The Tigers still haven’t lost a regular season series in Oakland since 2009 as they earned a split with a hard-fought 5-4 victory over the A’s in the series finale on Thursday afternoon.
Oakland left 14 runners on base in the loss as the Tigers issued nine walks. Rick Porcello, who had walked nine batters all season coming into this start, issued six free passes in just 5.2 innings. He also allowed five hits and a hit batter. Twelve baserunners in 5.2 innings sounds like a recipe for disaster, and it probably should have been – if not for multiple escape jobs. Porcello got Yoenis Cespedes to ground out with two on in the first. In the second, he loaded the bases with a single and two walks with nobody out. He got Eric Sogard to hit one back to him, which he turned into a 1-2-3 double play, and then got Coco Crisp to ground to first. In the fifth, he allowed singles to Crisp and John Jaso to open the inning before retiring the heart of Oakland’s lineup in order, with left fielder J.D. Martinez making a remarkable run-saving diving catch against Cespedes to end the inning. High pitch count, a walk to Nick Punto, a hit by pitch of Eric Sogard, and another walk of Crisp finally chased Porcello with two outs in the sixth. Those three were stranded when Ian Krol got Derek Norris to pop up. The seventh was shaky as Al Alburquerque walked the first two batters he faced, but he retired the next three in order as well. In the end, the only blemish for Porcello was the two-run homer he allowed to Punto, which is a pretty noticeable blemish, but he ended up being the winner.
While the Tigers were pitching around messes largely of their own doing, their offense was getting it done against Jesse Chavez. They struck first in the third as Ian Kinsler led off with a double, moved to third on a Don Kelly groundout, and scored on a Miguel Cabrera groundout. After Punto’s homer in the fourth, the Tigers hit back immediately. Andrew Romine singled and scored on another Kinsler double. Kinsler would later score on a sacrifice fly from Cabrera to give Detroit their lead back. Victor Martinez would add two vital insurance runs in the seventh with a double off Jim Johnson that scored two, including Cabrera from first. That put the Tigers up 5-2, and it looked like this might end up going okay.
Well, Joe Nathan had other ideas. After spectacularly blowing last night’s affair, Nathan inherited a three run lead in the ninth and very nearly threw that away. Josh Donaldson led off with a double against him and moved to third on a groundout. Donaldson then scored on a ground ball single by Cespedes – Romine made a fine play on the ball and Cabrera probably should’ve picked it, but didn’t. Alberto Callaspo struck out looking and Nathan had Josh Reddick down to his final strike, but Reddick doubled up the gap to score Cespedes and make it 5-4, putting the tying run in scoring position with two out. Nathan then fell behind Punto 3-0, came back to make it 3-2, but couldn’t put him away and issued a walk. Finally, pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie grounded sharply to first on a 1-2 pitch, ending the ballgame.
Nathan’s continued struggles are becoming alarming – he was one base hit away from blowing his fifth save of the season, which would have matched Jose Valverde’s highest single-season total in a Tigers uniform, and it’s only the end of May (as an aside, Valverde was way better in save situations than Tigers fans give him credit for, especially in 2010 and 2011). But, at least for today, it did not quite cost the Tigers the ballgame, as they earned a split on the road against one of the American League’s better teams. They’re off to Seattle for three starting tomorrow night.