benoit's availability in tomorrow's twin bill.
Leyland made several defensive moves as well. Austin Jackson's night off ended, taking over center field. Kelly slid to left, Dirks leaving the game. Ramon Santiago entered the game at third base for Cabrera (who was limping after the the sliding catch).
Out number one came quickly. First pitch swinging, Perez topped a slow roller to short. Iglesias made a slick play to easily throw out Perez. Maxwell worked a walk, but Bonifacio lined out to the sure handed Iglesias for the second out.
The fans smelling victory, Benoit got his second one pitch out, courtesy of Escobar, His ground ball to third ended a very quick game.
The final score is Tigers 4, Royals 1. In what is damn near a must sweep series for the Royals if they have any hope at competing for the Central title, their division chances took a big blow with tonight's loss. If the Royals weren't already aiming for a wild card slot, the Tigers can all but make the wild card their only hope with a couple of more wins.
The last word on tonight's win comes from the infamous @DadBoner.
Now, more than ever: Bless You Boys, you guys.— Karl Welzein (@DadBoner) August 15, 2013
Having won their last two games after dropping three in a row, the Tigers' raise their record to 71-49. At home, the Tigers are 38-19, a scorching .667 clip. The second place Indians had the day off, and fall 6 1/2 game back of the Tigers at 65-56, 3 1/2 behind in the wild card. Tonight's loss drops the Royals to 62-57, 8 1/2 back of the Tigers and more importantly, 5 1/2 back in the wild card.
Friday, the Royals and Tigers play two for the price of ... well, it's a day / night doubleheader, so it's two for the price of two.
In game one, Royals' left-hander Danny Duffy faces Justin Verlander (12-8, 3.57 ERA). Duffy has recently returned to the big leagues after missing over a year due to elbow surgery. The Royals won Duffy's first start, beating the Twins 6-2 on August 7. But Duffy needed 93 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings of work, allowing six hits, two walks, two runs while striking out seven. Verlander is 2-0, 2.57 ERA in his last three starts. But Verlander is coming off no-decision against the Yankees, allowing four runs in seven innings, including a pair of home runs. First pitch for game one is set for 1:08 PM.
Game two of the twin bill has Royals' ace James Shields (7-8, 3.33 ERA) taking Mud Hens' lefty Jose Alverez. On August 6, Shields had his worst start of the season in a loss to the Twins, giving up seven runs and eight hits over six innings. He bounced back to beat the Red Sox, allowing just two runs over seven innings. Alverez is being called up for a third time this season from a Triple-A Toledo, this time for a one shot spot start. Alverez is 1-2, 5.03 in four games for the Tigers. The night half of the doubleheader is scheduled for a 7:08 first pitch.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Michigan's finest, Karl Welzein aka @DadBoner, is rooting on the Tigers.
When it comes to the Detroit Tigers, everybody's gotta pitch in to make sure crap don't go bad. Motown needs W's anyway they can get 'em.— Karl Welzein (@DadBoner) August 15, 2013
Batting order controversies, always the batting order controversies...
At .307, Andy Dirks has the lowest OBP of the Tigers' starting nine today. He is leading off.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) August 15, 2013
OBP going into tonight: Dirks .307, Hunter .339, Cabrera .453, Fielder .352, Martinez .341, Kelly .344, Infante .345, Pena .332, Iglesias .361 (though it's .279 as a Tiger). We'll see if there is a method to Jim Leyland's madness. As it turned out, there was. Dirks had a huge game, four hits and two runs scored.
The Red Wings' Ken Kal, subbing for Dan Dickerson on the radio play-by-play, understandably still has hockey on his mind.
Ken Kal's first slip of the tongue calling the Tigers the Red Wings: 7:06— rcloserwashighonweed (@spacemnkymafia) August 15, 2013
Prince Fielder's latest home run drought lasted 19 games and 82 at bats. Fielder has also had a 20 game drought between big flies this season, going homerless from June 6 to June 27.
While the Tigers were taking a lead, the Lions were getting their asses kicked by the Browns. Former Lions bloggers on BYB breathed a sigh of relief realizing they made the right decision as to which team to cover.
I watch my Twitter timeline spew Lions vitriol and realize I made a really good decision to concentrate on writing about the Tigers.— Al Beaton (@BigAlBYB) August 16, 2013
@BigAlBYB couldn't agree more!— Melissa Heyboer (@MelissaHeyboer) August 16, 2013
The Tigers committed three base running blunders on the night. After Brayan Pena was far too aggressive rounding first and caught off the bag for the second out of the sixth, there was a collective FACEPALM from the fan base and media.
I knew @TigersLibrarian should have stocked Baserunning For Dummies— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) August 16, 2013
Tigers going with run til you're out approach tonight?— MattinToledo (@MattinToledo) August 16, 2013
Over/under on Royals stolen bases during this 5-game series: 15 sounds conservative ... Unlike the Tigers tonight, the Royals can run bases.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) August 16, 2013
Meanwhile, in Cleveland:
Joique Bell just pushed down a naked streaker. That was crazy.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) August 16, 2013
For the curious, click for kinda NSFW video. By kinda, I mean the video is taken from far enough away you won't see much in detail Considering it's a naked, drunken Ohio resident, we should count out blessings it's blurry.
Jim Leyland has plans once tomorrow's first game ends:
"I'm going to do a lot of my mail between games. Some of the clubhouse kids are going to help me with it. I'm going to sign 'em, they're going to lick 'em and send 'em!"
Leyland did hint at his line up plans for the next couple of days. Hunter will not play Saturday. Santiago will be the second baseman in Friday's game one. In regard to Fielder and Cabrera, Leyland said they will for sure play in at least one of tomorrow's two games.
Andy Dirks: Apparently Jim Leyland knew what ailed Dirks. He needed to bat lead off. While hitting lower in the order, Dirks entered the game hitting .150 (3-20) in August. Tonight, he was 4-for-4 with two runs scored.
Anibal Sanchez: Another excellent outing for Sanchez - 7 1/3 innings, one run, seven hits, five strikeouts, one walk, 115 pitches. All after struggling through a 30 pitch first inning.
Prince Fielder: Gave the Tigers all the runs they would need, and ended a power drought at the same time, with a long two run homer in the first inning.
Bruce Rondon: Tossed a lights out 2/3 of an inning in the eighth, nipping any hope of a Royals rally in the bud.
Quickly played games: The Tigers and Royals knocked out 8 1/2 innings in 2:24. With a ton of baseball to be played tomorrow, a fast paced game tonight was much appreciated.
Tigers' base running: Time for some remedial base running drills. The Tigers ran into three outs, all ridiculous.
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TEN 11 COMMENTERS:
Miguel Cabrera's three run homer kick started the Tigers' offense, leading to a 6-4 win over the White Sox. Cabrera carried the PotG balloting with 65% of the vote.