Alex Avila's second half offensive resurgence reached a crescendo today, single-handedly giving the Detroit Tigers a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals. Avila slugged a pair of home runs off Royals' starter Jeremy Guthrie; a two run shot in the second and the game winning solo homer in the eighth, powering the Tigers' victory.
Max Scherzer pitched well enough to win his 20th. He deserved to win his 20th. But Scherzer fell short of winning his 20th in his fourth attempt, despite holding the Royals to one run and five hits over seven innings. Drew Smyly's wild pitch allowed the Royals to tie the game at 2-all in the eighth, denying Scherzer his milestone. Avila bailed out Smyly, giving the young lefty a vultured win. Joaquin Benoit tossed a hitless ninth to earn his 20th save.
Royals' starter Jeremy Guthrie went toe-to-toe with Scherzer, pitching into and out of several jams. But he couldn't keep Avila in the park, which would be the difference in the game.Guthrie earned a complete game loss, giving up three runs while scattering eight hits in eight innings of work.
The Tigers outhit the Royals 13-6, but were hitless with runners in scoring position. Avila supplied all the offense with his 10th and 11th home runs of the season, driving in all three runs. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez combined on a 7-for-12 afternoon, but not scoring or driving in a run. It's rare the Tigers win when that happens. Thanks to Avila's heroics, they did.
Alec Gordon had the only RBI for the Royals, homering in the fourth. In the eighth, Alcides Escobar doubled and would ultimately score on Smyly's wild pitch.
Jim Leyland summed up the victory:
"When we hit it in the gap and over the fence, we win."
Actually, he should have said, "When we hit it in the gap and Alex Avila hits it over the fence, we win."
Avila is jokingly called "The Savior." Today, Avila saved the Tigers, lowing their Magic Number to nine in the process.
Top of the first, Emilio Bonifacio drew a one out walk. Unlike Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, Max Scherzer needed only one attempt to nail a leaning Bonifacio. Picked off for the second straight game, this time around Bonifacio didn't throw a hissy fit and get tossed. He could only jog off the diamond, accepting of his fate.
Another game, another Royals' base runner had been picked off.
Unfortunately, it's time to break out the TTBDNS acronym. Facing Jeremy Guthrie, the Tigers put a runner in scoring position with two out, thanks to back-to-back singles off the bats of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Victor Martinez bounced out to end the threat. Keep in mind it may have taken two hits to plate the injured and immobile Cabrera, but a threat is a threat.
Bottom of the second and Omar Infante on base after Alcides Escobar bobbled what should have been a double play ball, Alex Avila made his case as to why pinch hitting for him with a rookie (as we saw on Saturday) isn't the smartest move. He went the other way on Guthrie's 0-1 breaking ball, sending a line drive into the left field bullpen. Avila's tenth home run gave the Tigers' a 2-0 lead (MLB.com video). It was the first runs the Tigers had scored since Friday, a streak of 13 straight innings.
The Tigers would extend the inning on back-to-back singles by Ramon Santiago and Austin Jackson. But Guthrie would pitch out of trouble, much helped by Lorenzo Cain's nice catch of Torii Hunter's fly ball to deep right. Cabrera bounced out to third, the rally having run out of steam.
Given a two run lead, Scherzer was pitching like a man who was determined to finally collect his 20th victory. Through three innings, Scherzer had faced the minimum, thanks to his picking off Bonifacio.
For the third straight inning the Tigers put a runner in scoring position against Guthrie. Fielder and Martinez led off the bottom of the third with ... you guessed it ... back-to-back singles. For a second time, Guthrie would pitch out of trouble. Andy Dirks's fly ball to left was the first out. Infante bounced to short for a second straight at bat, resulting in a second straight fielder's choice. There were runners on the corners for Avila, but there would be no home run heroics, striking out to to end the inning.
Wasting opportunities by the bushel basket-full? Just a typical game with the Royals.
With runners in scoring position, the Tigers are 0-for-6. In all other at-bats: 9-for-14 with a homer.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) September 15, 2013
Thank goodness the Tigers are done, done, done with them after this afternoon.
Scherzer's second trip through the Royals' lineup didn't start well. Alex Gordon led off the fourth with the Royals' first hit and run, taking Scherzer out of the park. Gordon's long home run to right was his 20th of the season, cutting the Tigers' lead to 2-1.
Scherzer gave up a single to to the speedy Bonifacio, but held him close to first as he proceeded to strike out the meat of the Royals lineup (Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez), keeping damage to a minimum. What a refreshing development, not putting your catcher in impossible situations by occasionally paying attention to a base runner.
But the Royals had made Scherzer work over the past two innings, making his pitch count an issue.
Scherzer threw 21 pitches, total, thru first two innings. Threw 47 in the next two.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) September 15, 2013
Top of five, Scherzer would strike out Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain to extend his K streak to five. That's where the streak would end, but it would still be an easy 1-2-3 inning when Jarrod Dyson bounced out. After five innings, Scherzer's pitch count was at 81.
Cabrera and Fielder led off the bottom half of the fifth, meaning Guthrie was one again in trouble. Cabrera singled, Fielder doubled into the right field corner, giving the Tigers a pair of runners in scoring position with no one out.
With the gimpy Cabrera on third, it was going to take more than a ground ball to get the run in. Yet that's exactly what Martinez and Dirks did, both weakly bouncing out to first in awful at bats. A very promising inning came to a miserable end, Infante bounced to short for the third straight at bat, ensuring the Tigers wasted a huge opportunity. They had now stranded eight runners due to an 0-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position, only scoring twice on 11 hits.
If the Tigers ended up losing this game, you would point at this inning as a big reason why.
Normally its the Lions who have me pulling my hair out on Sundays. But the Tigers' plate approach in the 5th was Lions-esque in its futility— Al Beaton (@BigAlBYB) September 15, 2013
It was 2012 vintage Scherzer on the mound this afternoon. He was striking out Royals in bunches, but also elevating his pitch count while doing so. Scherzer struck out his 10th and 11th in the sixth, but crossed the 100 pitch mark. There was no "Handshake of doom" from Jim Leyland, hoping to get one more inning out of a very effective, but somewhat inefficient, Scherzer.
It was more of the same for the Tigers' offense in the sixth - Frustration.
Jackson reached base on a two out walk, but was surrounded by at bats resulting in weakly hit balls. Hunter popped up to end the inning, flipping his bat in disgust.
Scherzer did take the mound for the top of the seventh, opening the inning with his 12th strikeout. Nine of the last ten Royals to be retired had taken a seat via a strikeout.
But the Royals would not continue to go down quietly. Perez lined a hard single to center, advancing to third on Moustakas' double into the right field corner. DOOM? Not so fast.
In need of a strikeout, it fell on Scherzer's own right shoulder to get out of the jam. Leyland showed no sign of breaking out the hook.
Scherzer didn't get a K, but got the next best thing. Cain popped up to short right for the second out, the runners forced to hold their ground. A fired up, fist pumping Scherzer ended both the inning and his outing when Dyson bounced out to short, stranding a pair.
Clinging to a 2-1 lead, it would be up to the Tigers' bullpen and the offense to nail down Scherzer's 20th win.
There would be no help from the bats, even from the middle of the order. Guthrie retired Cabrera and Fielder on weak ground balls, striking out Dirks after he allowed a two out single to Martinez.
Drew Smyly got the call for the top of the eighth. He immediately gave up a perfectly placed double off the bat of the number nine hitter, Escobar.
2-1 game in the eighth inning in September. Two teams in the pennant race. Fans doing the wave.— Dave Hogg (@Stareagle) September 15, 2013
Tigers fans balance out being the best fans in attendance with being the worst fans for the Wave— Donnie Kelly (@AceRHPDonKelly) September 15, 2013
Both Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit warming up, Smyly got a badly needed out when Gordon popped up to short left. But Escobar stole third as Bonifacio struck out.
Then Scherzer's 20th win went up in smoke on a wild pitch, helped by Hosmer tangling up with Avila as the Tigers' catcher went for the ball.
Escobar scored without a play as both Avila and Hosmer were sprawled in the dirt. Boos rained down, both for Smyly and home plate unpire James Hoye. Unfortunately, it was the correct call.
Bottom of eight, the score knotted at 2-all and in ownership of one of, if not the best, bullpens in baseball, Ned Yost was still riding his starter, Guthrie. Yost would pay dearly for ignoring his talented pen.
Why? Avila issued a little revenge for the previous half inning.
One out and the count 1-1, Avila crushed Guthrie's mid-80s breaking ball, just clearing the scoreboard in right center field's Death Valley. The HUGE solo shot was his second of the game, 11th of the season and allowed the Tigers to retake the lead at 3-2 (MLB.com video) (Dan Dickerson's radio call).
@BigAlBYB Castellanos would have hit a grand slam there. Twice.— HookSlide (@CabrerasCorner) September 15, 2013
This can't be said enough.
Can we just talk about what a stupid decision it was by Ned Yost to leave Guthrie in when you have maybe THE BEST BULLPEN IN BASEBALL?— Alexandrwuaooooo (@catswithbats) September 15, 2013
Now entering the game in a save situation, Joaquin Benoit wasn't going to vulture Smyly's win. A dominant Benoit easily set down the Royals 1-2-3.
Your final score is Alex Avila 3, Royals, 2, Tigers 0.
Avila out scores the Royals, Tigers win— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 15, 2013
It was fitting the Royals and Tigers ended their season series with a one run game. Frustrating as all Hell, but fitting.
The Royals take the season series 9-10, but the Tigers beat them in four of their last five games. I'm more than happy with the Tigers winning the series, lowering their Magic Number to nine.
Even better, the Royals are out of the Tigers' picture until 2014.
The victory increases the Tigers' record to 86-63 (.577), extending their division lead over the Indians to 5 1/2 games. As this post goes live, the Tribe and White Sox have yet to start their game, stuck in a lengthy rain delay. The Tigers gain a 1/2 game on the Red Sox and Athletics for the best overall record. Though the Red Sox play tonight, and the A's are likely going to retain their 1 1/2 game lead over the Tigers, currently well into beating the Rangers.
The Mariners arrive in Detroit for a four game series, taking on the Tigers for the first time since mid-April. In Monday's game one, the Mariners' send lefty Joe Saunders (11-14, 5.18 ERA) to the mound, facing the Tigers' number five starter, Rick Porcello (12-8, 4.56 ERA).
Saunders' season has gone in the tank since the calender crossed into August, posting a 1-4 record and 7.53 ERA in his last seven starts. Saunders has also earned another distinction, having allowed the most hits of any starter in baseball at 219.
Porcello is coming off one of the best performances of his career, allowing just one run and seven hits in a complete game victory over the White Sox. Despite a mediocre 4.73 ERA, Porcello is 3-1 in his last four starts.
Monday's first pitch is scheduled for 7:08 PM.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
On Lorenzo Cain's grab of Torii Hunter's fly ball in the second, Rod Allen described he play as taking a "banana route" to the ball (I would have called it Quintin Berry-esque, but I digress). I never realized it before, but Rod does love his food analogies.
Banana route, cheese, mustard, cookie - is Rod Allen always hungry during these broadcasts?— HookSlide (@CabrerasCorner) September 15, 2013
Torii Hunter can be the most frustrating player on the Tigers. He can make great plays, such as throwing out Chris Getz at third base on Saturday night. Then he can also do boneheaded things, such as trying to drop a two out bunt for a hit, failing miserably by sending it right back to the pitcher. Just because Ramon Santiago bunted for a hit doesn't mean everyone can. It was an utter waste of an out with Cabrera on deck.
Meanwhile, in the TBS broadcast booth:
The TBS guys are really trying hard to argue that it's easier to make the playoffs if you play other good teams down the stretch.— Normal Lawyer (@InvertedWAR) September 15, 2013
At least the hot air emanating from the TBS broadcasters was helping to keep Comerica Park warm on a cold and damp afternoon.
You can't say Detroit doesn't support their baseball team, unlike certain other cities (coughCLEVELANDcough).
It's our 31st sellout of the season today! Big thanks to the 40,491 on-hand with us today! #BestFans— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) September 15, 2013
Let the Jhonny Pertalta speculation begin!
Inability for Tuiasosopo, Dirks, and now Castellanos, to spur any kind of offense in LF has left them desperate. Which is Peralta in LF ...— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) September 15, 2013
Brian Kenny smiles...
If there was ever a case for #KillTheWin - Smyly blows Scherzer's gem of a game, Avila homers in the next inning, Smyly will get the win.— HookSlide (@CabrerasCorner) September 15, 2013
SBNation's Royals Review was absolutely baffled as to why Ned Yost didn't use his lights out bullpen.
Still, Yost has one of the best bullpens in the AL at his disposal, Guthrie had surrendered 12 hits before the eighth inning, and is decently homer prone. I think Yost has been unfairly criticized a few times this year, but not removing Guthrie was baffling.
Almost. I can't give Scherzer short shrift.
Alex Avila: Gave the Tigers' an early lead with a two run homer in the second inning.
Alex Avila: Hit the game winning home run with one down in the bottom of the eighth, serving out a plate of ice cold revenge.
Max Scherzer: Deserved to get his 20th win, holding the Royals to one run and five hits, striking out 12 in seven innings.
Ned Yost: You have the best bullpen in the big leagues, yet don't use it. Thank you very much.
Drew Smyly: Not his best inning of work. Allowed a lead off double, a steal of third and his pitch in the dirt set off the fireworks which allowed Escobar to score the tying run. Untimately, Smyly vultured the win from Scherzer. Yeah, let's just #KillTheWin.
The Tigers' offense with runners in scoring position: There wasn't any.
The Royals: I HATE them. To their credit, they are an unbelievably annoying, PITA team.
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In a game lacking offense, the unquestioned PotG for the Tigers was starting pitcher Doug Fister. Allowing just one run in 7 2/3 innings made Fister the runaway winner of the PotG poll with 89% of the vote.