Max Scherzer on the mound and holding a six-run lead, it appeared the Detroit Tigers were on their way to an easy win against the Minnesota Twins. Turned out the night was anything but easy, the Twins tying the game at 6-6 in thanks to a two-run eighth. But the surging Tigers flashed their power bats, Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera drilling back-to-back home runs in the ninth. The Tigers would escape with an 8-6 victory, their third straight win in their last at-bat.
But Detroit wasn't the only AL Central team showing off their ability to mount a ninth inning comeback. The Kansas City Royals walked off against the Chicago White Sox in a wild finish, keeping pace with the Tigers in the divisional race. The Tigers are 1 1/2 games up on the Royals, who own a 1 1/2 game lead for the second wild card over the Seattle Mariners.
Scherzer looked well on his way to an excellent outing for the Tigers early on, no-hitting the Twins through three innings. But he would struggle through the middle frames, allowing a six-run lead to be cut to two. Scherzer would go seven full innings, allowing four runs on seven hits, striking out five and walking one.
Detroit's bullpen has been, if not lock-down, at least fairly dependable over the past month. Tonight the bullpen pitched as if they had time-traveled their way in from May. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke and Al Alburquerque were unable to get the Tigers out of the eighth, allowing the Twins back in the game. Chamberlain didn't retire a batter, walked two, both of whom would come around to score. Coke was charged with a blown save, giving up the game-tying hit. Alburquerque faced just one batter, allowing a single.
It was rookie Kyle Ryan to the rescue, needing just two pitches to get out of the eighth inning, keeping the score tied. Joe Nathan was given the night off, Brad Ausmus giving ninth inning duty to Joakim Soria, who nailed down the victory. Ryan (W, 2-0) would receive credit for the win, Soria the save (18 on the season, his first as a Tiger)
Tommy Milone on the shelf due to a stiff neck, Twins' reliever Anthony Swarzak got the not from Ron Gardenhire, making his second start of the season. It didn't go nearly as well as his first, a victory over the Indians in July. The Tigers rocked Swarzak for six runs on 11 hits in just 4 1/3 innings.
But it was former Tiger Casey Fien who would take the loss in relief. The Twins were in need of a shutdown inning after rallying to tie the game. Fein didn't give it to them, allowing two runs on two hits, both home runs, in his 1/3 of an inning.
Detroit's offense made up for the pitching deficiency, outhitting Minnesota 16-10, slugging eight extra-base hits and two home runs.
The middle of Detroit's order led the destruction tonight. Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez all came through with multi-hit games, combining for ten hits, six runs scored and four RBI. Joining the multi-hit parade was the bottom of the order; Andrew Romine driving in two runs on three hits, Bryan Holaday adding two hits and an RBI.
Always a thorn in the Tigers' side, Joe Mauer led the Twins' offense by driving in four run on two hits.
When asked about what happened on the mound for the Tigers, blowing a six run advantage, Ausmus was the master of the understatement.
"For some reason, you're never comfortable until the final out is made."
No damn kidding, Brad.
Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez: Detroit's 2-thru-5 hitters were ridiculously good - 10-for-19 with a walk, four RBI, six runs scored, and six extra-base hits. Two of those extra-base hits were home runs off the bats of Hunter and Cabrera in the ninth, giving the Detroit the lead.
Bryan Holaday: Giving banged-up Alex Avila a breather, Holaday came through with two hits, an RBI and a caught stealing.
Andrew Romine: Always solid on defense, Romine remained hot with the bat - 3-for-4, two RBI.
Kyle Ryan: Bailed the bullpen out a massive eighth inning jam, keeping the score knotted at 6-all, ending the eighth thanks to a double play ball off the bat of Eduardo Nunez. Ryan was rewarded for his efforts by earning his second win of the season, thanks to the Tigers scoring two in the ninth. Post game, Ryan admitted he 'was shaking like a leaf' when he entered the game in such a high leverage situation.
Joakim Soria: Asked to close as the Tigers want to limit their use of Joe Nathan in back-to-back games (and Nathan looked gassed as he struggled on Sunday), Soria recorded the save. He did allow a lead off double, but settled in from there, retiring the last three batters he faced.
Max Scherzer: Given a six-run lead, Scherzer was lights-out for three innings. But the Twins chipped away at Scherzer, pulling within two. The Twins turned a possible rout back into a game when Scherzer was knocked around for three runs on three hits, a walk and a wild pitch in the bottom of the sixth, turning an excellent start into an average one and taking away the bullpen's safety net.
Ian Kinsler: Sunday's home run didn't wake up Kinsler's bat, as shown by his 0-for-5 performance against the Twins. Three of his at-bats ended in comebackers to the pitcher.
Joba Chamberlain: Chamberlain's rough second half continues. Taking over from Scherzer to start the eighth, Chamberlain went to a full count on both batters he faced before walking them. Brad Ausmus had little choice by to yank to his badly struggling reliever. Unfortunately, the walks would be converted into runs by the pesky Twins.
Phil Coke: Replaced Chamberlain, and decided not to pay much attention to the base runners. The Twins proceeded to pull off a double steal, which paid off huge when Joe Mauer looped a game-tying single to left.
First off, 'sup girl!
Anibal Sanchez wearing a "Sup Girl" t-shirt pic.twitter.com/U75eQT2zOM— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 16, 2014
In an expected precautionary measure, the Tigers kept Alex Avila out of tonight's game due to the light-headdedness which forced his removal after seven innings Sunday. Avila is still considered day-to-day, as are we all. Backup Bryan Holaday got the start at catcher, batting seventh.
Tommy Milone was Minnesota's scheduled starter for game one of this series with Detroit, but was scratched over the weekend due to neck soreness. Right-hander Anthony Swarzak got the spot start for the Twins. Since being acquired from the Athletics in the deal of Sam Fuld, Milone has been a major disappointment for the Twins, posting a 7.40 ERA in 20 2/3 innings.
As for Swarzak, MLB Fan Cave has three things you should know.
Swarzak easily retired the first two Tigers he faced to start the night, but he still had to face Detroit's Murderer's Row of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. Cabrera and Martinez crushed back-to-back doubles, followed by a Martinez single, giving both Victor and J.D. an RBI and the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Top of four, the Tigers again strung together hits, extending their lead to 5-0. J.D. Martinez led off the inning with a fly ball to deep right, Oswaldo Arcia thinking would hit the wall, backing off to play the expected bounce. He badly misjudged the fly, the ball landing on the warning track for a double. Nick Castellanos followed with a single, Bryan Hoiladay doubled in Martinez and Andrew Romine singled in two more runs, the Tigers socring three runs on four straight hits. Only a miraculous double play started by a diving Brian Dozier (on Rajai Davis, of all Tigers) kept the Tigers from extending their lead even further (MLB.com video).
Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer no-hit the Twins for three innings. Danny Santana broke up the no-no bid before it got truly interesting by leading off the fourth with a clean single through the left side.
Swarzak wasn't long for the game, given the hook by Ron Gardenhire after 4 1/3 innings when he loaded the bases in the fifth. Swarzak was replaced by A.J. Achter, who walked Nick Castellanos, pushing Detroit's lead to 6-zip.
The Tigers might have had a double-digit lead, if not for the Twins' defense. The bases still loaded in fifth, Holaday lifted a fly ball into medium left. Third base coach Dave Cark sent the not-fleet-of-foot Victor Martinez, only to have him nailed at the plate by an on-target throw by Chad Parmelee. It was the third double play turned by the Twins in just five innings.
Arcia put the Twins on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth, smoking an absolute monster of a home run which landed
in St. Paul Prince's front yard Adrian Peterson's courtroom well into the right center field upper deck. Arcia's 18th home run of the season cut the Tigers' lead to 6-1.
Oswaldo Arcia hit that ball so hard Max might have two brown eyes now— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 16, 2014
What had been a relatively comfortable five-run lead was cut to an uncomfortable two when Scherzer was roughed up for three runs in the sixth. Santana singled, Dozier walked, both advancing on a wild pitch (which should have been stopped by Holaday, the ball bouncing through his five hole). The wild pitch cost the Tigers a run when a Joe Mauer single drove in a pair. A sacrifice fly by Trevor Plouffe wrapped up the rally, Scherzer striking out Arcia to get out of further trouble.
Having allowed singles to Torii Hunter and J.D. Martinez, Achter was pulled with two down in the seventh. Ryan Pressly took over, stinking out Castellanos on three pitches to strand runners on the corners.
The Tigers flashed a little glove leather themselves, courtesy of Rajai Davis in the seventh. His diving, sprawling catch in the seventh took a hit away from Kurt Suzuki, helping Detroit maintain their two-run lead.
The Tigers' bullpen went into meltdown mode in the bottom of the eighth, giving up two runs on two hits, two walks and a double steal. The main culprits were Joba Chamberalin, who walked a pair to start the inning, and Phil Coke, who served up a two RBI single to Joe Mauer after the Twins pulled off a double steal. Two on, one out, and the bullpen having turned into a dumpster fire, it would be young lefty Kyle Ryan who would come up big in relief. The rookie induced the only batter he faced, pinch-hitter Eduardo Nunez, to bounce into a inning-ending double play.
The never-say-die Tigers gave their fans whiplash, needing only 1/2 inning to go from deflation to elation. Ex-Tiger Casey Fein came on in relief for the Twins in the ninth. All he did was dish out back-to-back solo home runs to Hunter and Cabrera, turning a 6-6 game into an 8-6 Tigers lead, which would be the final score.
STREAKS AND STATS:
Brad Ausmus appears to have settled on Andrew Romine as his primary shortstop during the stretch run. Over the last 11 games (including tonight), Romine received the starting nod over rookie Eugenio Suarez in eight. Romine's bat has picked up considerably, which has much to do with his increased playing time. Three hits tonight has Romine slashing 417/.417/458 in September, compared to Suarez's .227/.261/.227.
Romine's three hit game was his second of the year and fifth of his career.
Bryan Holaday's fourth inning double gave the Tigers 302 two-baggers in 2014, the 11th most in a season in franchise history. They ended the night at 305, thanks to six doubles on the night.
The Twins' Oswaldo Arcia isn't the best defensive outfielder, but he does have prodigious power. After taking Max Scherzer deep, Arcia has 18 home runs on the season, 13 coming post All-Star break.
With two hits tonight, Miguel Cabrera now has multiple hits in 9-of-14 games this month. He's hitting .434 (23x53) in September.
Scherzer wants to be paid like an ace, but hasn't been pitching like one as of late. Over his past six starts covering 38 1/3 innings, Scherzer has a 4.46 ERA.
The home runs by Torii Hunter and Cabrera marked the eighth time this season that the Tigers have hit back-to-back big flies and the first time since September 1, versus the Indians.
Hunter's home run was the sixth of his career which has given his team the lead in the ninth inning. The last time he accomplished the feat was August 29, 2013 versus the Athletics.
Miguel Cabrera's homer in the ninth was number 388 of his career. He's one home run back of Johnny Bench for 59th in MLB history. Cabrera has 250 homers as a Tiger.
The Tigers have won 7-of-8, and four in a row. The last three wins have come in their last at-bat.
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