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.
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.