Clete saves the day

illustration by Samara Pearlstein

You hear “walkoff homer to dead center in Comerica” and you don’t automatically think “Clete Thomas”. Unless maybe you are Clete Thomas. But tonight all of Clete’s walkoff dreams came true, and thank cats they did, because the Tigers REALLY did not need to lose a Verlander start, especially after what happened this weekend.

It was the bottom of the 9th, the game tied at 5. Granderson had run the count full, then struck out swinging; Polanco looked at four pitches before grounding out second. Clete stepped up with two outs and the entire team fervently praying that he would not make another one. After all, the Tigs had just played a zillion innings in a row, with back-to-back 12+ inning games followed by a day game that turned into a rout. And then they had to travel back to Detroit. Definitely not circumstances that would lead a Cat to look forward to the prospect of yet more extra innings.

Clete fouled off a couple pitches, giving everyone reason to fear, and then got something from Danys Baez that he felt good about. He felt so good about it that he dumped it 424 feet away over the center field wall. Apparently it was his very first walkoff ever.

Thank cats. Fernando had pitched the top of the inning and, given the way he’s been used lately, I was really, REALLY not

looking forward to seeing what would happen if this thing had extended into a 10th frame.

This was a fast game, under two and a half hours, and that was partly because Justin Verlander was so good for innings 2-through-8. About that first inning? He threw 25 pitches in the first inning and allowed 5 runs, including a leadoff homer for Brian Roberts. He gave up 9 hits in 8 innings, and 6 of those hits came in the first inning.

The fact that Verlander was able to get past that first inning and go on to pitch a fairly good game is worth noting. It shows good mental fiber, or whatever, and an ability to make adjustments, or whatever. It shows that while the Orioles may have made a very good study of him, they only came prepared for one version of Justin Verlander, while Verlander (and Laird, and Rick Knapp) had at least one other version lurking in the wings, waiting to be trotted out on the mound. Fine Pitching Qualities.

But what in the HELL happened in that first inning? The Roberts homer came on only the second pitch of the game, so maybe that shook Justin up… or maybe the Orioles really did have excellent Verlander video and had prepared so that they knew exactly what to do with his fastball, and when he started mixing it up a little bit more, they were lost. Maybe the Orioles were all set to bust butt out of the gate, and when the Tigers attacked right back with three runs in the bottom of the first, it took the wind out of their little orange wings.

Whatever it was, it needs to NOT HAPPEN ANYMORE, because with that many pitches early, Verlander was well over 100 pitches for his outing. AGAIN. You have to go all the way back to June 16 before you hit a game where Verlander threw fewer than 100 pitches. That’s ten starts ago. He’s already thrown 2,531 pitches this season, which is the MOST out of ALL THE PITCHERS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES OF BASEBALL.

I love that he’s able to go deep into games, I love that he’s able to fight back so that he doesn’t need to be taken out after a first inning like the one he had today. I love that he hates seeing the bullpen pitch just as much as I do. But I DON’T love the number of pitches he throws on a regular basis with his history of tiring late in the season/in the postseason, and I don’t love how Leyland is so cavalier with his arm while at the same time treating Rick Porcello with unnecessarily starched kid gloves. I realize that I have been harping on this but I was probably traumatized by Jeremy Bonderman, I see doom and gloom at every corner now, and I will keep harping until Something Is Done.

Ahem. Anyways.

How about that River Thames? He made two good catches today: a running, diving grab to rob Matt Wieters of a hit, and then a leaping catch at the wall later in the game, which ended with his glove coming off his hand. The River held up the glove, with the ball still in it, to general overjoyed applause. In fact this post was mostly going to be about The River’s defensive display, but then Verlander just kept going and going, and then Clete went and got all heroic and whatnot. Good stuff.

Tuesday we get our first look at Jarrod Washburn in a Tigers uniform. ‘Most everyone looks good in the Olde English D, of course, and the Tigers have been much better at home than on the road, but it’s still worth saying that we really need this series, so, yanno, you want a warm Detroit welcome, Wash, please do all you can to earn it.

8 responses to “Clete saves the day

  1. The scary thing with Verlander is that while he’s the uncontested leader in pitches thrown, he’s 6th league-wide in innings pitched. So it’s not like he’s racking up those pitches because he’s pitching so many more innings than anyone else. He’s still a very good pitcher, but he’s one of the less efficient very good pitchers in the league.
    Love the Cletetoon, btw. I knew who it was as soon as I saw it, even before I read the title. ;)

  2. Samara, I’ve got to disagree with you on a few things:
    -JV is currently in his prime, at 26, and he’s built up his arm strength over the last three years to where he’s prepared to log the most innings and the highest workload in the league. Comparatively his workload is still lighter than legends like Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson at his age, and he has an arm like those guys as well.
    -Plus, JV spent 3 years playing college ball and had a far more mature arm than Porcello has this year. Verlander threw 186 plus playoffs in his rookie season, and the Tigers are right to want to keep Porcello well below that, especially if they assume he will be needed in a playoff run this year as well.
    -I assume when you refer to a desire to keep Rodney out of the game you are referring to his workload? I hope you’re not referring to his performance because since June 1st he’s been one of the best relievers in the game: 11 G, 13 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 15 K, 6 BB. He basically made one bad pitch in his blown save outing and threw well after that. I think, considering how he was throwing and the monumental boost a CG is bound to give a kid like Porcello, it is certainly debatable that Leyland should have left him in on Saturday. I would say it’s also understandable why they didn’t.

  3. always a jaguar

    i think the thing with verlander is, he’s never gonna tell leyland to take him out of a game, like most big league pitchers, and he tends to get better as the game goes on, so in that sense it makes sense for leyland to leave him in. but what’s this going to mean come september or (paws willing) october?
    what the nicker said, i agree that verlander’s arm strength is probably better now than it was in previous years, but i don’t think you can say he has an arm like nolan ryan or randy johnson. wtf. we have no way of knowing that yet. part of the reason those guys were so impressive was their ability to keep pitching like they did for such a long time. justin’s in his 5th season, you just can’t say stuff like that yet.
    i’m pretty sure sam was talking about saturday’s porcello removal specifically and the fact that rodney pitched in both extra innings games, one right after the other. and i agree there: no way porcello should have been brought out when he was on a roll and under 100 pitches, and no way rodney should have gotten into monday’s game for more than one inning.
    marcus thames’ catches are getting glossed over with clete and verlander, i’m glad you mentioned them. my kid had gone to bed when he made that second catch and i’ve been trying to describe it… how did that glove come off?? oh well, still a great play.

  4. Samara Pearlstein

    FrogMan, right? Sixth in innings pitched isn’t bad at all, of course, but if he’s #1 in pitches thrown (with something like a full game and a half’s worth of pitches over the next closest guy), I’d like to see him at the top of the innings list as well. I kinda feel like I’m looking the gift cat in the mouth but I can’t help worrying…
    The Nicker, I’m not saying Porcello should have the same workload as Verlander! Just that in his last start, he was removed at 91 pitches when he had shown little to no sign of tiring in the 8th– that was Leyland treating him with undue caution, especially when you compare it to his previous outing, where Leyland had let him throw more pitches in what was already a solid losing effort. It seems stupid to me that he’d be more careful with the kid in a game that we had a shot to win than he would be in a stupid throwaway game.
    As Jaguar said, I was referring to the fact that Fernando threw a bunch of back-to-back high-stress innings in the Cleveland series. Leyland has a history of using him in, shall we say, perplexing situations, with seemingly little regard for fatigue, and I’m not a fan of it. Also, c’mon now: 13 IP is a hella small sample size, even if he’s looked good over the course of it. ;)
    Always a Jaguar, I’m still not too sure myself how the glove came off Thames’ hand. It was on when he made the catch and it looks like… I dunno, like it got jarred loose as he came down from his leap? At least he was having fun with it.

  5. ivantopumpyouup

    I was there and it was (minus the Bonderman-like first inning) great. I totally hurt myself after Clete hit the walkoff HR.
    Verlander was up around 113 pitches in the seventh inning, but it really didn’t feel like that many for some reason. Maybe I was lulled into a false sense of security after he got his crap together after the first inning.

  6. Samara Pearlstein

    Walkoffs in person are wicked awesome, you lucky cat. ;)

  7. ivantopumpyouup

    I’ve been lucky enough to see both the Raburn walkoff HR and this one in person! I’m clearly a good luck charm. \o/

  8. Samara Pearlstein

    You know, the last time I saw a Tigers walkoff, it was hit by Brandon Inge, ha ha.

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