Despite three errors and being outhit, the Detroit Tigers rode the bat of Ian Kinsler to a sloppy come-from-behind 7-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians. The win gave the Tigers a split over their division rivals in a weather-shortened series.
Once again, the Tigers' starting pitching was extremely inefficient. Justin Verlander (2-1) was the third consecutive rotation member who couldn't pitch past the fifth thanks to an elevated pitch count. The Tigers' ace was pulled after five innings and 113 pitches, allowing three runs, all unearned, six hits, walking four and striking out seven. Verlander left the game down a run, but ended up in line for the win when the Tigers rallied for four runs of Danny Salazar in the bottom half of the fifth. Joe Nathan, the last of six Tigers pitchers, picked up his second save as a Tiger by tossing a scoreless ninth.
Salazar (0-2) was extremely impressive for four innings, but rolled off the tracks during a 35-pitch fifth. Salazar was pulled after 4 2/3 innings after giving up five runs on six hits, walking three and striking out three. The Indians would use five pitchers total, their bullpen giving up two runs which ultimately loomed large.
Ian Kinsler triggered the Tigers' attack with two hits, including his second homer of the season, a stolen base and four RBIs. Rajai Davis added two singles and an RBI. Austin Jackson didn't have a hit, but drove in a pair with two sacrifice flies.
Michael Brantley led the Cleveland offense with two hits, one his first home run of the season, and four RBIs. Lonnie Chisenhall chipped in three hits, David Murphy adding an RBI single.
It's more correct to say the Tigers didn't exactly beat the Indians, but overcame their mistakes to survive long enough to for the win. It sure as Hell wasn't a pretty game for either team. The Tigers and Indians combined for five errors, nine walks, 15 strikeouts, two caught stealing and a hit by pitch in a long nine-inning game which took 3:38 to play.
If anything, we fans consistently forget game after game the Tigers' resilience. After Verlander allowed two runs in the fifth, the Tribe taking a whole TWO RUN LEAD, you would have thought the game was over if you were only following along online.
We may not always agree with the strategy, how players are used or their performance on the field. But we should always remember the Tigers are talented and refuse to quit. Even when they do lose, you should rarely count them out of any game.
Lead-off walks are the tool of the devil, so what does Justin Verlander do? Give lead-off man Michael Bourn a free pass. At the very least, it didn't lead to bad things, thanks to help from a unexpected source.
For all the Alex Gonzalez hate (he's well on the way to "Ray-bum" style territory in the eyes of the fan base), he still makes the occasional play. The veteran shortstop kept Verlander from getting into further trouble by making a sprawling stop on a hard-hit Jason Kipnis grounder, then flipping the ball straight from his glove to Ian Kinsler, starting a 6-4-3 double play, ending the inning.
Top of three and the game still scoreless, Verlander again had command issues. The inning began with a walk to David Murphy, who was eliminated when Yan Gomes bounced into a double play. Then the trouble truly began.
Lonnie Chisenhall and Bourn followed with back-to-back singles. Verlander proceeded to load the bases by issuing a free pass to Nick Swisher. But just as he did the first inning, Kipnis would nip a rally in the bud.
A bad game for the Tribe's second baseman got much worse when he struck out swinging on three pitches. It also came to a quick end when Kipnis was tossed by home plate umpire Lance Barrett for complaining about ball and strike calls as he walked away from the plate.
Jim: "he must have said something that wasn't nice"— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 17, 2014
Indians starter Danny Salazar had held the Tigers hitless though the first two innings. But he couldn't make it three. Rajai Davis singled with two out in the third to become the Tigers first base runner. But Kinsler would pop up to end another frustrating inning for the Tigers' scuffling offense.
Verlander continued to shoot himself in the foot, his own actions getting him into jams. Two down in the fourth, Asdrubal Cabrera laid down a perfect bunt for a hit. Rather than discretion being the better part of valor, Verlander tried to make a ridiculously impossible play, uncorking a wild throw past Miguel Cabrera, allowing the runner to reach second.
Verlander's brain cramp would cost him a run. Davis made a valiant effort to grab Murphy's Texas Leaguer, but his dive came up just short. Murphy's RBI bloop gave the Tribe a 1-0 lead.
The middle-of-the-order Tigers' bats woke up in the bottom half of the fourth, setting up a scoring opportunity. Cabrera lined a single to center with one down, then legged it to third when Victor Martinez did the same. Cabrera running on Bourn's arm paid off, as he was able to score easily on Austin Jackson's sacrifice fly to left.
The game knotted at 1-all going into the fifth, Verlander's elevated pitch count was becoming an issue. He started the inning at 87 pitches thrown compared to Salazar's efficient 47.
Verlander crossed the 100-pitch count with two down in the fifth, but any shot at another inning quickly went south. With Bourn on first, Nick Castellanos extended the inning when he allowed Mike Aviles' ground ball to go through his wickets for the Tigers' second error of the game. Aviles would steal second and Verlander would walk Santana to load the bases.
Verlander couldn't get out of a bases-loaded jam unscathed a second time. Michael Brantley made Velrander and the Tigers pay for their miscues with a line-shot single to right. Torii Hunter made a nice throw which would have nailed Aviles, but Alex Avila couldn't hold on to the ball when making the sweep tag. Two more runs crossed the plate, giving the Tribe a 3-1 lead.
Cabrera stuck out, stranding a pair of runners in scoring position. That would end Verlander's up-and-down start. He allowed three runs, all unearned, but served up six hits and walked four in five full innings.
The inefficiency jinx struck Salazar in the bottom half of the inning, back-to-back walks proving costly and paving the path to an early exit.
The wheels started to come off when Salazar issued free passes to the .185-hitting Avila and the .179-hitting Gonzalez. Davis was asked to bunt (ARRRGH!) on the first pitch, but was unable to move the runners along. He would swing away, popping up for the first out.
So it would be Kinsler who would come to the rescue, bailing both Verlander and the Tigers out. Ahead in the count 3-1, Kinsler hammered Salazar's mid-90s fastball, launching a fly ball into the bullpen for an Earl Weaver Special. The three-run bomb was Kinsler's second homer of the season, giving the Tigers their first lead of the game at 4-3 (MLB.com video).
Salazar proceeded to lead the bases with one out. Hunter reached on an infield single. Cabrera lined a double down the left field line, Hunter holding up at third. Martinez was given an intentional pass to load the bases. Jackson would drive home his second run of the game with a sacrifice fly to left, Hunter scoring to increase the Tigers' lead to 5-3.
Indians manager Terry Francona had seen enough, C.C. Lee coming out of the pen with two outs to replace his young starter. Salazar had tossed 35 pitches in the fifth, coughing up the lead in the process.
Lee kept the inning alive by reloading the bases, walking Castellanos. Avila couldn't break the game open, flying out to end the inning. But the Tigers had sent ten to the plate, scoring three runs on four walks, three hits and a sacrifice fly.
A series of left-handed bats due up to start the sixth, Brad Ausmus picked Phil Coke to be the first reliever out of the bullpen. Coke did his job, getting a pop up for the first out, and inducing a ground ball off the bat of Gomes. But Gonzalez's off-line throw pulled Cabrera off the bag, scored as the third error of the game for Detroit.
Chisenhall foiled the matchup strategy with his third straight hit, singling to right. The fourth left-hander Coke faced was Bourn. He bounced to short, the Tigers getting the out at second. But Bourn was able to narrowly beat Kinsler's throw to first, keeping the inning alive for Swisher.
Al Alburquerque came on to clean up Coke's leftovers. He did just that, retiring Swisher on a can of corn to center.
Speed kills. Davis has speed. Thus, Davis kills the Tribe? Maybe not, but Davis did manufacture a run in the bottom of the sixth. The speedy left fielder was plunked by Lee, then raced to third on a wild pickoff attempt. Kinsler drove in his fourth run of the game with a single to center, ending Lee's afternoon.
Kinsler put himself in scoring position by stealing second with Blake Wood on the mound. But he pushed his luck too far, Gomes easily throwing him out unnecessarily trying to swipe third. There's a line between being aggressive and being careless -- Kinsler had crossed it.
As the game entered the seventh, the Tigers were up 6-3. Alburquerque immediately put a runner in scoring position. He walked Aviles on four pitches, who would go on to steal second without a throw.
Alburquerque got the first out of the inning when he struck out Santana. Ausmus went back to playing matchups. With Drew Smyly back in the rotation as of tomorrow, Ian Krol got the call to face Brantley.
Brantley put the Tribe right back into the game with one swing of the bat. Krol lofted a softly thrown breaking ball over the plate which Brantley delivered over the right field wall. The big fly changed the tenor of the game considerably, the Indians pulling within a run at 6-5.
After Cabrera missed a game-tying home run by inches, he reached base by hitting the ball 20 feet. Krol's bad inning got worse when slipped and fell while trying to field the swinging bunt, Cabrera given a gift single.
Joba Chamberlain would enter the game with two out, striking out Gomes to end the inning.
Chamberlain was still on the mound to start the bottom of the eighth, the score still 6-5 in the Tigers' favor. The score remained that way, Avila ending the inning by throwing out Bourn trying to steal second with two out.
The Tigers extended their lead in the bottom half of the inning with aggressive base running. Facing Scott Atchison, the Tribe's fifth pitcher of the day, Castellanos led off with a single, and was replaced by pinch-runner Andrew Romine. Romine swiped second, taking third when Gomes' throw sailed into center.
Two down, Davis' speed gave the Tigers an extra insurance run when he beat out an infield single. Romine crossed the plate to make it a 7-5 Tigers advantage, giving closer Joe Nathan some breathing room.
The left side of the infield now Gonzalez at third and Romine playing short, Nathan entered the game hoping to nail down his second save of the season.
Looking the best he has since Opening Day, an extremely effective Nathan showed no signs of a dead arm. He slammed thew door shut, setting down the Tribe in order to nail down the victory.
GAME OVER! Your final score is Tigers 7, Indians 5. After a loss which had lots of strategy being second guessed, Brad Ausmus went back to pushing all the right buttons.
Up next for the Tigers is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or The OC--Melrose Place-90210, whatever the Hell they are going by these days), who arrive for a weekend series. Friday's game one features a long-time Detroit fan favorite taking the mound for the Angels, Jered Weaver (0-2, 5.79 ERA). Drew Smyly makes his long delayed starting turn for the Tigers.
Weaver is off to a slow start to 2014. His last two appearances have been especially rocky considering they were against teams expected to be bottom dwellers. The Astros roughed up Jeff's brother, for five runs on five hits with six strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings. That was followed up by Weaver allowing four runs on three hits, walking four and striking out five in 6/2/3 innings, earning a no-decision versus the Mets.
Thanks to days off and postponements, Smyly has been working out of the Tigers' bullpen, biding time before his first 2014 start. With the bullpen in disarray, Smyly stepped in to become their most reliable reliever in the early going. He's made two extended appearances of three innings each, both Tigers victories. Having spent all of 2013 as a reliever, Smyly will be making his first start since September 28, 2012.
Friday night's chilly first pitch is set for 7:08 P.M.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Just as Alex Gonzalez hate hits a fever pitch, he does something to give everyone hope he's not yet washed up. In this case it was a nice defensive play in the first inning. Neil of New English D sums up our feelings.
RT @NeilWeinberg44: Alex Gonzalez mastering the art of doing something great right when everyone is about to throw you overboard.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 17, 2014
But things returned to normal when Gonzalez was overwhelmed by Danny Salazar, striking out in the third.
Alex Gonzalez is now hitting .179 with an OBP of .207.— Patrick OKennedy (@Tigerdog_1) April 17, 2014
Apparently the top of the Tigers' starting rotation loves to throw a great deal of pitches in a short amount of time. Inefficiency has ruled on the mound over the last three starts.
Sunday: Max Scherzer needed 104 pitches to get through five innings.
Wednesday: Anibal Sanchez replicated Scherzer's effort, tossing 104 pitches in just five innings.
Thursday: Justin Verlander topped them both with a 113 pitch effort in five innings.
That's not how you protect your bullpen, guys.
God help us all, but Yahoo clams there's two of Phil Coke in the bullpen.
Honestly, I'm not going to rag on Coke. He only allowed one hard-hit ball, and a combination of questionable defense and bad luck kept him from finishing the sixth inning.
Al Alburquerque's career-high streak of seven appearances without issuing a walk ended when Mike Aviles walked on four straight pitches leading off the seventh.
Alex Avila was able to throw out Michael Bourn stealing in the eighth, but he had help. A Tigers pitcher who won't leave catchers to their own devices when trying to stop the running game? What a concept!
Joba was consistently 1.2-1.25 to the plate. Gave Avila a chance, and what do you know?— TigersProspectReport (@TigersProspects) April 17, 2014
Home cooking agrees with the Tigers. The win raises their record to 5-2 at Comerica Park this season.
Ian Kinsler: Kinsler knows how to make a good first impression. His home run in the fifth was his fourth go-ahead hit of the season. After he drove in his fourth run of the game with a sixth-inning single, Kinsler is now hitting .454 with six RBIs with runners in scoring position. In 12 games this season, Kinsler has seven multi-hit games.
Austin Jackson: Did not have a hit, but came through twice with a runner on third with less than two outs, notching a pair of sacrifice flies.
Rajai Davis: The Tigers' speed merchant had two hits, a run scored and an RBI. Davis leads the team in OBP at .405.
Joe Nathan: Looked like the shutdown Nathan of old in an 1-2-3 ninth inning. More of those, please.
Justin Verlander: Was his own worst enemy with four walks, a throwing error and needing 113 pitches to get through just five innings. Got credit for the win, showing once again how misleading W/L totals can be.
Ian Krol: Made an awful pitch to Michael Brantley, resulting in a two-run homer. Krol allowed two hits and was charged with a run in just 1/3 of an inning. The young lefty has given up a run in two of his last three appearances.
Alex Gonzalez: He did walk and score a run, but it was still another rough game for the 37-year-old. Gonzalez was 0-for-3 with a throwing error. Supposedly picked up because there was still some pop in his bat, Gonzalez's numbers have dropped to .167/.219/.233.
TOP TEN COMMENTERS:
GAME 11 PLAYER OF THE GAME:
The bullpen (Evan Reed, Ian Krol, Al Alburquerque, Joba Chamberlain) came up big against the Tribe with four scoreless innings of relief. They were rewarded for their efforts with a joint win of the PotG vote.