Every once in a while, even when your team is struggling along, you get games that remind you how fun it can be to follow a baseball team. Yesterday was obviously one of those games. The Tigers got fantastic pitching, timely hits and great defense so let’s just take a look at, and rejoice in, each of those elements.
Bonderman was, well, Bonderman. It’s a very welcome departure from the ugliness he had displayed in his previous five starts. Yes, he made us sweat a little by giving up that first inning homer, but he didn’t let a runner get past second base after that – and only one got as far as second. It really didn’t take long for him to convince me on this night he was the Bonderman whose turn in the rotation we had learned to look forward to. In his last few starts we’d get flashes of that Bonderman, but then he’d give up three or four runs in addition to the inevitable runs he’d allow in the first inning. But last night I remember thinking in the third inning, “Man, he’s really working this lineup over.” He just kept bringing it and when he wasn’t striking guys out, his defense was covering for him. But we’ll get to defense in a bit.
We’re talking about pitching, so let’s move on to the bullpen. I couldn’t believe when they showed the Tiger bullpen late in a 2-2 game that would vault the winner into sole possession of first place and the lefty was Tim Byrdak and the right-hander was Aquilino Lopez. “Okay, that’s funny, now where’s the real bullpen that contains the pitcher who’s really going to come in for Bonderman?” I mean, it seemed to me like you should put your best pitchers in there and worry about any game remaining after those guys are finished when the time comes.
But out came Tim Byrdak for the eighth, and to avoid the lefty-lefty matchup with Kenny Lofton, out came Jason Michaels who Byrdak struck out on four pitches. He then walked Casey Blake and Grady Sizemore, and I would have loved to have heard the conversation between Chuck Hernandez and Jim Leyland. After the second walk, you could see Chuck Hernandez call down to the bullpen and get word that both Lopez and Fernando Rodney were ready which he then reported to Leyland. Evidently, it was unsolicited because Leyland went into an explanation of why he was leaving in Byrdak that came complete with animated hand gestures. Perhaps he said, “No, I’m going to leave him in because if my hunch is right, Tim’s going to strikeout Victor Martinez and when Pronk hits what looks like a game-winning hit, Curtis will do something special to keep us in this game.” That’s probably not what he was saying, but it’s what happened.
When Rodney came out for the ninth I told my wife I was glad to see him, and shared my thoughts that if you’re going to get beat, you get beat having used your best pitchers. When Chris Gomez slapped a full count fastball down into the right field corner for a double, I gave her a nervous laugh because the getting beat part was a little too close to home and there were no outs. But Rodney pulled through, and I can’t tell you how relieved I was. Not just that he came back to strikeout the side, but he prevented me from having to go into work and hear about how the bullpen blew another one and it didn’t take Rodney to get back to where he was before. Fernando was awesome.
From there we’ll move on because when Jonesy came in, he did fine, but the other elements of the Tigers’ game had pretty much disposed of the Indians. Let’s talk about the defense. For most of the game it was solid. Everybody made the plays asked of them. Infante made a nice play going into the hole to his right to get Peralta by a step, but for the most part it was just guys making the plays you expect them to make. Then we came to the eighth inning. Byrdak had just walked two batters and struck out Victor Martinez. A hobbled Travis Hafner came to the plate, and after a big rip at a fastball he hit a 2-2 pitch into center field. It was pretty simple. If Curtis could get to it, the Tigers were still alive. If he couldn’t, this game was likely over. The ball was floating out there, and Curtis was closing on it, dove and…did he catch it? Yes, thank God. I thought it might have short hopped into his glove, but replays clearly showed he caught it. You’ve got to love Curtis Granderson.
Last, but not least, you have the timely hitting. The first instance was Maggs ripping a single up the middle in the fourth. Nothing came of it, but it was the Tigers’ first hit and the way Sabathia was throwing to that point, it seemed worth nothing that at least there wouldn’t be a no-hitter.
In the sixth, though, we started to get a taste of the chance for a win when Raburn smoked a ball into left center for a leadoff double. The Tigers seemed to be figuring C. C. out a bit, and the hits were starting to come. Or maybe Sabathia was just getting tired, but either way my thoughts went from “Why did did Bonderman have to throw that one bad pitch?” to “We’re right in this game if they can get Raburn in”. Two ground outs did get Raburn in, and the next inning the River led off the inning with a double again.
While Rod and Mario showed the Indians’ bunt defense I said to my wife, “Look at the size of that hole between the shortstop and third base” in the hopes that the Tigers would instead opt to swing away and hopefully find the huge gap in the infield defense. With Casey Blake pulled in to field a bunt and Peralta holding Thames at second, it was a humongous hole and when Infante swung away he hit it right toward Peralta. But the line drive cleared Peralta’s glove by maybe a foot and a half, and Thames scored the tying run easily. That’s the kind of game it was for the Tigers.
That hit, Curtis’ catch and Rodney’s studly ninth inning took the game into the tenth and after Curtis drew a leadoff walk, Raburn was called on to bunt. He watched a pitch he thought was low, but was called for a strike, and you could hear Leyland in the dugout saying, “Just bunt the ball. Goddamn.” Well, once he fouled off the bunt attempt, the bunt was off the table and he was down 0-2. After a couple more fouls and a ball outside, he leanded into an outside pitch and blooped it over the infield for a perfectly placed single that put Granderson on third.
It was certainly better than a bunt and it set Sheffield up nicely for what could be the winning run. Sheffield just abused a high fastball by ripping a line drive into left center; Granderson scored the go-ahead run and Raburn took third. So not only had the Tigers taken the lead, they had a shot at opening it up with Maggs and Guillen coming up. Well, Maggs came up and pounded a Joe Borowski pitch. As soon as you saw Maggs’ reaction, you knew this was a four run game and you felt pretty sure they would again be all alone in first place.
Beautiful game guys, now go out there and get a win for Jair Jurrjens.
–GUEST BLOGGER, Matt