Despite Their Bullpen, Tigers Remain Unbeaten

The final score of this game was 7-6 Tigers. It looks close, and at the end it was close, though it had no business being close. While we should be discussing Torii Hunter’s huge day at the plate and a strong outing from Rick Porcello, we get to address the bullpen again!

Well, let’s start with the good things. After struggling to score runs at times against Kansas City, the Tigers have had no problem putting up crooked numbers on Baltimore’s pitching staff. Torii Hunter led the charge today, driving in the first five of Detroit’s seven total runs. Bud Norris fell behind him 2-0 with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, and Hunter did not miss the ensuing fastball down the middle, driving it into the left field corner to clear the bases. He struck again with a two-run homer in the fifth, his second homer in as many days. The Tigers piled on even more in the sixth when Alex Gonzalez walked, Don Kelly tripled him in, and Rajai Davis produced a sacrifice fly to score Kelly.

Porcello had a shaky first as he faced two lefties and didn’t retire either. Chris Davis drove in a run in the first and when he allowed back-to-back singles to open the second, it seemed like Porcello was destined for a tough day. As it turned out, those were the last hits he allowed all day, as he retired 16 of the next 17 batters, walking only Nick Markakis with two out in the fourth. Rick mixed his pitches effectively, dusting off the slider a bit and getting his usual pile of ground balls. He would, eventually, become the first Tiger starter of 2014 to record a win.

So it was 7-1 heading to the ninth, and it seemed as if the Tigers were set to cruise home and wrap up a 4-0 record. Phil Coke came in to start the ninth, and it seemed unlikely even he could let a six-run lead slip with just three outs to go. But a brutal combination of bad pitching and bad defense almost made it happen.

Coke’s biggest contribution today was reminding everyone that the Tigers did little to address their bullpen depth problems during the offseason. Much like Joba Chamberlain yesterday, Coke didn’t look like he had much to offer in terms of consistently getting anyone out. Unlike Chamberlain, he didn’t get the chance to squirm out of the mess he made for himself. Coke gave up a sharp single to Chris Davis – a lefty – then a triple to Adam Jones. A Nick Markakis groundout scored Jones, and following a walk to J.J. Hardy, Brad Ausmus had seen enough – with the game suddenly 7-3, he went to Al Alburquerque. Al came on and got Matt Wieters to hit a popup to the left side that stayed in the air for an eternity. Despite this, neither Don Kelly nor Alex Gonzalez (who should have had it) seemed to have any idea whose popup it was, and it dropped in shallow left, putting two on with one out and bringing the tying run into the on deck circle.

Though it was hardly Alburquerque’s fault that Wieters reached, Ausmus had again seen enough and brought in Joe Nathan in the hope that the Detroit closer would stamp out the suddenly dangerous Orioles rally. Instead, Nathan picked up right where Coke had left off. Former Tiger Great Steve Lombardozzi roped one into right over the head of Torii Hunter – only bad baserunning by Baltimore prevented anyone from scoring and loaded the bases. Pinch-hitter Steve Clevenger roped another rocket into the right field corner for a ground rule double, putting the tying run at second with one out. Gonzalez, allegedly a defense-first shortstop, cost the Tigers another out when he waffled after fielding a grounder, causing his throw to first to be late and offline, bringing in Lombardozzi to make it a one-run game with still just one out. Nathan finally buckled down, getting Cruz to strike out on a full count slider and inducing a weak flyout to left off the bat of Chris Davis. It was a ninth inning that was a carnival of bad pitching and bad defense, but the Tigers survived – barely – to move to 4-0 for the first time since 2012.

The Tigers can go to 5-0 tomorrow if they can sweep Baltimore. Chris Tillman will oppose Justin Verlander in the finale.

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