Well, when Justin Verlander isn’t Justin Verlander, and the offense makes the opposing pitcher look like Justin Verlander, that’s usually going to be a problem. Verlander was obviously having a problem with pitch location (almost all the hits he gave up were hit hard), but what I noticed is that he wasn’t getting a lot of swings and misses. The Yankees waited him out, which I suppose is their reputation. During the postgame interviews, Jim Leyland mentioned that the delayed start to the game may have thrown Verlander out of whack. When they posed that question to Verlander, I completely expected him to disagree, but to my surprise, he didn’t discount it. He also hinted at some dissatisfaction with the strike zone, and according to Pitch f/x, he may have a beef. The small strike zone didn’t seem to faze Phil Hughes, however.
More on the game, and some reflection, after the jump.
Prior to today, Phil Hughes’s longest outing this year was 5.2 innings. He blew by that marker and threw a complete game. There was a strong wind blowing out to left, but almost none of the Tiger hitters could get the ball up in the air in that direction. In the postgame interview, Leyland expressed disappointment with the left-handed hitters over a lack of adjustment to how they were being pitched (a lot of fastballs inside, which is how they scouted him, according to Leyland). Prince Fielder’s home run came on a hanging breaking ball, while the other three hits (all singles, and in different innings) came off the bats of righties. It’s often hard for me to judge how much of it is good pitching and how much of it is bad hitting (unless I spend the whole game watching the catcher to see if the pitcher hits his spots), but I have one observation in particular: Hughes got at least three strikeouts on high fastballs outside. One was to Boesch, and the other two were to Cabrera. Boesch is known to swing at pitches way outside the zone, but Cabrera generally isn’t. I don’t really have an explanation for this, but I thought I’d throw it out there.
If there’s a silver lining to be had, it’s that one night after a rocky outing from the bullpen, the Tigers got some strong relief work. Granted, it came from different pitchers, but it’s nice to see the rookies have good outings more often than not, especially when both relievers were coming off outings in which they gave up runs. Duane Below had given up a home run to David Ortiz back on May 29th. He bounced back nicely, entering the game in a two-on, one-out situation and responding with 1.2 perfect innings. It was also a nice bounceback performance for Brayan Villarreal, who gave up his first earned run on Friday. He allowed a leadoff double to Russell Martin, but he kept his adrenaline under control and retired the next three batters, which included strikeouts of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Not bad for an emergency left fielder.*
*(In case you didn’t hear, Leyland apparently said this morning that if the Tigers had run out of position players last night, he would have put Villarreal in the field. This is totally wrong of me, but I kind of wish I could have seen that. The thought of it is rather amusing).
Of course, lackluster performances from Verlander and the offense isn’t what this game will be remembered for. Magglio Ordoñez announced his retirement this morning and was honored in a very nice pregame ceremony, which brought back a lot of memories for me. While Pudge Rodriguez is my all-time favorite, Magglio is definitely in the top five. Of course, everyone will remember him for his walk-off home run in the 2006 ALCS that launched the Tigers into the World Series. I did not see it live (I was visiting a friend who was still in college at the time), but I do remember hearing about it from my friend’s dorm neighbor, who had been at the game. Just hearing about it gave me an electric feeling (I have since seen the entire game and I have it on DVD).
As I’ve said before, 2007 was my first full season, so my big memory of Magglio is his batting title. Perhaps it’s just rookie naivete (for lack of a better term), but I still think I got more enjoyment out of 2007 from start to finish than any other season I’ve watched (despite the fact that the Tigers did not make the postseason that year), and Magglio was a big part of that. You just expected him to get a big hit every time he stepped to the plate. In some ways, Magglio Ordoñez of 2007 is the most reliable hitter I’ve seen.
Magglio was more than just a great hitter, though. He’s also a wonderful person. He brought a quiet leadership to the Tigers, and I think they miss that. I had the pleasure of meeting him once last year, when he was on a rehab assignment with Toledo. He’s very softspoken and doesn’t really talk unless someone asks him a question, but he’s very good with the fans. Once he was finished warming up, he would sign as many autographs and pose for as many pictures as he could before the game started. I wish his career had ended on more of a high note than it did. It was painful to watch him struggle through injuries and losing his starting role last year. He did have a good postseason, but ultimately his career ended with an ankle fracture. I really wanted him to have one more chance at being the hero, like he was in 2006. Still, I think he’ll remembered for all the positive things he did in a Tigers uniform and not how it ended. He’s a class act. Like Pudge, he helped turn around a struggling franchise and bring respectability back to Detroit baseball, and I’m sure every Tigers fan thanks him for that. I certainly do.