Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Here We Go Again

It has the same feel, I can tell you that much.

Tonight's Tigers game, in which Detroit starter Doug Fister has yet to permit a baserunner through six, feels exactly like the Imperfect game of last season, and by that I mean it is moving right along.  We've been at it for one hour and 15 minutes, and we are in the top of the 7th.  These things get on you in a hurry.  The top of the Roayls order is up to start the 7th.  It is exciting.  If he gets through this inning, it will be nerve-racking.  And there is something else at play this evening:  the Tigers have yet to score a run.

And it ends.  Alex Gordon doubles to lead off the 7th on Fister's 74th pitch of the night.  The Perfect Game, gone.  The no-hitter, gone.  And the game itself, following a sac bunt, in jeopardy as KC has the go-ahead run at third with only one out.  Billy Butler plates Gordon with a long sac fly to center, and the Tigers, somehow, trail.  There's another single for KC, but the inning ends with incident.  So now the Tigers trail 1-0, and they have been outhit in this game, somehow, 2-1.  Talk about a pitchers duel.  Jeff Francis and Doug Fister are having at it tonight.

Frances is coming out of the ballgame.  Delmon Young reached on a error and Miguel Cabrera hammered a single to left.  So, even though he has a 2-hitter going and has thrown only 90 pitches, Francis leaves leading 1-0.  Both teams now have 2 hits.  Victor Martinez is up with men on first and second and one out.  Greg Holland is the new KC pitcher.

The Tigers can't get it done in the 7th, but in the bottom of the 8th, Ordonez singles in a run and we go to the 9th, tied 1-1.  Fister, for the record, has an ERA of 0.83 (2 ER/21.2 IP).  He will be no-decisioned here tonight.

What a ballgame!  We are heading to the 10th after the Royals walked the bases loaded with two out in the 9th when 12 of the last 13 pitches thrown by Louis Coleman were balls.  But former Royal Wilson Betemit--what a story it could have been, no?--struck out to end the inning.  Benoit, perfect in the 9th: 1-2-3 on 11 pitches, stays on to start the tenth.  Still 1-1.  Still a very exciting night.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Get Out the Brooms?

The Tigers go for the sweep of the Indians here this afternoon and wouldn't that be huge if they could pull it off?  Remember, when this series began, a sweep by Cleveland would have put them in first place all alone.  Now, the Tigers have the chance to go 4.5 up on the Indians.  And even if the Tigers lose this afternoon, they will still be a game better off in the standing, leading second-place Cleveland by 2.5, than they were when the series began and Cleveland came to town only 1.5 games back of Detroit, and even with the Tigers in the Loss Column.

It won't be easy, not that it ever is.  After outscoring the Indians 14-2 in the first two games, the Tigers are up against Ubaldo Jimenez this afternoon.  He's the stud the Indians traded their future to Colorado for.  His numbers are remarkable.  Lefties hit .231 off him.  Righties are clipping along at a .230 pace.  Those are pretty solid numbers.  In fact, the only stat of Jimenez I can find that works in favor of Detroit is that he is a.500 pitcher on the road in his career (26-26) and a sub-.500 pitcher on the road this season (3-4).

Rick Porcello is looking to regain his form after a couple of rough outings during which he has posted an ERA of 11.17.  In his six starts prior, he'd put up a five-game win streak with an ERA of 3.26.  If he wins today, it will be his 112th of the season and will make Detroit the only team besides Philadelphia with 3 12-game winners.  And it will mean Jim Leyland will come off smelling like a rose.  Justin Verlander has had his four days of rest since racking up his 18th win of the season here on Tuesday night over the Twins, so it should be his turn to go today.  But, Leyland, even though it's an important division game (in hockey they call 'em 4-point games because of the possible point swing which results from winning or losing), Leyland is giving Verlander an extra days rest.  As he said in his press gaggle this morning--and there were only four of us there for that at 9:30 on this Sunday morning, maybe everybody else went to church--"I've got to protect Justin Verlander, and that means not just this season."  And you can see his point.  82 millions dollars, the amount of Verlander's multi-year contract, is indeed a sizable investment.  Porcell gave up a single in the first, Jimenez did the same, and both the runners died on base. We go to the second and there is no score and we will, as usual, be here to keep you up to date.

Oh, by the way, THE TIGERS HAVE SEVEN IN AND ARE STILL BATTING IN THE THIRD.  They have lit Jimenezs up.  He's thrown over 40 pitches in the inning and has given up a 3-run homer to Delmon Young, a 2-run blast to Victor Martinez, plus RBI singles to Ramon Santiago and Austin Jackson.  It ties for the biggest inning of the year for Detroit (accomplished twice previously) and the inning finally ends when Santiago fans.  Detroit sent 12 to the plate and Jimenez threw 47 pitches.  And never once did the Indians have a man up in the bullpen.  We are going to the 4th and we are breathing easier as it is now, Detroit 7, Cleveland 0.  The Tigers, as an aside, are 50-19 (.725) when scoring first this season.  I do not know their record in games in which they score the first seven, but I am betting it is awfully, awfully good.

Hey, now.  We have a ballgame again, if you can believe it.  Porcello, after allowing two singles and only two singles in the first three innings, couldn't handle the good fortune of that 7-run Detroit outburst in the third.  First he gave up a solo homer to Carlos Santanta to make it a 7-1 game, then, with two out, he allowed three straight singles and a double which put three more on the board and which made it a 7-4 ballgame and Jim Leyland had seen enough.  He came to get Porcello, brought in Duane Below, and the Indians are still hitting in the 4th with yet another run in on a Below wild pitch and, unbelievably, we have a game again.  It is Detroit 7, Cleveland 5 and the Indians have batted around and are still batting here in the 4th.  Wow, etc.

I'd like to say things are calming down here, and they are a bit, but this one; a game the Tigers had in the bag, is going to go down to the wire.  It's 8-7 and are only in the 6th.  The Tigers just got a break when Travis Hafner pulled up lame going from first to second on an easy double and was thrown out due to the fact that he was between the bases and could not move.  A blown hammy, for sure.  But the hit did score a run and that 7-0 Detroit lead is a memory.  This is a one-run game and we have a ling way to go.  Cleveland is gone in the 6th and the Tigers and hanging on by one.

The Tigers still lead 8-7 and have a leadoff double by Alex Avila here in the 8th.  By my count, in this game which the Tigers led 7-0 after three, Cleveland has sent either the tying or the go-ahead run to the plate 17 times.  The scorecard they give us here in the press box has room for 7 pitchers.  On my card right now, there is one space left.  He's warming in the bullpen.  He, of course, is Jose Valverde.  What an afternoon this has turned out to be.  Oh, and I didn't even mention Jim Leyland getting tossed out of the game for arguing a call at third back in the 6th.  I'll tell you something: I know there are 162 games in a season, and I know Detroit still has 36 to play after today.  But, this is the kind of a game that, when it's all over and whether you have finished first or second, you look back on as a turning point.  This has become, for the last couple of hours now, a grim battle for survival.  Detroit does not score.  Here comes Valverde.  He is 36 for 36 in Save Situations this season.  As you know....

El Papa Grande walks the first man and hits the second.  Two on, none out.  A sac bunt puts 'em at second and third.  Cleveland's #9 hitter, Lou Marson, comes to the plate. OH MY GOD!  Marson lines to center and Austin Jackson throws Fukudome out at the plate for a game-ending double play.  What a throw.  What a game.  The Tigers win 8-7...lead the Central by 4.5.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pennant Fever, Catch It

Well, we're here at the big showdown as the Tigers open their three game weekend series against the Indians.  Detroit leads Cleveland by a game-and-a-half but the teams are, as they say in baseball, tied in the loss column.  It means, in this case, that Cleveland has played three fewer games than Detroit.  It means that if Cleveland wins all three of those games, they will be tied for first with the Tigers. If you think about it, the fact that Cleveland has three more games to play than Detroit may work in the Tigers favor, because there will be three days between now and the end of the season--now just five weeks away--where the Indians will be hard at work while the Tigers have the day off.  We'll see how it all plays out.  By the time Sunday evening rolls around, the Tigers will either be leading the division by four-and-a-half, or they will be trailing by two-and-a-half, or something somewhere in between.  That's what makes the weekend important, etc. There's an interesting note about the Indians starter tonight, Josh Tomlin.  At least I think it's interesting.  Tomlin has never had a start in which he has failed to qualify for a decision.  In other words, he has never had a start (tonight is the 37th of his career) in which he failed to go at least five innings.  It's the longest such streak to begin a career in Indians history, and may the longest streak of its kind on big league history.  So, we'll quietly root for the Tigers to knock this guy out after, oh, four-and-two-thirds or something else that is less than five, just so we can see history made here this evening.  We are in the bottom of the first, Max Scherzer gave up a walk and nothing else in the top in the inning, and that is that.  We will, as always, keep you posted.

Still scoreless here in the 4th and Tomlin has been very impressive.  He's allowed one hit but has faced the minimum because the Tiger who got the hit, Jhonny Peralta, was doubled off first when Cleveland left fielder Michael Brantley made a great running catch and Peralta had rounded second thinking the ball was going to fall.   Scherzer also allowed only 1 hit.  We're off to the 5th and there is no score.  We've been watching the Lions game out of the corner of our eye and while they trail 7-0 late in the first in Cleveland, they are driving and have a first and goal thing going on inside the five.  And now they have an apparent TD, but it is under review.  I only tonight learned that all TD's will be reviewed automatically in the NFL, which seems to me to be a foolish time-waster.  More later, etc...

Tomlin got his five in.  We've gone to the 6th, no score, each team with only two hits.  A classic pitchers duel.  Tomlin has now gone at least 5 innings in each of his first 37 career appearances to extend his club record.  And remember, Cleveland's been in the American League since 1901--the first yhear there was an American League.

Hey, now.  Austin Jackson's towering fly cleared the wall in left with plenty to spare and since the batter who preceeded him, Ryan Raburn, had singled, Jackson's 6th homer of the season was of the two-run variety and those are the only runs in this game as Cleveland bats in to the 7th.  Both teams have only four hits.  Scherzer's been great, but he is over 100 pitches now and there is stirring in the Detroit pen.  Benoit lurks to come on in the 8th, I suspect.

We've have a couple of very, very very close calls go against Detroit here in the 7th and the Indians have scored a run as a result.  Lonnie Chisenhall was called safe at first with two out when it was ruled that Scherzer's foot was off the bag when he took a relay from first baseman Miguel Cabrera who had made a remarkable diving stop of a Chisenhall grounder.  Moments later, Scherzer was covering the plate after a wild pitch and just barely missed getting the tag on runner Carlos Santana in time.  He was safe by, like, four inches and that's all.  Scherzer got Luis Valbuena to ground to first--Cabrera touched first himself this time, no need for a toss to the pitcher covering--and the inning ended.  Bottom of the 7th and it's 2-1, Detroit.  It is, in every aspect, a nail-biter.

And just like that, with two out in the 7th, Alex Avila just got the run back with a bomb to right, his 14th, and Peralta has gone-back-to-back with a big fly to left, his 18th.  As both Avila and Peralta were first-ball hitting, the back-to-back homers came on back-to-back pitches and are the last pitches Tomlin will throw on this night.  He is gone.  He worked six-and-two-thirds and gave up the four runs on six hits.  All four Detroit runs tonight came as a result of the three home runs he allowed.  Detroit leads now 4-2.  Detroit, still up in the 7th, is six defensive outs away from victory.

The bullpen gate swings open and Papa Grande stands, alone for a moment, then jump-skips onto the field and trots to the mound as the crowd, even though it is between innings, lustily roars.  Jose Valverde is in the game.  He looks tonight for his 36th consecutive save to start a season--already a Detroit record.  He, on this night, has the maximum allowable lead in which a save can be recorded: three runs.  Valverde was the losing pitcher here the night before last as Minnesota scored two unearned runs in the 9th to beat him.  Since the game was tied when he entered, it was not a Save Situation for Valverde.  We are in the 9th.  The Tigers lead 4-1, and are three defensive outs away from victory.

36 for 36.  Valverde got 'em on 14 pitches in the 9th. 1-2-3.  The lead is 2.5.  Even if they lose the last two games of the series, Detroit will still be in first place when it is over.  Game two comes off here tomorrow night--and we will be back with you at that time, from this place.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

40 To Go

122 games down and 40 games to go for the Tigers (65-57) as they close out the series tonight here against the (53-68) Minnesota Twins.  The Indians lost in 14 last night (the second Tuesday in a row in which they have played a 14-inning game) so the Tigers are three up on the Indians and three-and-a-half up on the White Sox.  Those two teams get underway in Chicago in about half an hour.  That was quite a game there last night.  Gavin Floyd of the White Sox struck out 7 of the first 9 hitters he faced, including 5 in a row, but he failed to survive the 6th as the Indians came back from a 5-2 deficit to tie.  The Indians were down again, 7-5, going to the 8th but single runs in the 8th and the 9th forced extras.  Chicago had 5 triples in the game, including one to lead off the 12th, but they failed to get the man home.  They finally won in the 14th, at 1:29am today, Detroit time.  The Indians used their entire bullpen last night, and unlike Detroit, they do not have Thursday off.  So, theirs could be a tired staff when they come to town Friday night.

I'm busy up here in the press box tonight doing the same thing I was doing last night, cutting up tape from Jim Leyland's afternoon press gaggle and from Lions practice.  I'm trying to get all of this done tonight so I can feed my radio stations with material they can hold for release until Friday which will mean that I, like the Tigers, will have the day off tomorrow.

Detroit is down 1-0 after two tonight.  Jim Thome hit career homer 601 off Brad Penny with two out in the second, and that's been it.  We'll keep you posted, as usual.

1-1 in the 4th, now.  Brad Penny just escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the inning, racing to cover first and just barely beating Minnesota's Tsuyoshi Nishioka to the bag to take the throw from Ramon Santiago for the somewhat rare 4-1 putout.  The Tigers tied the game in the 3rd on a Sac Fly by Delmon Young who would have had more than that but for a diving grab by Ben Revere in right-center.  Young should be 2-for-2 tonight but has twice been robbed by Revere who ran down a fly ball on the track in dead center to deny Young with a Willie Mays-like over-the-shoulder basket catch in the first.  It was about as nice a catch as we've seen in this yard this year, and the grab in the third was no slouch, either.  We're headed to the 5th...still 1-1.

About ten minutes after Jhonny Peralta put the Tigers ahead 2-1 with a solo homer in the 6th, Rene (really?  Rene?  What is this, the NHL?) Tosoni hit Penny's 100th (and last) pitch of the night into the seats in right with a mate aboard to put the Twins ahead 3-2.  Penny pitched a fine ballgame tonight, allowing only 5 hits in six innings (plus two hitters) of work.  Two of those hits went the distance though, and so the Tigers are down a run as they hit in the Detroit 7th.

Miguel Cabrera's two-out single in the 7th tied the game 3-3, but Boesch was cut down at the plate to end the inning as he tried to score the go-ahead run.  In the Minny 8th,. Jim Thome hurt the Tigs, again, with an two-out RBI single of his own.  The Tigers, down 4-3, have two on with none out in the bottom of the 8th.  A good game.  A good pennant race game.  Now the bases are loaded with none out.  Cleveland has gone ahead of Chicago 2-1 and are batting in the 7th at US Cellular Field.

Wilson Betemit, pinch hitting, hits a Sac Fly to center to score pinch runner Austin Jackson and we're tied 4-4 with the Tigers still hitting in the 8th.

The Twins loaded 'em in the 9th off Jose Valverde on a single and two errors on bunts but Valverde fanned the next two hitters.  Justin Morneau singled in two with two out on a grounder right up the middle.  I happened to have looked it up prior to the game yesterday, and at that point, in the last 365 days, Morneau was hitting a hard-to-believe .222.  So much for that stat.  On to the bottom of the 9th: Twins 6, Tigers 4.  Cleveland is ahead of Chicago 4-1 and are threatening in the top of the 8th, again.  We may have to bolt for the locker room so, if so, we'll see you here at Comerica Park Friday night when those Indians hit town...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Verlander, Yawn, Dominates Again

We're late getting to you tonight, but we've been pretty busy cutting up tape from Lions practice--#1 pick Nick Fairly (broken bone in foot) is out of his cast and is in a walking boot--and from Jim Leyland's pre-game presser.  The big news that came out of that is that Al Alburquerque is expected back once his stay on the 7-day concussion Disabled List ends Saturday.  The key word is "expected".  Leyland said he's pretty sure, but not 100% sure.  Alburquerque did throw on the side today, which was good news.  After spending Friday night in a Baltimore hospital for a head injury sustained when he was clocked in the temple by a line drive as he stood in left field during batting practice, Alburquerque was driven back to Detroit Sunday.  He was unable to fly because doctors were concerned about the effects of pressurization.  But, as we say, he's much better now. All in all though, it was pretty scary stuff.

I've also been sending texts to Dan Dickerson in the radio booth to keep him up to date on the Cleveland at Chicago game tonight at US Cellular Field where the White Sox lead 2-0 in the 4th, and where Chicago's Gavin Floyd has 7 strikeouts through three innings.  Oh, and he's perfect so far: 9 up and 9 down.

Here at Comerica Park, things are going as one would expect them to with Justin Verlander on the mound.  It's men against boys, again.  The Tigers lead 7-0. We are in the top of the 7th.  Minnesota has played dreadful defense tonight, and look every bit the part of a ballclub which is 14 games under .500.  We'll keep you up to date...

Verlander gets the standing "O" as he departs here in the top of the 8th.  The Twins put three singles together in the 8th to score their first run of the game--it's 7-1 Tigers.  Verlander had retired 14 of the last 15 hitters he faced starting the 8th.  After three of the first six Twins he faced in the game reached, Verlander retired 18 of the next 20.  A pretty routing performance for a guy who, after starting the season 2-3, had gone 15-2 with an ERA of 2.00 since that game heading into his start tonight.  Phil Coke is in to mop up.  Over in Chicago, it's 3-2 White Sox in the middle of the 5th.

Chicago's up 5-2 now in the 5th and Ubaldo Jimenez is out after allowing 5 runs (4 earned) on 9 hits in 4.2 innings.  He responsible for a man on second.  We've got two out in the 9th here and things appear well in hand with Detroit up 7-1. So...off to the locker room!

Monday, August 15, 2011

One-Sided Trade

The Tigers today traded a minor leaguer I've never heard of (which probably means he'll wind up in the Hall of Fame) for outfielder Delmon Young who was once a hot prospect for the Tampa Bay Rays back when they were still the Devil Rays, but who turned out to be a bit of a bust for the Twins.  The whole thing was odd, as Detroit made the deal while the Twins were in town to open a three-game series against the Tigers here tonight, so Young wound up being told of the trade prior to boarding the Twins team bus from their Birmingham hotel to Comerica Park.  "I'm not going to spend $50 bucks on a cab ride," said Young.

So far, and to be fair we are in the third inning of Young's first game as a Tiger, the deal has been one-sided in favor of Detroit since all Young did was homer in his first at-bat as a Tiger.  This raises the question: how many players have homered for their new team against their old team in their first at bat with their new team on the same day they were traded?  We have no idea.  It may be a baseball first.  Personally, in the 111 years of the modern era--yes, the "modern era" in baseball dates to 1900 which doesn't sound all that "modern" when you think about it--I'm going to guess that there has been a player who did what Young has just done.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps we have just seen baseball history made.  The boys over at the Elias Sports Service will have it figured out soon enough, and as soon as we hear from them we will let you know.

Young's feat, regardless of the degree of history involved in it, has been overshadowed for the moment by the way the Twins knocked Rick Porcello around in the third as they scored three.  The Tigers made two errors in the inning and I don't have to tell you that it is never, ever a good thing when you give the other team extra outs.

It's good to be back at the ballpark.  The Tigers just wrapped up a 9-game road trip yesterday so this is the first time in a long time we've been at our seat on press row.  Cleveland's off tonight.  The White Sox are off tonight.  The outcome of the game here this evening thus means the difference between a three game lead for the Tigers of the Indians, or a two game edge.  We'll keep you posted...

The Tigers, who scored five runs Saturday night in Baltimore after starting an inning with the first two hitters making out, just scored two in their half of the third after two were out and the bases were empty.  Miguel Cabrera singled and Victor Martinez homered.  3-3 here...after three.

Now it's 6-5 Twins after six and Porcello is out in favor of Daniel Schlereth.  Porcello allowed six runs (4 earned) on 9 hits, and he gave up Jim Thome's 599th career homer in Minnesota's three-run 6th.  They would have scored four, but Alex Avila stood in there and held onto the ball as Ben Revere tried for an inside-the-park homer but was thrown out on a great relay from Ryan Raburn to the plate for the final out.  Avila then doubled in Ordonez in the Detroit 6th before scoring himself on Wilson Betemit's sac fly.  So...it's Minnesota 6, Detroit 5 in the top of the 7th.  And it's a pretty good ballgame.

I don't know how good the game is now...but we have seen history--maybe for the second time tonight, but certainly no doubt about the fact that it was history as Jim Thome has just hit his 600th career home run.  I watched it the whole way out through the binoclulars.  It was a towering fly to left and it cleared the fence by ten feet or so.  It would not have been a home run had the Tigers not brought the fences in a few years ago.  But they did, and it wound up in the Detroit bullpen.  I've never seen a 600th homer before.  I'm guessing there will be a reporter or two around Thome's locker after the game, and I suppose I will be one of them.  Meanwhile, the Tigers are in real trouble now.  Schlereth walked two and struck out two before Thome connected and oh those walks will kill you.  In this case, they accounted for a three run homer and a 9-5 Twins lead.  Raburn has just led off the Detroit 7th with a big fly of his own, HR #11 (the same as Thome's hit this year but only career #50 for Raburn) and now it's 9-6 Twins as the Tigers continue to hit in the 7th.

Still 9-6 Minnesota as we head to the bottom of the 9th and, as such, things don't look good.  I'll shut this thing down for down as I have to head downstairs to go ask the players what went wrong.  Unless there's a miracle rally of some sort, that is.

No miracle rally.  The Tigs went out in the 9th on, like, five pitches and they lose 9-6.  The lead is two.