The Detroit Tigers plated four runs in their last two at-bats, leading to a come-from-behind 6-4 victory and sweep of the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers have surged to the top of the AL Central standings by winning 7-of-10 and 6-of-7, taking a 1 1/2 game lead over the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals, who fell 8-4 to the Boston Red Sox this afternoon, are just 4-6 in their last ten games and hold a narrow 1/2 game lead over the Seattle Mariners for the second wild card. Today's loss all but extinguished the Indians' playoff chances, now 6 1/2 back of the Tigers and five games out of the wild card.
Detroit starter Justin Verlander was his typical 2014 self, pulled after 5 2/3 innings, charged with three runs on six hits, striking out six and walking three.
Needed in extended duty for the second consecutive games, the Tigers' bullpen was able to hold off the Tribe ... once Brad Ausmus pulled Blaine Hardy. The young lefty replaced Verlander, not retiring a batter while allowing two inherited runners to score. But Evan Reed, Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain were up to the task, shutting down the Indians for 2 1/3 innings.
Joe Nathan pitched the ninth, but struggled mightily to close out the win. Nathan gave up a run on two hits and a walk, allowing the winning run to come to the plate before nailing down his 32nd save.
For Cleveland, starter Trevor Bauer went five innings, surrendering two runs on six hits. But once again, their bullpen was headache inducing for Tribe fans. Bryan Shaw was asked to protect a one-run lead, only to blow said lead for the second straight game. Shaw was knocked around in the seventh for two runs on three hits and two walks in just 2/3 of an inning. The Tigers tacked on two insurance runs off CC Lee in the eighth, an inning which included Lee uncorking a wild pitch while attempting to issue an intentional walk.
Offensively, the Tigers rode the home run to victory. J.D. Martinez clubbed his second home run in two days, a solo shot in the fourth gives him 21 on the season, while also adding an RBI single. Ian Kinsler's big fly gave the Tigers' a lead they would never relinquish, the two-run shot in the seventh was his 14th of the year. Torii Hunter chipped in two hits and an RBI, Miguel Cabrera reaching base three times, scoring a run.
The Tigers now leave town for their final road trip of the season - three games in Minnesota, before three huge games in Kansas City. Three games which will likely determine who wins the Central division and who is battling for a wild card.
J.D. Martinez: Martinez snapped a streak of four strikeouts in five at-bats by crushing a monster home run in the fourth inning. He would add an RBI single in the sixth, ending his afternoon 2-for-3 with two RBI, a walk and a run scored.
Ian Kinsler: Mashed a huge two run homer in the seventh, giving Detroit the lead for good.
Middle/setup relief: Evan Reed, Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. Reed pitched out of a base loaded situation in the sixth, bailing out a struggling Blaine Hardy.
Bryan Shaw: Asked to protect leads on back-to-back days, Shaw served up lead-losing, two-run home runs on back-to-back days.
CC Lee: The Tribe reliever had absolutely no idea where his throws were going, turning the eighth inning into a comedy relief session.
Blaine Hardy: Could not retire a batter in relief of Justin Verlander, allowing two inherited runners to score.
Joe Nathan: Looked completely gassed in the ninth (admitting he was 'on fumes' during the post game), struggling through a very difficult inning. If Nathan can't get the slider over, he's in trouble. He definitely found it.
Nathan with 0 days rest allowed .393 .435 .482 .918 OPS, 5.38 ERA, 2.19 WHIP (i.e. terrible)— Patrick OKennedy (@Tigerdog_1) September 14, 2014
Injuries: Alex Avila was forced to leave the game, the Tigers immediately pulling him when he admitted to be suffering from a headache. Brad Ausmus admitted after the game he doesn't expect Avila to be in tomorrow's lineup.
Victor Martinez: Even the best have bad games. Martinez was 0-for-5, his average dropping to .331 in his battle to win a batting title.
The weekend has been full of Detroit base running blunders. Two-on and one-out in the first, Victor Martinez smoked a line dive directly at Tribe first baseman Carlos Santana. Miguel Cabrera got back to the first base bag without issue, but Torii Hunter was well on his way to third base and was easily doubled off second, ending the inning.
To end the second inning, Alex Avila was picked off first base on a snap throw by Indians' catcher Roberto Perez. Avila was the second Tiger picked off in two games, Ian Kinser nailed by Danny Salazar Saturday night.
Oh, good Lord. Another base running blunder in a weekend full of them. Avila is picked off 1st on Perez's snap throw pic.twitter.com/QakFSR0swP— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 14, 2014
The Indians loaded the bases with just one-out in the fourth, but Justin Verlander pulled off the proverbial Houdini act to get out of trouble. The big out of the frame was Verlander retiring Lonnie Chisenhall on a pop up to short. Perez ended the inning by lining out to center, stranding three and keeping the game scoreless.
J.D. Martinez woke up the Comerica Park crowd in the bottom of the fourth, giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead by taking a Trevor Bauer fastball into deep center field, territory rarely explored by players not named Miguel Cabrera.
WOW. JD Martinez gives the Tigers a 1-0 lead by smoking a drive into Miggy territory in dead center. pic.twitter.com/vLQHQVpWGC— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 14, 2014
The Tribe countered the Tigers' run with one of their own in the next half inning. Top of five, a Michael Bourn walk, Michael Brantley single and Carlos Santana sacrifice fly knotted the game at 1-all.
With Brantley on third, Verlander needed 12 pitches to finally put away Jason Kipnis, who fouled off seven full-count pitches. The seventh time turned out to be the charm, a foul pop to Nick Castellanos finally ending the inning. The battle against Kipnis greatly inflated Verlander's pitch count, 93 after five innings.
Top of six, the Indians took a 3-1 lead. Verlander left the game after two were out and two on, replaced by Blaine Hardy. All Hardy did was throw a wild pitch, walk Bourn, give up a bases loaded single to Jose Ramirez, and plunk Brantley to drive in the second run of the inning. Hardy was yanked, replaced by Evan Reed. Asked to come through in a high leverage situation, Reed got out of further trouble by retiring Carlos Santana on a bases loaded bouncer to second, ending the rally.
The Tigers got a run back in the sixth, thanks to J.D. Martinez's ownership of Tribe pitching. Two-on and no one out, Martinez ripped an RBI single to left center, pulling the Tigers within a run at 3-2. Two down and still two on, Brad Ausmus remembered young power hitter Steven Moya was on the bench, asking him to pinch-hit for Andrew Romine. But that would be it for the rally, Moya ending the inning on a looping one-hopper to short.
Bryan Shaw can't wait to get out of Detroit. For the second consecutive game, the Tribe reliever ponied up a late inning home run, coughing up a one-run Indians lead in the process. Rajai Davis started the rally with his speed, reaching base on an infield single, swiping second without drawing a throw. Kinsler then yanked a 3-1 fastball into the Tribe bullpen, giving the Tigers a 4-3 advantage.
The game took a turn for the bizarre in the eighth. CC Lee on the mound for the Indians, Eugenio Suarez was asked to bunt pinch-runner Don Kelly to second. Suarez was lucky he wasn't killed when Lee's pitch sailed far, far inside.
Lee taking 'high and inside' to an extreme. Saurez is caught seeing his life flash before his eyes. pic.twitter.com/FMi0gpZ9bx— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 14, 2014
Suarez would ultimately walk, runners advancing into scoring position on Davis' bunt. Asked to give Kinsler an intentional pass, Lee made a massive, and quite rare, mistake - a wild pitch on the free pass, plating a base runner.
HA! Lee botches Kinsler's IBB, throws ball to the backstop allowing Don Kelly to score! Tigers up 5-3! pic.twitter.com/CMBGx8xszK— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 14, 2014
A second run would score on Torii Hunter's ground ball, pushing the Tigers' lead to 6-3.
Joe Nathan had a heart-stopping ninth, but managed to close out the win. Nathan allowed the first three batters he faced to reach base, a run scoring on Santana's RBI double. But a Yan Gomes 5-4-3 double play bailed him out of trouble, ending the game by inducing pinch-hitting Jason Giambi to pop up.
STREAKS AND STATS:
Andrew Romine was back at short after Eugenio Suarez got the start Saturday night. Romine has been swinging a hot bat, hitting .353/.353/.353 over his last five games prior to today. Romine was 0-for-2 on the day, pulled for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
J.D. Martinez went deep in the fourth, home run number 22 on the season. Of those big flies, 13 have been against AL Central teams, including seven against the Indians.
Alex Avila was forced to leave the game after the seventh inning due to light-headedness. He is considered day-to-day, but recurring concussion symptoms (if that is the issue) are a huge concern.
Phil Coke's last three wins have come since September 2, and all three have been against the Indians.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
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