It had to happen eventually. As delightful as a 7-0 season sweep of the Houston Astros sounded, it was not meant to be as they blew a 4-1 lead, the bullpen imploded, and Jim Leyland made a series of debatable decisions as the Astros grabbed a 7-5 victory over the Tigers – barely.
As it turned out, Carlos Corporan – the guy who did the bat flip on the single in last week’s series – was the man responsible for a lot of the damage. Corporan opened the scoring in the second with a long home run to right off Max Scherzer. (Indeed, the Astros had a lead in each game of this series.) The Astro lead did not last long, however, as the Tigers hit back in the bottom of the inning – again with two outs, a theme of the series. After a walk to Jhonny Peralta and a single to Matt Tuiasosopo, Brayan Pena singled in Peralta, followed by a landmark moment for Avisail Garcia – his first career homer, a three run shot, that broke the tie – and it was no cheapie either. With Scherzer on the mound against the Astros and a 4-1 lead, things looked good.
And they were fine until the fourth inning, when Scherzer suddenly couldn’t locate any offspeed pitches. Jake Elmore hit a leadoff double, moved to third on a balk, and scored on a Carlos Pena single. Scherzer then walked Chris Carter, bringing up J.D. Martinez – the guy who tormented Doug Fister yesterday – and Martinez connected on a terrible hanging changeup, launching it to the brick wall in left center to give the Astros a 5-4 lead. Scherzer settled down after that, but the fourth inning was a huge blemish on his line.
The Tigers fought back in the sixth, yet again with two outs. Victor Martinez reached on a fielding error by Marwin Gonzalez and Jhonny Peralta singled, setting things up for Tuiasosopo, who delivered a single through the hole on the left side, scoring Martinez and tying the game at five. Threats from both teams went unfulfilled – the Astros’ half of the 8th was a bit hairy until Al Alburquerque got Carter to strike out – but nobody broke through until the 9th. Alburquerque’s control disappeared again and he issued a leadoff walk to Martinez, and Jim Leyland had seen enough – apparently the Tigers coaching staff has so little faith in Alburquerque’s command that they preferred to bring in Phil Coke to turn around a switch hitter who actually hit better from the right side in Corporan. By Leyland’s own admission, he preferred Coke because the team needed strikes. Coke threw strikes, alright – his first pitch was whalloped into the gap by Corporan, scoring Martinez from first and giving the Astros a 6-5 lead. A Matt Dominguez sac fly scored Corporan and made it a 7-5 game going to the ninth.
Despite the fact that Tuiasosopo had three hits and three RBI, Leyland elected to play matchups – controversially – and sent Don Kelly up to pinch hit to lead off the bottom of the 9th against Jose Veras (predictably, he grounded out). Veras promptly walked two, the second with two out, before hitting Torii Hunter on the wrist with an 0-2 pitch, loading the bases for Miguel Cabrera and setting up a grandstand finish. Cabrera hit one 400 feet – to triples alley in right center, where fly balls go to die. Brandon Barnes made the catch up against the out-of-town scoreboard. A few feet higher and Cabrera would have had a bases-clearing walkoff double. Higher still and he would have delivered a walkoff grand slam, but it was not meant to be and the Astros avoided the sweep.
The Tigers board a plane to Dallas-Fort Worth for a four game series at Texas, with Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish facing off in the series opener tomorrow night.