Saturday's pennant race matchup between the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals featured confusion, glaring mistakes, questionable strategy, surprising and not-so-surprising performances, and in the end, sheer terror. But the Tigers got the better performances and made fewer mistakes, prevailing in a 3–2 pitcher's duel, taking a nail-biter to extend their division lead.
Having won the first two games of the series, the victory ensures that Detroit will leave Kansas City with at least a 1 1/2 game lead in the AL Central. Having cut the magic number to seven, the Tigers now hold a 2 1/2 game advantage for the division crown with just eight games to play. The wild card situation is an utter mess, the Athletics owning a one game lead over the Royals and Mariners, who are tied for the second wild card spot.
The game was marred by a major controversy. The Royals had a run taken away and a rally ended when it was ruled Salvador Perez never touched the third base bag after Ian Kinsler had caught a line drive and threw the ball away. The call was not reviewable and at the time the Tigers' appeal was denied. But after a long group consultation by the umpiring crew, Perez was called out, the run nullified and the Tigers given an inning-ending double play.
But when you take the controversy out the game, the game distills into an elite pitcher's duel between Max Scherzer and James Shields ... before the Tigers bullpen got involved, that is.
Max Scherzer pitched like the reigning Cy Young Champion that he is for the Tigers, holding the Royals to one run in seven innings of work, striking out six and walking just one.
Big Game James Shields pitched well in the Royals' biggest game in decades, but didn't get much support from his teammates. Shields pitched into the seventh, pulled after allowing three runs on six hits, striking out six and walking one.
Unlike last night, the Royals' bullpen kept the Tigers off the scoreboard, tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Unlike last night, the Tigers' bullpen kept the game far too interesting.
A two-run lead was cut to one as Joba Chamberlain allowed a run and two hits in his one inning of work. The Royals playing for their playoff lives, closer Joe Nathan hung on for dear life, hoping to survive the ninth. Nathan gave up two hits and allowed the game-winning run to advance into scoring position before recording the final out and earning his 33rd save.
The Tigers were actually out-hit by the Royals, 11–7. But a fourth inning home run by Torii Hunter, and RBI singles from Tyler Collins and Rajai Davis in the seventh gave Scherzer and the bullpen just enough support.
The Royals' number one and nine hitters bedeviled Tigers pitching. Leadoff man Alcides Escobar finished the day 4-for-5, adding an RBI. Speedy number nine hitter Jarrod Dyson was 3-for-4, scoring a run. Eric Hosmer's eighth inning RBI single wrapped up the scoring.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I doubt anything will come of it, but Royals are looking into a protest.
Royals officials are in discussions with MLB headquarters to see if they have any recourse in terms of protesting this game.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) September 20, 2014
The Royals are dubious they have any recourse. Both players and team officials are quite upset, as one would expect.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) September 20, 2014
It won't do any good, Yost needed to protest the game when the umpire's decision was made. If they really want to protest something, the Royals need to protest the ridiculous moves and strategy of their manager.
Max Scherzer: There was a little luck and an overturned call involved, but in the end all that counted is the Tigers received a badly needed excellent outing from Scherzer. Going up against the Royals' ace, Scherzer stepped up his game, just as his rotation-mate Justin Verlander did Friday night.
Torii Hunter: Red hot at the plate, Hunter's sixth straight multi-hit game included his 17th home run, giving the Tigers a 1–0 lead.
Tyler Collins: A rookie asked to face James Shields in a two-out, two on, pinch-hitting situation in the seventh, Collins gave the Tigers the lead by singling to center.
Rajai Davis: His bloop RBI single capped off the Tigers' two-run rally in the seventh. Insurance turned into the game-winner thanks to Detroit's bullpen hijinks.
Hernan Perez: The rookie never took the field, but may have made the call of the season. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus confirmed Perez spotted Salvador Perez's base-running mistake, alerting the coaching staff.
Hernan Perez saw the play from the dugout. He told Omar Vizquel. Vizquel told Ausmus. That's how the process got started.— Chris Iott (@Chris_Iott) September 20, 2014
Josh Willingham: Batting third for Kansas City, the .218 hitting Willingham was 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position.
Salvador Perez: Perez's base-running gaffe will go down in infamy, part of miserable Royals' lore. I don't think he'll ever forget to tag up again.
Ned Yost: If you wondered how the Brewers could fire Yost in mid-September, in the middle of a pennant race, his actions today showed why. He should be fired multiple times on general principle for taking the bat out of the hands of his hottest hitter, asking Norichika Aoki to sacrifice bunt ... twice .... before the end of three innings. Both times, the free out came into play as Scherzer pitched out of trouble.
Replay review: What went down in the sixth was confusing enough, finally learning the Perez play wasn't even reviewable. No one knew what was going on for several minutes. A messy play ended up taking an extremely long time to sort out, luckily going the Tigers' way.
The frustrating non-use of Joakim Soria: Why did the Tigers trade two of their top prospects for a reliever they won't use in high leverage situations? Joba Chamberlain remains the setup guy, and Joe Nathan the closer, despite both their struggles. Soria was warming up in the seventh and eighth, and ultimately not used. Apparently the only way Soria would have pitched was if Chamberlain coughed up the lead. As soon as the eighth ended and the Tigers still owned the lead, Soria sat down and Joe Nathan started warming up.
Tigers taking stubbornness to a playoff-risking point of incredulity. Joba in the eighth. Nathan in ninth. No Soria. This is unfathomable.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) September 20, 2014
For release: pic.twitter.com/idUOZdj9i4— Neil Weinberg (@NeilWeinberg44) September 20, 2014
As soon as Nathan allowed a one-out base-runner, Soria went back to throwing. PSYCHE! He wouldn't be needed, Nathan stumbling and bumbling into a save.
Ian Kinsler: His misplay (which should have been scored an error) allowed the Royals' first run to score, and a second run-scoring misplay was only wiped off the scoreboard thanks to Perez's brain-lock on the base paths.
Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan: They combined to scare the bejeebus out of the fan base. Chamberlain allowed the Royals to pull within a run, Nathan only avoided disaster thanks to the graciousness of the baseball gods.
Brad Asumus: For refusing to use his best reliever, preferring to use Chamberlain and Nathan. It's baffling that Soria, whom Dave Dombrowski traded the farm to get, is a bullpen afterthought.
Due to his ongoing concussion-like symptoms, Brad Ausmus admitted he doesn't know when Alex Avila will return to the lineup. James McCann caught last night's victory, but Bryan Holaday was back behind the plate this afternoon, making his fourth start in five games.
Bottom of the first, Max Scherzer served up a leadoff double to Alcides Escobar. Batting second for the Royals was Norichika Aoki, who is smoking hot at the plate, entering the game with 13 hits in his last 16 at-bats. For some unfathomable reason, Yost took the bat out of Aoki's hands, calling for a sacrifice bunt. Aoki moved the runner to third, but gave the Tigers a free out. Scherzer took advantage, striking out Josh Willingham and Alex Gordon, stranding Escobar at third.
Aoki bunts in the first inning. Thanks, Ned!— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 20, 2014
Ned Yost thinks things through like and is as easy to overcome as a Scooby Doo villian.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) September 20, 2014
James Shields picked up where he left off the last time he pitched against the Tigers, retiring the first seven batters he faced. Holaday became the first Tiger to reach base, lining a single to left in the third.
Bottom of three, back-to-back singles from Jarrod Dyson and Escobar started the bottom of the third, Yost did it again, taking the bat out of Aoki's hands by having him sacrifice bunt. Next verse, same as the first. Scherzer induced a Willingham popup, then struck out Gordon swinging.
Yost was deservedly eviscerated for his strategy.
Just an incredibly stupid thing to do, bunting this early, giving away an out. Win expectancy drops, hottest hitter is out.— Patrick OKennedy (@Tigerdog_1) September 20, 2014
I wish there were a baseball district attorney who would charge managers who completely misuse bunts with malpractice punishable by firing.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 20, 2014
Ned Yost got fired in September of a pennant chase once and doesn't seem to have gotten better.— Neil Weinberg (@NeilWeinberg44) September 20, 2014
Torii Hunter led off the fourth by playing for one run. The 39-year-old swung away, crushing Shield's 1–2 breaking ball on a line over the left field fence. Hunter's 17th home run of the season was only the second hit off Shields, but the Tigers owned a 1–0 lead.
Given a lead, Scherzer followed up by tossing a 'blink your eyes and you missed it' shutdown bottom of the fourth, retiring the Royals in order on just five pitches.
If you were looking for Waldo, he was discovered mid-game.
I found Waldo. pic.twitter.com/cjSpaqBU2z— Royals Review (@royalsreview) September 20, 2014
Bottom of five and one out, Dyson tried to bunt for a hit before lining a two-strike pitch off the left field fence. As usual, Hunter tried a silly, unnecessary deke that didn't work, Dyson cruising into second. Escobar followed with a seeing-eye dribbler back up the middle, Ian Kinsler giving the Royals a gift-run by allowing the ball to roll between his legs. The official scorer must need glasses, somehow ruling the play an RBI single. Regardless, the game was knotted at 1-all.
Kinsler semi-redeemed himself on the very next play, making a miraculous stab of Aoki's ground ball, robbing him of a single on the hit and run.
That last play by Kinsler makes the previous gaffe that much more baffling. Excellent play to retire the red-hot Aoki.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 20, 2014
The Royals made Scherzer work in a 29 pitch fifth, but the reigning Cy Young stranded the lead run at second when he struck out Willingham.
Scherzer found himself in another jam in the sixth, the inning turning into a very bizarre one for the books. One out, Salvador Perez dropped a bloop single into center. Sanchez made a rare mistake, leaving a pitch over the plate for Eric Hosmer, who drilled it into the right center gap. The double put runners on second and third, and Infante at the plate.
The ex-Tiger drilled a liner to second for the second out, but Kinsler tried to make a play that wasn't there, trying to double-off Hosmer. He threw the ball away, Saurez unable to make the grab. The run-scoring error was charged to Suarez, allowing Perez to score and Hosmer to advance to second to give the Royals a gift 2–1 lead.
An alert Detroit dugout noticed Perez had never retouched the third base bag. As the liner was caught on the fly, Perez needed to tag up. Ausmus was immediately on the field, asking for a challenge, an appeal, something. After a long delay and much confusion Perez was correctly called out, the run nullified on what was now a double play.
The FOX crew was completely baffled, complaining the game should be protested as the Tigers never appealed the play. Several minutes later FOX finally showed a replay of the Tigers throwing to third on appeal. Funny, as reporters on site had long confirmed via Twitter the Tigers had completed the appeal correctly.
Tigers did throw over to third, for those asking.— Chris Iott (@Chris_Iott) September 20, 2014
To all those asking, the Tigers did throw over to third base before challenging.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) September 20, 2014
It was later explained tagging up is not a reviewable play, and that is all New York HQ told the crew chief. The third base umpire originally called Perez safe on appeal. After the umpires gathered to discuss the play, the call was changed.
For those scoring at home, God help you.
To recap: Salvador Perez outderps Ian Kinsler and the game is still tied at 1.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 20, 2014
The Royals botched rally came back to haunt them almost immediately. Top of seven and one out, J.D. Martinez singled. Suarez extended the inning by drawing a two-out walk, patience that would pay off in spades. Tyler Collins pinch hit for Holaday, lining an RBI single back up through the middle, the Tigers retaking the lead at 2–1. Rajai Davis then ended Shields' afternoon, driving in the second run of the inning by dropping an RBI Texas League single in short right.
Scherzer walked the lead off man to start the seventh, emptying his tank in retiring the next three Royals. Scherzer had done his job, pitching seven innings of one-run ball, allowing the Tigers to take a 3–1 lead into the eighth.
The confusing status of Joakim Soria became a hot topic late as a scuffling Joba Chamberlain gave up a run. The Tigers' 'eighth-inning guy' took over for Scherzer, getting into trouble after two were out. Perez singled and was removed for a pinch-runner, Lane Adams. Chamberlain proceeded to uncork a wild pitch, moving the runner to second, then serving up an RBI single to Hosmer. At the end of eight, the Tigers were clinging to a 3–2 lead.
It's rote at this point. Ninth inning save situation, Ausmus rolls with Joe Nathan, be there Hell or high water. Hell and high water arrive, Nathan getting into huge trouble.
One down, the speedy Dyson and Escobar singled, bringing Aoki to the plate. Nathan was unable to get a third strike by Aoki, who fouled off a handful of two-strike pitches before moving the runners over on a chopper to second.
Two down, Willingham was due to the plate. Having seen his number three hitter strand runners by the bushel-basket, Yost went to a pinch-hitter, the 2000-year-old man, aka Raul Ibanez. The Detroit fan base had their torches and pitch-forks at the ready, but Nathan ended a very long and stressful inning by inducing Ibanez to weakly bounce to first, earning another shaky save.
I aged so bad during that inning I look like Jim Leyland now.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 20, 2014
STREAKS AND STATS:
Over the last four games, Norichika Aoki has been the hottest player in baseball — 13-for-16 and hitting .813/.833/.938, good for a 1.771 OPS. So Ned Yost asked him to sacrifice in his first two at-bats.
In consecutive three at-bats with a runner in scoring position, the Royals' Josh Willingham was retired by Max Scherzer in all three. The ball never left the infield, Willingham striking out in the first and fifth, fouling out in the third.
Torii Hunter had a single and home run, giving him six straight multi-hit games for the first time in his career.
Tyler Collins pinch-hit in the seventh, singling to drive in the lead run. Collins is now 3-for-5 with four RBI as a pinch-hitter this season.
The Tigers are now 13–5 in their season series against the Royals.
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