I wish I had something interesting to say here, honestly. Something that deviates from the same old story – the same old self-inflicted errors, the same old offense shutting itself down, the same old defense. But in reality, if there’s any game that serves as a microcosm of the Tigers’ season, it’s this one – a 5-4 loss to the White Sox in which the Tigers did just enough to not win.
Microcosm, you say? Well, it started with promise, anyway. After a quiet first two innings, the Tigers offense came alive in the 3rd, opening the inning with three straight singles to take a 1-0 lead.
And then Jim Leyland decided to bunt, taking the bat out of MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera’s hands and putting it in Prince Fielder’s. Fielder promptly struck out. Delmon Young, however, bailed the manager out by delivering a two-run single after Jose Quintana inexplicably threw him a strike. The Tigers had an early 3-0 lead, and it looked like they might be in for a nice day.
Doug Fister had rolled through the first two innings, not allowing a hit. Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez promptly opened the 3rd with back to back singles, and after a popout, Dewayne Wise singled to load the bases as Viciedo was held at third. Fister was on the ropes. He proceeded to strike out Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn to escape the inning unscathed, and everyone breathed.
And then the 4th inning happened. Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski delivered one out singles against Fister, and Dayan Viciedo – who rarely walks – earned a base on balls to load the bases (ball four was probably in the strike zone, but Fister missed the catcher’s mitt so badly he didn’t get the call). After inducing a Ramirez lineout, it looked like Fister might pull another Houdini act – but he hit Gordon Beckham with a pitch on a 1-0 count to force in a run. This brought in Dewayne Wise, who singled to tie the game at 3. Fister was suddenly in full meltdown mode, unable to locate any of his pitches, and only a sparkling play by Jhonny Peralta on a line drive toward the hole to make the third out saved Fister from even greater damage.
The Tigers responded in the 5th, as Miguel Cabrera led off the inning with a double, and Prince Fielder’s weak ground ball turned into a base hit (thanks to some bad umpiring). Delmon Young singled again to give the Tigers a 4-3 lead, and Quintana was gone and it looked like the Tigers might be primed for a big inning. However, Jhonny Peralta – who hit into a rally-killing double play in the second inning – did the exact same thing here. Brennan Boesch was next, and the move to start him ahead of Andy Dirks completely backfired, as Boesch grounded out weakly to go along with two key strikeouts earlier in the game.
Despite the fact that it was apparent that Fister had nothing, Leyland sent him out to start the fifth inning. The response was predictable – Dunn singled and Konerko doubled to move him to 3rd. Leyland finally yanked Fister in favor of Al Alburquerque, who walked Alex Rios before inducing an A.J. Pierzynski lineout that was not deep enough to bring Dunn home. And then…Alburquerque got a Dayan Viciedo grounder.
Now, if you watch the Tigers with regularity, you know that they have had their issues turning double play balls. It happened yesterday, it happened on the last homestand. And I’m totally not foreshadowing here by saying it happened again. Peralta fielded the grounder, went to second for one – but Alex Rios’s takeout slide apparently threw off Omar Infante, who uncorked a bad throw that Fielder could not handle. The ball went into the dugout. What should have been an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play turned into two runs and a 5-4 Chicago lead. The Tigers’ offense responded to this by going down easily. The next (and final) 12 batters were retired on 45 pitches by a combination of Nate Jones, Brett Myers, Matt Thornton, and Addison Reed. Only a horrendous White Sox baserunning gaffe in the 8th kept the White Sox from tacking on runs. It was a replay of something we have seen far, far too often this year. In short, the Tigers score early, go down silently late, and make a massive defensive miscue that ends up costing them the game – and quite possibly the season.
If the headline makes it look like I’m calling the White Sox lucky, I’m not. They’re competent – they make plays, and the Tigers simply haven’t. You can talk about what the teams look like on paper all you want, but the difference in this division are the plays not made, the double plays not turned, the runners left on. The Tigers had 2 on with 0 out in the 5th inning and did not get another baserunner the entire game. On the very first play of the 6th inning – the inning after the Tigers couldn’t turn the vital double play – Adam Dunn picked a low throw out of the dirt on the very first play of the inning. Defense wins championships, after all – and the White Sox have played better than the Tigers. Far too often, the Tigers have had to overcome their own miscues, and today, much like yesterday, was no different – and they could not do it. With 147 games gone, Chicago are, on the evidence, the superior team. The Tigers have 16 games to make up a 3 game deficit and change that, but it’s going to take one heck of an effort and a little bit of help.