Ian Kinsler's two-out single in the bottom of the tenth gave the Detroit Tigers their second walk-off win in as many games, the snakebit Kansas City Royals falling in ten innings, 2-1. A marvelous pitching duel between the Tigers' Max Scherzer and Jason Vargas of the Royals resulted in neither starter earning a decision.
Scherzer was on track to earn his first win of the young season thanks to eight brilliant shutout innings, allowing four hits, striking out seven and walking just one. But closer Joe Nathan pitched the ninth, blowing the save in his first opportunity as a Tiger. Nathan struggled with his control, allowing a hit, two walks and a run-scoring sacrifice fly. Helped by a call correctly overturned by replay, Al Alburquerque earned the victory by pitching a scoreless 10th.
For the Royals, Vargas was nearly as good as his counterpart, tossing seven innings, giving up just five hits and one run, striking out six and walking one. Tim Collins was unable to get out of the tenth, serving up the game-winning single after allowing a pair of walks, taking the loss.
All the Tigers' offense was supplied by Kinsler. Their new second baseman hit a solo homer in the fourth, along with the game-winning hit in the tenth. Kinsler also added a sixth-inning single as part of a 3-for-5, two-RBI afternoon.
Ex-Tiger Omar Infante led the Royals with a pair of singles, the second starting the game-tying rally. Eric Hosmer drove in their only run with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly, adding a single.
The Royals and their fans have to be feeling more than a little snake-bit. Instant replay played a big part, though they have to admit the new system did get the calls correct. They've lost a pair of games to the best team in the Central, despite going toe-to-toe with the Tigers. Detroit has been able to land a late-inning knock-out punch in both wins, after appearing to be even on the judge's scorecards.
It's a long season, and these things tend to even out. The Tigers aren't going 162-0. But the Royals have to be wondering just what they need to do to beat the Tigers.
In the first inning, the "trade Max Scherzer" minority had a chance to say "I told you so" when the reigning Cy Young winner looked completely out of sync, walking the first batter he faced, then allowing an Omar Infante single. With runners on the corners and two out, Verlander-killer Billy Butler thankfully wasn't a Scherzer-killer. Country Breakfast did the Tigers a solid by swinging at the first pitch he saw, bouncing into a tailor-made, inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Just how Max drew it up … right— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 2, 2014
Scherzer and Royals starter Jason Vargas settled in from that point on. Scherzer retired eight straight Royals after the first-inning single. Vargas set down the first six Tigers he faced until Alex Avila, showing the approach at the plate you love to see from him, walked leading off the bottom of the third to become the Tigers' first base runner. Vargas quickly nipped any trouble in the bud on a pair of fly balls and Salvador Perez throwing out Avila trying to steal second.
After three full innings, the game remained scoreless, the only hit belonging to Infante.
Top of four, Scherzer allowed his second hit of the day, a one-out single to Eric Hosmer. In his second at-bat against Scherzer, Butler smashed a line drive ... directly to Miguel Cabrera, who stepped on the first-base bag for the Tigers' second inning-ending double play in four innings.
Ian Kinsler led off the bottom half of the inning, his at-bat resulting in several firsts. His first hit as a Tiger was also their first hit and run of the day. Kinsler jumped all over a Vargas breaking ball, sending it deep to left. Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain could only watch as Kinsler's drive sailed into the Royals' bullpen for his first big fly of the season, the Tigers taking a 1-0 advantage (MLB.com video).
Gordon became the first Royal to reach base since the opening inning when he led off the fifth with a single. That's where he would remain. Scherzer retired the next three batters, including strikeouts of Perez and Cain.
Once Scherzer fought through a difficult first inning, he was, as they say "dealing." He needed 17 pitches to get out of the first, but only 46 more in the second through fifth frames. With a pitch count of 63 through five, Scherzer was setting himself up to go deep into the game.
But Vargas was dealing as well, striking out the side in the bottom half of the fifth. Just as last season, a soft-tossing lefty was dominating the Tigers' right-hand swinging lineup. Deja vu all over again...
Scherzer countered Vargas with a dominant inning of his own, striking out two in a 1-2-3 sixth, a wicked curveball doing most of the damage. Scherzer's pitch count stood at 76, having faced only two batters over the minimum.
Bottom of six and clinging to a 1-0 lead, the Tigers had back-to-back base hits for the first time off Vargas. Alex Gonzalez and Kinsler led off with a pair singles. The threat looked to have been snuffed out when Tyler Collins appeared to bounce into a 4-6-3 twin killing, called out on a bang-bang play at first.
Replay showed Collins may have beaten the throw, so Brad "Bossmus" Ausmus used his first replay challenge of the season. After approximately a three-minute delay, the word from New York was "SAFE."
Thanks to Bossmus' successful challenge, instead of two out and runner on third, the Tigers had runners on the corners with one out and Cabrera at the plate.
Unfortunately, Cabrera was having trouble with Vargas' junk-balling, waving at a pair of off-speed pitches. The count 2-2, Cabrera tapped a two-hopper toward third. Gonzalez tried to score, but was easily nailed at the plate by Mike Moustakas.
It was left up to Victor Martinez to come through with a two-out RBI. After a fouling off a handful of Vargas off-speed pitches, the Royals' starter got Martinez to chase a chin-high fastball, a strikeout ending the threat. Deja vu? Deja vu.
Runner in scoring position, one out, Miggy and VMart due up, and NO ONE SCORED OMG THE 2013 PLAYOFFS ARE STILL GOING ON AREN'T THEY?— HookSlide (@HookSlideBYB) April 2, 2014
One out in the bottom of the seventh the Tigers threatened again, Austin Jackson doubling off the wall in right. The Royals' bullpen was starting to get busy, as Vargas' pitch count was over 100. But Vargas was able to wriggle out of trouble for a second-straight inning, thanks to Avila striking out swinging and Nick Castellanos popping up.
The Tigers continued to cling to their 1-0 advantage as the game entered the eighth. Scherzer was still on the mound, his pitch count standing at 90, with no movement in the Tigers' bullpen. Cy Scherzer had kept the dangerous Perez off the bases, going 0-for-3 with strikeout. But leading off the eighth, Perez's line drive found the gap in left-center for a lead off double.
Righty Al Alburquerque and lefty Ian Krol were warming up as Scherzer's pitch count crossed the 100 mark. Scherzer rang up his sixth and seventh strikeouts of the day, as Moustakas and Cain took a seat. As number nine hitter Alcides Escobar strode to the plate, Ausmus looked to be on the verge of pulling his starter.
Rather than go with a lesser pitcher, Ausmus allowed Scherzer to remain in the game one more batter, to face the right-hand hitting Escobar. One can of corn to right later, Scherzer had pitched out of trouble, stranding Perez.
Scherzer had kicked off his walk year in fine style, shutting out the Royals on four hits over eight innings and 110 pitches.
There would be no insurance runs for closer Joe Nathan. Royals' reliever Kelvin Herrera took over for Vargas in the eighth, setting the Tigers down in order.
Nathan faced the top of the Royals' order in the ninth, looking for his first save a Tiger and 342nd overall. Instead, Nathan coughed up the lead.
One down, Infante singled and proceeded to steal second. Hosmer worked a walk, giving Butler a shot at tying the game.
Just adopting local traditions RT @MelissaHeyboer: Joe Nathan, what are you doing?— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 2, 2014
Looking for redemption after a pair of rally-killing double plays, Butler fouled off a pair of full-count pitches before taking ball four. Country Breakfast may not have gotten redemption, but kept the inning alive for the cleanup man, Alex Gordon.
Gordon came through with a sacrifice fly to left, pinch-runner Pedro Ciriaco crossing the plate to tie the game at 1-all. After committing a rare balk, Nathan would finally get out of the inning when Brett Hayes bounced out to second. But the damage was done, Nathan now 0-for-1 in save opportunities as a Tiger.
There would be no ninth-inning fireworks today (they would be saved for later). Wade Davis pitched the ninth for the Royals, retiring the meat of the Tigers' order 1-2-3, including a strikeout of Cabrera.
What had been a quick game rolled into extra innings.
Bonus baseball … doesn’t sound like such a good thing suddenly— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 2, 2014
Alburquerque got the nod from Ausmus, taking the mound in the tenth. One down, Gonzalez didn't charge Cain's ground ball, compounding matters with an off-line throw, allowing the speedy center fielder to beat out an infield hit. After two were down, Cain narrowly beat Avila's on-target throw to move into scoring position.
Then ... instant replay strikes again!
Alburquerque appeared to pitch out of trouble on a dribbler off the bat of Aoki. But he was called safe at first as Cabrera was spiked by the runner on the play. Replays appeared to show Aoki was out by half a step, Ausmus using his second challenge of the game in hopes of overturning the call.
The umpires in New York agreed, correctly calling Aoki out, ending the inning.
OUT! We love replay!— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 2, 2014
Given new life, the Tigers tried to take advantage.
Jackson reached base against a new Royals' reliever, left-hander Tim Collins, working a lead-off walk. Looking for the winning run, Ausmus went with small ball, Avila laying down a textbook sacrifice bunt to move the runner over.
Catellanos played a huge part in the walk off win on Opening Day with a ninth-inning single. Given another opportunity to keep a rally alive, the rookie did just that by drawing a full count base on balls.
On Opening Day Gonzalez walked off with one out and two on. He had a chance to make it two walk offs in two games, coming to the plate in the same situation. No such luck this time, Gonzalez popping up for out number two.
But the Royals learned lightning can strike twice. Deja vu? Deja vu, indeed.
Kinsler ripped Collins' 1-1 change up into the gap in left center, Jackson racing home to give the Tigers a 2-1 win, their second walk-off victory in as many games.
The Tigers were awful in the late innings in the first half of last season, and weren't much better in 2013 extras. This season has been a different story, the Tigers coming through late with game-winning hits in their first two games. Small sample sizes, obviously. But I'll take it!
BASEBALL! RT @ScottSwanson123: Baseball is just the best.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 2, 2014
The Tigers look to sweep the season-opening three-game series on Thursday as the Royals send 22-year-old fire-balling rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura (0-1, 3.52 in a September 2013 callup) to the mound to face last season's AL ERA leader Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57 in 2013). First pitch at Comerica Park is set for 1:08 P.M.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Rookie Tyler Collins received his first big league start, getting the nod in left field with a right-hander on the mound. His first major league at-bat did not go well, popping up a breaking ball off his fists to third base. But he didn't let the at-bat affect his defense, robbing Alex Gordon of a single with a nice diving catch to start the second inning (MLB.com video).
Collins' diving play brought up comparisons to, well, you know who.
Does Tyler Collins dive? Let’s check. pic.twitter.com/MqPHvLvFy2— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 2, 2014
In the second inning and Norichika Aoki at the plate, Rod Allen bought up his playing days in Japan for the first time this season. You know what that means!
ROD TALKING ABOUT JAPAN DRINK— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 2, 2014
Ian Kinsler going yard in the fourth brought up the inevitable comparison.
Kinsler HR count: 1 Fielder HR count: 0— HookSlide (@HookSlideBYB) April 2, 2014
The human element proved fallible in the sixth, replays showing Collins' was safe at first on what was ruled a double play. To MLB's credit, the new replay system worked well, and the call was overturned after a three-minute delay. But you can't please everyone (rolls eyes).
Tigers just won a challenge on call @ first base. It took way too long, almost three minutes. Hate such a delay. It should b less than a min— Rob Parker (@RobParkerLocal4) April 2, 2014
Was Alex Gonzalez getting thrown out at the plate a TOOTBLAN? Let's check with the authorities.
Lynn Henning of the Detroit News brings the DOOOOM.
Nathan topping out at 91 mph with his fastball. One at 92. April -- I guess.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) April 2, 2014
Over his long career Joe Nathan was 36-for-36 in save opportunities at Comerica Park. In his first opportunity as Tiger, Nathan blew the save, costing Scherzer the win. You can't predict baseball, right?
Odd stat of the day: In winning the Cy Young, Scherzer did not have a performance as good as today's eight shutout innings. His best last year was 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Once again, you can't predict baseball.
Going back to replay, Brad Ausmus is batting 1.000, 2-for-2 in challenges. This game would have likely gone in a far different, much worse direction just one year ago.
Let's note that absent replay, the umps would have screwed the Tigers twice today. Leyland would be watching from clubhouse by now.— John Mozena (@johnmoz) April 2, 2014
Back to the Kinsler-Fielder comparisons....
Kinsler RBI Count: 2 Fielder RBI Count: 0— HookSlide (@HookSlideBYB) April 2, 2014
Max Scherzer: Deserved to get the win, but Scherzer kicked off his defense of the Cy Young with eight excellent shutout innings. Scott Boras just cracked a smile.
Ian Kinsler: Tigers win the trade, correct? Three hits, including the walk-off game winner.
Austin Jackson: Gave the Tigers a chance to extend their lead with a lead off double in the seventh, kicked off the tenth-inning rally with a walk, scoring the game winner.
Al Alburquerque: Earned the win by working a scoreless tenth.
Instant replay: At some time this season, the Tigers will be hurt by an overturned call. But today was not that day. Bossmus went 2-for-2 with his challenges.
Joe Nathan: Channeled his inner Papa Grande in a difficult ninth inning. Late game walks never end well, as the Royals also found out.
The Tigers' offense: The middle of the order, the two through five batters, combined to go 1-for-16 with three strikeouts. That's not going to cut it long-term, but again, it's early.
TOP TEN COMMENTERS:
Thanks to his seventh-inning game-tying RBI and game-winning walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, Alex Gonzalez took 87% of the vote to easily win PotG on Opening Day.