On a cold, windy night in Chicago, Justin Verlander made his final start of the season. A sea of empty green chairs watched as did the occasional group of spectators covered in layers of cotton and wool, wearing hats with logos representing various Midwestern teams. Rod and Mario chatted about the wild-card race and the Tigers and White Sox played a game not worth saying much about. Verlander took the mound and the wind rippled his short sleeves, his bare arms exposed. Alex Avila caught Verlander for the 116th time in his career, possibly the last.
In the first inning Adam Eaton got on base, stole second and eventually scored on a Melky Cabrera double. In between, a high pop-up to shortstop left Dixon Machado circling around the infield, diligently tracking the ball's anomalous course. The wind was very windy. Verlander would strike out the next two batters to end the inning. In the top of the second Dixon Machado hit into yet another double play. There are some routines that will not be missed when the Tigers pack things up tomorrow and shut the book on the 2015 season. Verlander kicked away an easy ground ball in the bottom of the inning, putting former Tigers' Future of the Franchise Avisail Garcia on first. Miguel Cabrera chatted with his old understudy, but Avisail wouldn't make it past second base -- Verlander once again looked good. His counterpart, Erik Johnson, looked good as well and the Tigers struggled to figure out the 25-year-old Californian.
Adam Eaton got another single in the third and was thrown out trying for second. Jose Abreu struck out as did Melky Cabrera, giving Verlander five strikeouts through three innings, his pitch count at a reasonable 56 pitches. Miguel hit into a hard out, J.D. Martinez doubled and was left stranded at second. Three groundouts ended an eight-pitch inning for Verlander and runs continued to be at a premium. The fifth inning saw a similar dearth of scoring opportunities and the scoreboard resolutely read White Sox 1, Tigers 0.
In the sixth, Johnson walked the leadoff batter and Miguel Cabrera came up to the plate with one out. Miguel drove a ball to deep center field and Eaton tracked it, but jumped too late, directly into the wall. The ball just barely cleared the fence and ended Miguel's prodigious home run drought, 2-1, Tigers. In the bottom of the inning, Verlander was upset at home plate umpire Adrian Johnson for giving up on his curveball. He was barking at home plate and extending an invitation for Johnson to stage an Ump Show. Avila pleaded patience and Johnson let it go.
Abreu hit a fly ball to center field that Gose grabbed and pieces of trash pushed by the wind traversed the space between the mound and home plate like so many new age tumbleweeds. Melky Cabrera was caught looking at a fastball inside with a little bit of swing-back action. Rod Allen called Verlander's breaking balls "dirty" and it is hard to find a more apt description -- the movement was sharp. Verlander thought he had a called third strike a few times to end the inning and was heading towards the dugout, but Adrian Johnson was not impressed. Eventually Alexei Ramirez hit a double to knot the game at two. Napkins danced all over the diamond and the Tigers bullpen started warming up. Rob Brantly saw 12 pitches before striking out, but Verlander's night was over at 121 pitches, a season high for the righthander.
Erik Johnson gave up a single to Steven Moya, and after a Dixon Machado sac bunt, Johnson gave way to Zach Duke. Duke would escape the jam while in New York City Max Scherzer struck out his ninth batter in a row, 17th of the night. Curtis Granderson (baseball is a small world) would pop out, giving Scherzer his second no-hitter of the year. Verlander and Scherzer both pitched beautifully for teams going nowhere, rounding into shape just in time for a postseason that will not come.
Drew VerHagen pitched well and the Tigers and White Sox went into the eighth still locked at two. Miguel got his third hit of the night. J.D. hit a deep fly ball, but the wind was too much. A Tyler Collins single put two men on. Romine pinch ran for Miguel, likely ending his season, and the Tigers stranded baserunners yet again, bringing the total up to 13 on the night. In the top of the ninth, Rajai Davis drew a walk. Dixon Machado sacrificed him over to second and James McCann pinch hit for Alex Avila. McCann came through with a double, easily driving in Davis from second, making it 3-2, Tigers.
Neftali Feliz came in to close it out in the bottom of the inning. He walked the leadoff batter, a classic omen of doom. And doom there would be -- after a pop out to Romine playing first base, J.B. Shuck promptly hit a double, tying the game at three as Feliz blew his seventh save of the year. After a walk to Abreu, Leury Garcia singled in the winning run, White Sox 4, Tigers 3. With this loss the Tigers clinched last place in the American League Central and will have a top-10 draft pick protected next year.
In many ways, today's game was a return to Detroit Tigers basics. Miguel Cabrera hit a home run, Justin Verlander was dominant and the bullpen lost the game anyway. Much of this is a familiar pattern we have watched unfold countless times over the last half decade. While protecting the pick was fun, watching the onslaught of banal incompetence that is the Tigers' bullpen is getting old. Here's to hoping a revitalized JV and Miguel Cabrera can watch a better bullpen finish off games next year.
Justin Verlander: The Tigers' ace went six innings, gave up five hits, two walks, two runs and struck out nine to end his season on a high note. His pants were tight, the pitches crisp -- everything was as it should be.
Miguel Cabrera: Miguel's three-hit night secured his fourth batting title and he ended his home run drought -- it doesn't matter if it scraped the top of the wall, all home runs count the same.
The Wind: The wind came correct today, operating at full force. Every fly ball was an adventure and that was fun to watch.
Neftali Feliz: Sigh.
Nick Castellanos: Nick went hitless and stranded five runners while playing bad defense.
STREAKS AND STATS:
- Miguel Cabrera's home run drought ended at 121 plate appearances.
- .338 will likely be Cabrera's final batting average on the season. That is a good number.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH: