On Jim Leyland Day at a sold out Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers rode a six run second inning to a 9-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers snapped their losing skein at two games, which remains their longest of 2014.
The Tigers' offense was held in check for six of their eight innings. But they would score all the runs they needed in a six run second and three run eighth. Both rallies were capped by three run homers - Miguel Cabrera in the third, Victor Martinez in the seventh.
Max Scherzer (5-1) had run support much like he enjoyed through his Cy Young winning 2013. Scherzer wasn't at all sharp, serving up a three run home run to Brian Dozier, but still earned his fifth win by pitching six full innings. He would allow five hits and walk another four while striking out six. The Tigers' bullpen held the Twins scoreless over the remaining three innings.
Twins starter Kyle Gibson (3-3) was pulled after allowing all six Tigers runs in the third, suffering his third loss of the season. Asked to keep the Tigers in check in a long relief outing, Anthony Swarzak did just that. The right-hander held the Tigers scoreless over a four inning stint, allowing just one hit and striking out three. The Tigers would do the remainder of their damage against Michael Tomkin, who served up the three seventh inning runs to Detroit.
The Tigers' offense was long overdue for a good game, having scored just six runs combined over their past three outings and extremely quiet in four of their last five. The bats broke out with nine runs and 11 hits, five for extra bases. Martinez led the way with two hits, three RBIs and a run scored. Cabrera had just the one hit, but had three RBIs and scored twice. Despite every starter having at least one hit for the sixth time this season, the only other Tiger with two hits was Don Kelly, who scored a run and added a highlight reel defensive play.
Dozier supplied all the Twins offense with his only hit of the game, a third inning three run home run. Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana both had two hit days for the losing side. They would ultimately be out-hit by Detroit, 11-8.
The victory pushed the Tigers back to ten games over .500, their record an MLB best 21-11, .656. They've won 8-of-10 and 15-of-21.
It was a bit of a throwback win for Detroit. Instead taking the extra base and hitting the ball gap to gap, a-la Brad Ausmus' re-imagined Tigers, Detroit won via Earl Weaver Specials, aka the three run homer, a-la Jim Leyland's old-school Tigers teams.
Home runs from Cabrera and Martinez, Kelly making a significant contribution and the Tigers' pitching staff handcuffing the team which was their nemesis for much of Leyland's tenure? You couldn't ask for a more fitting tribute to one of the greatest managers in team history.
If was only right that utility man Don Kelly, Jim Leyland's favorite player, got the start in left on the same day the Tigers honored their retired skipper.
The decision to give Kelly the start became even more correct when Donnie Baseball immediately made his presence felt with one out in the first, robbing Kurt Suzuki of extra bases with a spectacular leaping catch in front of the left field fence.
I'm sure the always emotional Leyland shed a tear.
The Tigers threatened in the bottom of the first; Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter reaching via a single and walk. But the meat of the order had unexpectedly bad at-bats against Twins starter Kyle Gibson. Miguel Cabrera struck out with a very uncomfortable looking swing, and Victor Martinez ended the threat by bouncing into an easily turned Twin killing.
Bottom of the second, the Tigers' dormant offense woke up in a big way, exploding for six runs.
Austin Jackson led off with a single. Donnie Baseball Day continued when Kelly yanked a ground ball inside the first base bag for a double, Jackson holding up at third.
But the TOOTBLAN bug bit Jackson, who took off far too late on Nick Castellanos' ground ball down the third base line. Eduardo Escobar made the backhand stop, then had plenty of time to fire home to nail Jackson for the first out.
Alex Avila, who is hitting .277/.382/.532/.914 OPS since the Tigers returned from the west coast swing, made up for Jackson's miscue by lining an RBI single to center. It couldn't have been more perfect to have Kelly score first on Jim Leyland Day, putting the Tigers up 1-0. Runners were now on the corners thank to Aaron Hicks having bobbled Avila's single.
Andrew Romine's bouncer found the hole in the right side to plate Castellanos, back-to-back RBI singles pushing Detroit's lead to 2-0.
Today's run production brought to you by Kelly, Avila, and Romine. As James Earl Jones once said: "Ohh ... Baseball."— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) May 10, 2014
After two were down, it appeared the Twins were going to get out of the inning on Hunter's routine bouncer to short. But Romine was hustling down the line while the Twins were nonchalanting the play, assuming the final out. Romine made the play far closer than the Twins expected, which led to Brian Dozier dropping the toss from Danny Santana. Romine was safe, but in the meantime, Avila had never stopped running. He scored all the way from second while Dozier's throw skipped to the backstop. It was scored a failed fielder's choice and E-4 on the throw (the second error of the inning).
The inning should have been over. Instead, the Tigers were up 3-0 with two on and Cabrera at the plate looking to break the game open.
Dozier's one run error turned into a four run error when Cabrera's opposite field liner cleared the wall in right center. The three run bomb was his fifth home run of the season, extending the Tigers' lead to 3-0.
Martinez's one game mini-slump ended when he extended the inning with a two out double. That was it for the second inning fireworks, the Tigers' settling for six runs on six hits and two Twins errors.
Given a six run cushion, Scherzer struggled in a long top of the third. A Hicks walk, Santana double and a three run shot from Dozier, the goat of the second inning, put the Twins right back in the game at 6-3.
Scherzer was still battling with his command in the fourth. He held the Twins scoreless, but also issued his third walk of the game and had the inning unnecessarily extended when Castellanos booted what should have been an inning ending double play ball.
As a result, Scherzer's pitch count through four innings was an elevated 71.
Gibson had been yanked by Ron Gardenhire after being battered and bruised by the Tigers in the second. His replacement, right-hander Anthony Swarzak, turned the game around for the Twins. He was dominating the Tigers' bats, retiring the first six batters he face.
The fifth was more of the same. Scherzer was allowing Twins to reach base at an alarming rate, but keeping them off the scoreboard. Suzuki singled and Joe Mauer walked, Scherzer stranding them thanks to a pair of fly balls. Swarazk continued to mow down Tigers, his out streak reaching nine straight thanks to a piece of cake fifth.
Swarzak career vs DET slashline: .304/.340/.496 - somehow he's making it look easier than that today.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) May 10, 2014
Thanks to a pitch count of 95 and not having his best stuff, Scherzer's sixth inning was going to be his his last. Al was already preparing to enter the game. It was a struggle for Scherzer, with 21 pitches and giving up a double to Escobar. But he stranded another runner in scoring position by striking out Hicks and Santana, Scherzer exiting the game with a 6-3 Tigers lead and in line for his fifth win.
Bottom of six, Leyland's avatar (Kelly) snapped Swarzak's out skein with a lead off bloop single. So Swarzak just up and retired the next three Tigers.
So to sum up so far: Don Kelly robbed a home run, hit a single and double, and scored the first run of this game. It's Leyland magic.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) May 10, 2014
Brad Ausmus would need three innings from his bullpen, asking Alburquerque to bridge the gap from Scherzer to Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan.
Mauer singled in an otherwise uneventful inning, Alburquerque successfully setting up the back end of the pen.
Swarzak was gassed having tossed four excellent innings, keeping the Twins in the game only three runs down. Gardenhire was forced to go back to his bullpen, and pulled out right-hander Michael Tonkin. Odds are he wanted to throw Tomkin right back, thanks his wasting Swarzak's work.
With one out Kinsler singled, then Tomkin plunked Cabrera. Trouble loomed in the locked-in Martinez. Trouble arrived when the veteran DH crushed Tomkin's 1-0 fastball, launching a no-doubt three run bomb to right. Martinez's team leading eighth home run of the season increased the Tigers' lead to 9-3 (MLB.com video).
Bring he was already warmed up, Chamberlain, who has become a lock down setup man, pitched with a six run lead. He did allow a a two out double to Escobar, but struck out Hicks to end his sixth straight (also 12-of-13) scoreless appearance.
Top of nine and owning a six run lead, Nathan took a seat. Phil Coke, the Tigers' human victory cigar, got the ninth inning garbage time outing. Coke served up a lead off single to Santana, but was bailed out by the glove of Cabrera. Dozier smoked a hot ground ball toward first. Cabrera went down to make the grab, threw to second from his knees, then took Romine's return throw to complete a remarkable 3-6-3 double play.
Coke got the hint, ending the game on a can of corn to Hunter.
GAME OVER. Your final score on Jim Leyland Day is Tigers 9, Twins 3.
Tigers improve to 21-11, now on pace to clinch the division by next Wednesday.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) May 10, 2014
The series finale features Robbie Ray's (1-0, 1.69 ERA) final spot start before the return of Anibal Sanchez from the disabled list. The rookie lefty will face the Twins' Samuel Deduno (0-2, 3.42 ERA).
Deduno started the season in the Twins' bullpen before making his first start of 2014 on May 6. The right-hander settled in after a very rocky early game to pitch five innings. But allowing four runs and five hits over the first two innings was enough to earn the loss.
Ray's first career MLB game went as well as could be expected, allowing just one run in 5 1/3 innings, Ray become the first Tigers pitcher since Jeff Weaver in 1999 to earn a win his first start. This is expected to be his final start before being sent back down to Triple-A Toledo. Sanchez is on track to return to the rotation by next Friday.
Getaway day first pitch is set for 1:08 PM.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
It was a wonderful afternoon in Detroit, the weather finally cooperating as the Tigers honored Jim Leyland.
The tears were flowing on Jim Leyland Day. Mostly from Leyland.
And, there it is - tears from Leyland about 8.7 seconds into his speech.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) May 10, 2014
Miguel Cabrera was more than happy to hang with his former manager. "Miggy and the Skipper" is a sitcom waiting to happen.
Even a very frail looking Mike Ilitch, who has not been seen at any team activities for more than a year due to health issues, was in attendance.
Your Jim Leyland quote of the day came during an third inning interview on FSD:
Leyland: "Donnie Kelly feels like a million bucks today, he feels like he's making as much as Miguel Cabrera." #JimAndDonnieForever— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) May 10, 2014
A catch almost a good as Kelly's took place in the stands during the fourth inning:
We're still streaking!
- Austin Jackson's hitting streak is at eight games thanks to a second inning single.
- Joba Chamberlain has not allowed a run in six consecutive appearances.
- Scherzer struck out six in six innings, ending his streak of games with seven or more strikeouts at seven games.
- The Tigers snapped a two game losing streak, which remains their longest of 2014.
In other stats...
- Miguel Cabrera's third inning dinger was home run number 370 of his career. He's now tied with Gil Hodges for 73rd in MLB history.
- Via the Freep - Brian Dozier's three run homer was the first Max Scherzer allowed with two runners on base since June of 2012, when Andrew McCutchen hit three run homer.
- Of Victor Martinez's eight home runs on the season, four have come on this homestand.
- Nick Castellanos' double in the ninth ensured all nine Tigers starters would all have at least one hit for the sixth time this season.
Max Scherzer: Had far from his best stuff, needing a season high 116 pitches over six innings. But Scherzer made only one bad mistake, hanging a breaking ball to Dozier. Regardless, Scherzer still pitched well enough to earn a quality start and leave the game with the lead.
Miguel Cabrera: Only one hit, but it was the biggest of the game, his big fly capping off a six run second. Thanks to his three run homer, Cabrera now leads the Tigers with 28 RBIs.
Victor Martinez: Took a day off from ROARS after his hitting streak ended Friday night. Martinez came back with a vengeance with a single, home run, three RBIs and a run scored.
Don Kelly: A big game (two hits, run scored, excellent defense) in front of his biggest supporter, Jim Leyland.
Phil Coke: It's sad to say Coke has become the Tigers' equivalent of Darko Milicic during the Detroit Pistons' title years in the mid-00's - The Human Victory Cigar. The only time the team feels safe in using Coke is when they own a near insurmountable lead.
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GAME 31 PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Nick Castellanos' two hits and excellent defense took a narrow four vote PotG victory over Justin Verlander's seven innings of two run ball.