The Detroit Tigers' weaknesses were exposed late, the bullpen and some questionable defense nearly blowing all of a six run ninth inning lead, holding on to take a 7-6 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. At 4-0, the Tigers remain the only undefeated team in MLB.
After giving up a first inning run and pair of singles in the second, Porcello retired 16 of the final 17 batters he faced, allowing just one run on three hits to earn the win. Porcello is the first member of the Tigers' rotation to record a victory this season. But the Tigers' bullpen nearly imploded in the ninth. Phil Coke was charged with three runs in just 1/3 of an inning. Joe Nathan recorded his first save as a Tiger, but allowed a run and two hits, stranding the winning run on base.
The Tigers knocked Orioles' starter and loser Bud Norris out of the game after five innings, five runs and nine hits. Hunter could take most of the credit, all five runs Norris allowed were driven in by the Tigers' right fielder.
Torii Hunter led the Tigers' 13 hit attack with a huge afternoon, reaching base three times on a double, home run and walk, scoring once and knocking in five. Austin Jackson's and Ian Kinsler's hot starts continued with two hits apiece. Don Kelly chipped in three hits, one an RBI triple, and scoring a run. Rajai Davis drove in the Tigers' final run with a sacrifice fly.
Steve Clevenger led the O's with two , thanks to a ninth inning, pinch hit double. Chris Davis had two hits and an RBI, J.J. Hardy adding two hits.
What had been a very comfortable 7-1 ninth inning lead turned into a 7-6 nail-biter, much in thanks to the areas we knew would be trouble when the season began - a questionable bullpen and the lack of Jose Iglesias on defense.
As for the bullpen, Coke is on the verge of pitching himself out of Detroit, if he hasn't already. He lit the fuse on the Orioles' ninth inning rally, retiring only one of the four batters he faced. Nathan has been far from impressive in his last two outings, though better defense would have helped him immeasurably this afternoon.
The Tigers' injured starting shortstop likely makes the two plays Gonzalez couldn't in the ninth. He just doesn't have the range or arm of Iglesias (but to be honest, who does?), let alone Andrew Romine. I would hope we see more of Romine in the late innings, as Gonzales has two errors in just three games.
Who the happiest shortstop of all? Stephen Drew.
The ninth was awful, but the Tigers did manage to hold on and remain undefeated. But the win was also a wake up call. We knew there would be issues this season, and they finally reared their head in the ninth inning. It remains to be seen what the Tigers will do to address them. Keep in mind it's a long season, so don't expect any significant moves right away.
But moves will be made.
A Tigers starting pitcher found himself in first inning trouble for the third straight game. Unlike Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello didn't get out of the inning unscathed.,
Porcello committed a pitching Cardinal sin, walking the lead off man. David Lough put himself in scoring position by swiping second, coming around to score on Chris Davis' bloop single to left. Rajai Davis quelled the uprising by throwing out Davis attempting to stretch his hit into a double, the Orioles recording their first TOOBLAN of 2014. Porcello was able to avoid further trouble, getting out of the inning down 1-0.
The Orioles threatened again in the second, putting two on with no one out thanks to back-to-back singles from Nick Markakis and J.J Hardy. But a pitcher's best friend, the double play, bailed Porcello out of major trouble. With a runner on third and two down, Steve Lomardozzi popped up to short left, ending the threat.
To sum up Porcello's performance over the first two innings...
Porcello having a Porcello-y day.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 5, 2014
Or so we thought. Porcello had other ideas.
Meanwhile, the Tigers could do little against Orioles starter Bud Norris in the first two innings. The first batter to reach was Austin Jackson, who singled with one down in the second. He was quickly eliminated when Alex Avila bounced into a double play.
Bottom of three and the score still 1-0 O's, the Tigers kicked up their heels. Alex Gonzalez led off with a single. Don Kelly followed by pulling off the hit and run, sending a dribbler through the left side, Gonzalez holding up at second. After Rajai Davis flew out, the red-hot Ian Kinsler loaded the bases with a line single to left.
Torii Hunter proceeded to buggy-whip Norris' 2-0 fastball, smoking a line shot which hugged the left field line. The liner stayed fair, hitting halfway up the wall at the 345 mark. He missed a home run by a couple of feet, but Hunter's double cleared the bases regardless, the Tigers taking their first lead at 3-2 (MLB.com video).
Tigers runner scores from first base on a double. These are not the 2013 Tigers.— HookSlide (@HookSlideBYB) April 5, 2014
Hardy kept the game at 3-1 with a great play at short. He laid out to grab Victor Martinez's one-hopper in the hole, throwing out the not fleet-of-foot DH to end the inning. But the Tigers had sent seven to the plate, scoring three runs on four hits, giving Porcello a one-run lead to protect.
Kid Rick was doing just that, having retired eight of the last nine batters he faced through four innings.
I'm enjoying this considerably more than the last time I saw Porcello vs the O's at Comerica. (Tigers lost 1,875 - 3)— HookSlide (@HookSlideBYB) April 5, 2014
The new and improved number five hitting Jackson continued his torrid start with a lead off single, his second hit of the day. He moved into scoring position by stealing his first base of the season as Avila was striking out. Jackson moved station-to-station, taking third on Gonzalez's ground out. That's where he would remain, Kelly stranding Jackson by popping up to short.
After four full innings, the Tigers were clinging to a 3-1 advantage. That would soon change.
Bottom of five, the speedy Davis led off with a single.
Rajai will turn that into a double— PCB (@PhilCokesBrain) April 5, 2014
Phil Coke's Brain was quite correct. Davis easily stole second, advancing to third on Kinsler's ground out.
With Hunter at the plate, the Orioles pulled the infield in. Good strategy, but it doesn't help on a home run ball. Norris' first pitch to Hunter was a low-90's, belt-high. middle of the plate fastball. Hunter said, "Thank you very much," and deposited the ball into the Tigers' bullpen (MLB.com video).
29 forever!— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 5, 2014
Hunter's second home run in as many games increased the Tigers' lead to 5-1. Actually, it was Torii Hunter 5, Chris Davis 1.
Cabrera followed Hunter's big fly with a double, starting a flurry of activity in the Orioles' bullpen. But Norris was able to pitch out of further trouble, his day ending after five innings, 103 pitches, five runs and nine hits.
As for Porcello, he was cruising. Through six, Porcello had retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced, his pitch count his pitch count standing at 83.
Replacing Norris in the sixth was left-hander Brian Matusz. It didn't stop the bottom of the Tigers' order from lengthening their lead. Gonzalez worked a walk with one out, then circled the bases when Kelly's drive to deep right center carried over the head of Cruz for a standup triple and a 6-1 Tigers lead (MLB.com video).
Davis drove in Kelly, thanks to some aggressive base running on a fly ball to medium right-center. Kelly tagged up and beat Adam Jones' throw to the plate, the Tigers taking a 7-1 advantage.
Top of seven, Evan Reed was warming up as Porcello was likely in his final inning of work. He retired Jones and Markakis on hard hit balls, which was enough for Brad Ausmus to make a pitching change. Porcello's final line was excellent, 6 2/3 innings, 94 pitches, 11 ground ball outs, allowing just one run on three hits and a walk, striking out three.
Reed pitched well in relief, holding the O's scoreless in 1 1/3 innings of work. He did get into a jam, though it was no fault of his own. Because what Hunter giveth on offense, he taketh away on defense.
Two down in the eighth, Lough sent a fly ball to deep right-center. It should have been the third out of the inning, but Hunter got horribly turned around, badly misplaying the ball into a gift triple. It should have been scored E-9. Reed shrugged off Hunter's blunder, Cruz flying out to the dependable Jackson.
All looked well. But all kinds of Hell broke loose instead.
Given a 7-1 lead, Phil Coke got the ninth inning garbage time assignment. In need of a solid performance, Coke failed to impress. Just as they did against Joba Chamberlain in yesterday's ninth innings, the Orioles teed off. Davis drove Coke's first pitch to right for a single, scoring on Jones' triple to right center.
As pitching coach Jeff Jones made a visit to the mound, Al Alburquerque was forced to start warming up. Markakais drove in Jones on a comebacker to Coke, the Tigers trading a run for an out.
The fans getting more and more agitated, Coke walked Hardy. Ausmus had seen enough, making the call for Alburquerque.
welp— PCB (@PhilCokesBrain) April 5, 2014
The game became far too interesting when Weiters' bloop dropped between Kelly and Gonzalez in short left. Kelly was closest, but it should have been Gonzalez's ball all the way as fans wished Jose Iglesias a speedy recovery.
Not wanting to blow what had been a six run lead, Ausmus yanked Al-Al. The rookie manager called on his closer, Joe Nathan. Things didn't improve. The Tigers caught a massive break when Hardy held up on Lombardozzi's line drive over the head of Hunter. Hardy was forced to hold up at third when he should have scored on a liner which rolled to the wall.
Pinch-hitter Steve Clevenger followed with a double into the right-field corner, plating two runs to make it 7-5 with just one out. EVERYBODY PANIC!!!
Lough followed with a one-hopper to short, Gonzalez making a nice play. WHEW...Ah, crap. For some reason, Gonzalez looked toward third, then pulled Cabrera off the bag with a horrendously poor throw. Score it E-6, RBI Lough, Orioles now within one at 7-6. DOOOOM.
Thankfully, Nathan suddenly realized he's an elite closer.
Runners on first and second and down a run, Cruz had an opportunity to tie the game. Nathan bore down and stuck out the powerful Cruz for out number two. But the even more dangerous Chris Davis was the O's final hope. Nathan was able to nail down a save no one saw coming 15 minutes earlier, Davis ending a nightmarish inning with a can of corn to right field.
GAME OVER! (Recapper collapses into the fetal position in front of TV)
7-6 Tigers win after … we don’t even know.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 5, 2014
I NEED A DRINK. WHERE'S THE ANTACID?
The Tigers look for a sweep as the weekend series wraps up with a pitching battle between each team's respective Opening Day starter. The Orioles send right-hander Chris Tillman (0-0, 1.80 ERA) to the mound to take on Justin Verlander (0-0, 3.00 ERA). Getaway day first pitch is set for 1:08 P.M. Sunday.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Brad Ausmus' lineup raised more than a few eyebrows. More than giving Don Kelly a start, playing Rajai Davis (and his extreme L/R splits) over Tyler Collins gave some fans conniption fits.
Norris is a bad match up for rajai. 34% Sliders last year. Davis hit .170 with 1 XBH vs sliders last year vs RHP.— TigersProspectReport (@TigersProspects) April 5, 2014
Ausmus' reasoning for playing Davis was Jim Leyland-esque.
"Davis hit a homer yesterday. You can’t bench a guy who hit a homer."
There have been 66 TOOTBLAN in 64 #MLB games this year. Last year, .763 TOOTBLAN per game— TOOTBLAN Tracker (@TOOTBLANTime) April 5, 2014
Speaking of TOOTBLANs and "The Tigers win the trade" meme, a former Tiger hasn't changed his base running stripes.
Manager Ron Washington bluntly said that (Prince) Fielder "blew it," by stopping at third with the Rangers’ best chance for a rally brewing in the fifth inning.
He failed to read coach Gary Pettis coming into third, got himself hung up between third and home and eventually tagged out, effectively squashing a brewing rally.
Another game, another stolen base allowed. David Lough stole a base in the first inning for a second straight game. The opposition is now 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts against the Tigers.
Rick Porcello pitching into trouble early set the fan base into panic mode on social media. Typical reactions:
Rick has another lefty 0-2. Let's see how he allows him to reach base.— Grape (@spacemnkymafia) April 5, 2014
"Dad, what's an out?" "I don't know son I'm Rick Porcello"— Rational Tigers Fan (@Rational_Tigers) April 5, 2014
Rob is a social media voice of reason. WHAT?
Anibal Sanchez had allowed more runs by this point yesterday #justsayin— Rob Rogacki (@BYBRob) April 5, 2014
On the radio side of things, Jim Price sang the praises of Donnie Baseball in the third inning:
"Since he first got here, over the years Don Kelly has become a 100% better hitter."
Kelly proceeded to single as part of three-run rally, making Price sound quite wise. Blind squirrel, meet nut.
Tigers PR was on the ball, quickly updating Torii Hunter's career stats with the bases loaded after his bases clearing double.
With his three-run double in the 3rd, Torii Hunter is now hitting .316 (60x190) with 177 RBI in his career with the bases loaded.— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) April 5, 2014
Hunter added a two-run shot in the fifth, giving him five RBI on the game. It's the most in one game for the 39-year-old outfielder since he drove in six on June 8, 2012 at Colorado
Defensive shift strategy took place in the fifth, and hilarity ensued. The Tigers put on the shift against Matt Wieters, moving Kelly to the right side. Weiters attempted to drop a bunt toward an unattended third base, but luckily for the Tigers, he fouled it off. And thus ended the Tigers' shift, Kelly quickly moving back to third. Weiters would bounce out to short, ending the battle of X's and O's.
Odd stat of the day, noted by the Freep's Anthony Fenech: Bud Norris threw 103 pitches on the day. Victor Martinez saw 20 of them.
The Tigers' TV crew made their predictions for today's player of the game. Rod Allen needs to work on his prognostication skills.
So Mario and John Keating were trolling us earlier today... pic.twitter.com/ctL8d05f4Y— Bryan Craves (@DisplacedTgrFan) April 5, 2014
The Tigers' impressive starting rotation picked right up from where last season ended.
Tigers starters so far: 24.2 IP, 1.82 ERA, 3.10 FIP.— Neil Weinberg (@NeilWeinberg44) April 5, 2014
The ninth inning was ugly, the Tigers' questionable bullpen and shortstop playing a huge part in the Orioles' rally.
Tigers weaknesses being exposed: bullpen, shortstop defense.— Lee Panas (@tiger337) April 5, 2014
To drive home Lee's point:
Tigers have allowed eight runs in the ninth inning this year and five in all other innings.— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) April 5, 2014
Torii Hunter: Carried the Tigers' offense with a three RBI double and two run homer.
Rick Porcello: Earned the win with a solid 6 2/3 innings, dominating the O's over his final four innings.
Don Kelly: Donnie Baseball finished a home run short of the cycle in a 3-for-4 afternoon.
Rajai Davis: No one wanted him in the lineup against a right-hander. Given the start by Ausmus, Davis made Ausmus' hunch pay off with two hits, driving in a run and scoring another. Also added his first stolen base of the season.
Ian Kinsler: Two more hits raised Kinsler's average to .368. Tigers win the trade...again!
Austin Jackson: Taking to the fifth spot in the order like a fish to water, two hits raised Jackson's average to .438
The Tigers' defense: Father Time only seems to be affecting Hunter's glove. He should have been charged with his second error of the season, brutally misplaying an eighth inning fly ball into a three base hit. You can say the same about Gonzalez's glove. In the ninth, the 37-year-old shortstop did his damnedest to extend the inning, unable to make plays either Jose Iglesias or even Andrew Romine likely make.
Alex Avila: Failed to reach base for the first time this season. Avila's day was all too reminiscent of his first half of 2013, 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
Phil Coke: The much derided left-hander fell even deeper into the Tigers fan's doghouse by putting the game in severe jeopardy, allowing two hits and three runs in just 2/3 of an inning.
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GAME THREE PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Miguel Cabrera reaching the 2000 hit milestone with a three run homer (part of a 4-for-5, three RBI day) pushed him to the top of the ballot, taking 71% of the vote.