Monday, March 31, 2008

Check out what happened during the Opening Day game

Top first

The first pitch of the 2008 season is a 93 MPH fastball low for a ball at 1:07 p.m. Well, at least that’s what my cell phone says. Justin Verlander makes quick work of David DeJesus, as DeJesus grounds out a 1-1 pitch to Carlos Guillen for the first recorded out of the season.

After Verlander makes quick work of David DeJesus, Mark Grudzielanek hits a slow, binding ball to Miguel Cabrera at third. Cabrera’s throw is low, and Carlos Guillen can’t pick it. Grudzielanek makes contact with Guillen, barely avoiding a major collision as Guillen’s left leg is directly in the baseline. It’s an error on Cabrera. Guillen could have scooped the ball, but Cabrera had enough time to put a strong throw on the ball instead of throwing off-balance.

Grudzielanek steals second as a Verlander curveball pops out of Pudge Rodriguez’ glove. Verlander’s curveball looks very sharp so far. Man on second, one out.

Alex Gordon strikes out looking on a changeup that just barely caught the outside corner.

After a couple of foul balls, Verlander ends the inning by getting Jose Guillen to pop out to Placido Polanco.

Bottom first

Just when Gil Meche looks like he’s going to retire the first three Tigers in order, Gary Sheffield battles back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk and Magglio Ordonez slaps a grounder past a diving Tony Pena. Two on, two out for you-know-who.

The crowd erupts as Miguel Cabrera flies out to centerfield. He put a good charge into it, but he’ll quickly realize Comerica’s centerfield is a canyon out there. No score, end of one inning.

Top second

Mickey York reports the Tigers are expecting a crowd of 41,782, which would be a Comerica Park Opening Day record. I’m doing some investigation on that number, because it seems low to me.

Verlander sits down the Royals with a trio of fly-outs, all boring, except the last one, where Brandon Inge comes in from centerfield and dodges an oncoming Magglio Ordonez, who makes the catch for the third out.

Bottom second

Carlos Guillen leads off the bottom of the second with a double to straightaway centerfield. It was a patented Guillen double, his sweet swing making perfect contact and dropping one a few feet in front of the warning track. Even more impressive, he broke his bat on the play.

After Pudge and Jacque Jones—in his Tigers debut—strike out, the polarizing Brandon Inge draws a walk to put guys on first and second with two out.

Up comes Renteria for the second time in as many innings, a guy that’s known for his clutch hitting. Let’s see what he can do with two outs.

Renteria singles home Guillen for the first of a couple thousand Tiger runs this year. He took a hanger from Meche and punched it right back up the middle. 1-0 Tigers.

Polanco hits a soft fly ball to right field to end the inning. After two, Tigers lead 1-0.

Top third

Verlander freezes John Buck with a curveball then makes Tony Pena, Jr. look silly. Pena flails at a sick curveball a pitch after he could have got rung up by first base umpire Chuck Meriweather for back-to-back Verlander strikeouts.

I’m not suggesting anything here, but Verlander’s got his stuff today. His fastball is popping, his change is coasting and his curveball has that funky movement. He’s dialed in.

Bottom third

After Meriweather rings up Sheffield on a check swing, Ordonez slaps a double into the right field gap that reaches the scoreboard. RBI opportunity number two upcoming for Cabrera. He grounds out to short, two out.

Guillen slaps the ball past a sprawling Grudzielanek into right field while Ordonez chugs home. We have a play at the plate, ladies and gentlemen. Jose Guillen throws a rope—I mean a rope—to nail Ordonez at home, sliding oh so elegantly. Tigers are out, but up 1-0 after three.

Top fourth

Verlander drills Grudzielanek on the left hand with a high fastball. That has to hurt like hell. FSN’s X-Mo replay shows the ball hits square on Grudzielanek’s knuckles as he starts to cringe. You have to love the slow-motion facial expressions the X-Mo provides. Grudzy’s a ballplayer though and stays in the game. And yes, I just made that nickname up because I’m sick of typing his name out.

Gordon grounds out to short, beating out a double play by a couple steps. I never really noticed how fast he was, he can move.

And for today’s AFLAC Trivia Question: What team has visited the Tigers most on Opening Day? You can scroll to the top if you want to, but I don’t advocate cheating so take a guess.

Verlander strikes out Guillen for his fourth strikeout, followed by a collective groan amongst the fans of Detroit as Butler singles to left field. It’s Verlander’s first allowed hit, and yes, my mind was drifting off to last June since the second inning.

Bottom fourth

Leading off, Pudge singles to center for the Tigers sixth hit of the day. Six hits allowed over four innings isn’t great, but Meche is pitching good. He strikes out Jacque—a lot cooler to say than Jones—for his fifth strikeout of the game. I had this guy in fantasy last year and I can say with confidence that he’s the best 9-13 pitcher in the league.

Oh, Mario and Rod, how I have missed thee. “Those magnet schedules are money,” Mario says.

Inge doubles into the left-field gap, and Pudge moves to third. Gathright comes over and collects the ball, then double-pumps, to which I yell “GO!” for Pudge to score. After looking at the replay, he wouldn’t have had a shot. Fans are so dumb sometimes.

Honestly, it’s nice to see Inge starting today. Obviously not at the expense of an injury, but I’ve met him a few times—he’s a great guy and just wants to play. I’m split on his situation because he can help the team, but I’m more of a Brandon Inge the person fan versus a Brandon Inge the player fan. He’s in the prime of his career, he wants to start, so that’s what I want.

Renteria walks to load the bases, then Polanco flies out to right field and Guillen shows off his rocket launcher again. Two out.

Sheffield draws another walk after falling in the hole 0-2. Home plate umpire Tim Welke was squeezing Meche a little bit on the 2-2 pitch, which I thought was a strike, but the payoff pitch was a tad bit low. Pudge scores, Tigers up two.

Alright, I’m a little too jumpy today. First the Cabrera fly out, then Pudge running the bases, now I let out a scream when Ordonez flies out to right with the bases loaded. I’ll just blame it on the FSN camera angles. 2-0 Tigers, end of four.

Top fifth

Verlander freezes Buck for the second time today, with a changeup on the inside corner for the second out. The pitch before that was a tight curveball that missed just low and inside, but I think he thought he was going to get the call. He has this tendency to fall off to the first base side of the mound and start his walk around the mound before it’s actually called.

Pena follows Buck and takes his second trip around the Verlander strikeout machine, as he takes another awful swing at a curveball in the dirt. Verlander’s pitching a gem so far, and dare I say it’s almost expected. Here comes Miggy to lead off the fifth …

Bottom fifth

Well, it’s about time. Detroit’s new favorite son tees off on a Meche fastball and parks it on top of the bullpen roof for his first home run in the old English D. It was a shot, more of a line-drive than a majestic shot. And that’s the scary part.

Meche sits Guillen, Pudge, and Jacque in order to retire the Tigers in the fifth. More than halfway through, it’s the Tigers 3-0.

Top sixth

Gathright grounds out to short to open the sixth. He’s been kind of a disappointment today, going 0-2 with no players hurdled so far. The guy’s a freak. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Look …

Grudzielanek singles to right and Gordon follows with a 394 foot home run to right, a missile. He took a belt-high Verlander fastball and launched the Royals right back into the game.

Verlander retires Guillen—while still visibly upset over the home run—and Butler to end the inning. The Royals get a pair to make it 3-2 after five and a half.

Bottom sixth

Inge flies out on yet another “It looks deep … it is deep … it’s a fly out in front of the warning track!” ball that Comerica’s centerfield eats up.

Renteria pops out, Polanco grounds out, and the Tigers are out in the sixth. 3-2.

Top seventh

Verlander walks Teahen then gives up a line-shot single to Gload up the middle, putting runners on the corner with no outs. The skipper’s coming to get the ball. He pitched really well but the Gordon home run will put a damper on his performance, especially if Teahen scores and Verlander loses the win.

Leyland makes the call to Jason Grilli. I could write some very entertaining stuff here about a past experience with the Tigers reliever, but that’s for another place and time. Right now, all he has to do is avoid another Grilli meltdown.

Buck singles to left, scoring Teahen and tying the game at three.

With runners on first and second, Pena hits a high chopper that Grilli tips with his glove, ending any chance of a double play. It was a weird play, as Polanco scoops the ball and tries to tag Buck, but Buck slips under. After Polanco realizes he won’t get Pena, he tosses it to Guillen to put the tag on Buck. Two on, one out.

Leyland takes his second trip to the mound in this half inning, probably knowing what’s about to happen to Grilli. Bobby Seay comes in and induces a soft lineout to Guillen at short for the second out.

I feel like I’m repeating myself, but Leyland’s back out to bring Aquilino Lopez in for Seay, the left-handed specialist.

Grudzielanek squares up on a ball and drives a run in with a single to right field, putting Verlander on the hook for a loss. His final line: 6 IP, 4 ER, 6 K, 1 BB. To simplify things: Five good innings, and one bad inning that he couldn’t escape. Tigers down one, 4-3, heading into the seventh.

Bottom seventh

Kansas City subs veteran Brett Tomko for Meche to pitch the seventh. All-in-all, Meche’s performance was good. To hold this lineup to three runs is an accomplishment, and although he allowed eight hits and four free passes, he pitched out of jams when he needed to. Meche’s final line: 6 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 5 K, 4 BB.

Sheffield draws his third walk of the game, but Ordonez grounds into a double-play to clear the bases for Cabrera. Two out, big strong man up.

He strikes out, Tigers head into the eighth down one.

Top eighth

Lopez sits the first two batters down before Teahen rips an opposite-field triple just out of the reach of Super Inge in left-center. Inge took a shot at it, but was a good two feet away from making a diving catch.

Teahen’s stranded at third as Gload grounds out to Polanco.

Bottom eighth

Guillen takes a 2-1 Tomko offering and disposes of it three quarters up the right-field bleachers. I love Guillen’s swing. I think I’ve already said that, but I do. It’s beautiful. He took an uppercut swing, connected and tied the game. As he trots back to the dugout and before he steps down, Cabrera removes Guillen’s helmet and gives him a pat on the back.

The next three Tigers go down in order, and it’s a brand new ball game heading into the ninth. Hold on! 4-4 tie.

Top ninth

Clete Thomas takes over in left for Jacque, and here comes the Rollercoaster. While Jones and Buck battle, the guys in the booth let us know that first base umpire Chuck Meriweather’s real name is Julius Edward Meriweather. “Chuck sounds tougher,” Mario quipped.

Jones retires Buck on a grounder and then gets Pena swinging badly, as Pena tries to call timeout but it’s not granted by Tim Welke at home. It was one of those swings that wasn’t meant to be a swing, but to get out of the way. Nonetheless, Jones dominated Pena. Thomas records his first big-league putout and we go to the bottom of the ninth with the temperature, like the Tigers offense, heating up.

Bottom ninth

Renteria, Polanco, and Sheffield in the ninth for the Detroiters. Leo Nunez is in for the Royals, a guy that Rod says “looks 100 pounds soaking wet.” I remember Nunez from last year and he impressed me with some good stuff. Kind of reminds me of Pedro Martinez-type stuff in a way. But that’s probably just the body type.

Renteria strikes out swinging and Polanco lines out to Grudzielanek, who makes a nice diving play at second base. Not quite web gem material, but since he got drilled by a Verlander fastball on his glove hand earlier, we’ll give it to him.

Sheffield successfully completes the opposite Golden Sombrero, drawing his fourth walk, and Ordonez comes to the plate. He’s hitting .500 with a home run against Nunez, and Rod says simply, “Game over.” Rod’s wrong. Ordonez pops out and we go to extras for the second straight year on Opening Day.

Top 10th

Tigers newcomer Denny Bautista comes in, and Grudzielanek greets him with a ground-ball single through the left side of the infield, just clear of the outstretched arm of Renteria. Bautista gets Gordon looking in a full count as Esteban German—pinch-running for Grudzy—steals second on Pudge’s inaccurate throw.

Bautista pulls the trick again, blazing a 99 MPH fastball by Guillen with the bat on his shoulders for the second out. “Oh my goodness!” Rod yelps.

We go to the bottom of the tenth still knotted at three after Butler flies out to Thomas in right, who didn’t play the ball very comfortably, kind of battling the ball mid-air. And you know who is leading off in the tenth …

Bottom 10th

So much for the fairy tale Opening Day ending that has Cabrera walking off in the bottom of the tenth. He strikes out swinging at a curve in the dirt, followed by Guillen flying out to center. Nunez blows two 95 MPH-plus fastballs past Pudge, and we go to the eleventh.

Top 11th

“That’s Pedro Martinez-like stuff,” Rod says after the break about Nunez. Ah, great minds think alike. Let’s see what Bautista’s got—I’m intrigued by his velocity. Denny walks Teahen and Gload successfully delivers a sacrifice bunt. Teahen on second, one out.

Wow, I might have just lost my voice. Buck hits a grounder back up the middle, Teahen rounds third, and Mark Teahen—meet Brandon Inge. Inge unleashes an absolute laser into the glove of Pudge—a picture-perfect throw—to nail Teahen at home. Now Buck’s on second with two outs and the place is rocking

Well Tony Pena just defined the word buzzkill. Bautista was still bringing it close to triple digits but left a hanging off-speed pitch low enough for Pena to bloop between Inge and Renteria in center, allowing Buck to score and the Royals to take the lead, 5-4.

Bautista gets out of the inning, and the Tigers will probably have Thames pinch-hitting for Thomas, Inge, and Renteria up in the eleventh, trying to prolong this Opening Day.

Bottom 11th

Well, what do I know? Thomas leads off the eleventh against Joakim Soria with an opposite field double in his first Major League at bat—one-hopping the ball off of the left-field fence. Let’s see what Leyland puts on here. Inge is bunting on the first pitch, but bunts it foul off of himself, then executes a nice sacrifice bunt down the first base line, moving Thomas to third and putting the tying run 90 feet away with the ever-clutch Edgar Renteria up.

Renteria strikes out after Soria gets two close non-calls on each side of the plate, but finally finishes him off with a slider low in the zone. Edgar’s disgusted, waving his bat and almost hitting the catcher Buck. Two outs, tying run on third, Polanco up to bat.

A swing and a sharp grounder hit to third. Coming off the bat, the ball looks like it’s going to get through, but Gordon sprawls to his left, makes a diving stop, and throws Polanco out at first to preserve the Royals victory.


Leo Nunez gets the win for the Royals, Denny Bautista the loss for the Tigers.

Player of the Game: Alex Gordon (1-5, HR, 2 RBI). Gordon jump-started the Royals offense with a two-run homer off Justin Verlander in the sixth, leading to Verlander’s exit, and came up with a huge defensive play in the 11th to prevent the game from going any further.

As is every year, Opening Day is a lot more magnified than the 161 other games this season. Turn on the radio later today and you’ll hear multiple accounts of the Tigers demise because of their bullpen—merely one game into the season. But in reality, that’s really all this game was: One out of 162 games.

If there’s a couple of things I noticed, it’s that the Tigers might have actually found a decent reliever in their losing pitcher, Bautista, who was throwing in the upper-90’s consistently and outside of a bloop hit, shut the Royals down.

Give credit to Kansas City for coming into a hyped-up atmosphere and swinging the sticks with the big boys. They are a pesky bunch and look improved under new manager Trey Hillman.

Thanks for reading, I hope I made the game enjoyable for those of you that couldn’t watch or listen. I look forward to blogging more Tigers games with you this year.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cabrini fends off Napoleon

By Anthony Fenech
Free Press Special Writer

With the fourth quarter clock dwindling and Allen Park Cabrini’s fate still hanging in the balance, senior Amanda Chidester wanted the ball on every possession.

The Monarchs multi-talented guard battled for offensive rebounds, hit the floor diving for steals, blocked shots and scored—seemingly able to will the ball into the basket.

“I definitely wanted it,” Chidester said after Cabrini’s 49-48 defeat over Napoleon (23-3) in Tuesday night’s Class C state quarterfinal matchup, showing off a very relieved smile.

Relieved, because the Napoleon Pirates hung around until the final buzzer, taking Cabrini (22-4) to the brink of elimination.

With 4:19 left to play, Cabrini held a 46-41 lead and looked primed to ice the game by hitting their free throws when senior Karie Altman stepped to the line and missed both, highlighting the Monarchs uncharacteristic 1-for-9 performance from the line in the fourth quarter.

Cabrini hit 20 of 21 free throws in the fourth quarter during their two regional matchups.

“That really shocked me because we’ve been really good towards the end of the year,” Cabrini head coach Mike Rozanski said about the missed free throws.

“But when you make the stops it takes the pressure off of you,” he said.

And make the stops they did.

The Monarchs finished stellar defensively, with Chidester emphatically blocking Haley Sullivan’s put-back shot with just under a minute left up three.

After another Cabrini free throw rimmed out, Pirates senior Jacea Smith drove to the net and drew a questionable blocking foul on Cabrini with 8.1 seconds left.

Smith was injured on the play, and junior Jill Eke stepped in and calmly hit the free throw, drawing the score to 49-48.

Chidester, who scored 25 points, missed her second and third free throws of the night, but seconds later she was spiking the ball at half court, on the way to the state semifinals.

“We haven’t done this and we’ve been together since we were freshmen,” said Chidester.

“It’s a really great feeling.”