Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tigers vs. Mariners game blog May 22


The Tigers are riding a modest – yes, modest – two-game winning streak and look to sweep the reeling Mariners in today’s matinee at Comerica Park. A win would give the Tigers their third sweep of the season – Texas and New York being the other two.

They have been smashing the ball in the two games since Jim Leyland’s pre-game rant on Tuesday and the team looks as if they have finally screwed their heads on straight and are ready to make a move in the Central. But that’s probably the third or fourth time this year I’ve said that so who knows.

I don’t think you can make a correlation between the skipper going off and the team starting to play. These guys are professionals and know what it takes, but at the very least it probably turned some heads and gave them a much needed kick in the behind.

It’s a brisk, overcast May day at Comerica Park – official game time temperature is 58 degrees but it feels more like 50 – with the lights on and the place roughly half-filled.

Jeremy Bonderman is on the bump for the Tigers, with Miguel Batista taking the hill for the Mariners. Bonderman is 4-3 with a 5.02 ERA against his former hometown team.

A couple matchups to watch: Gary Sheffield has hit five home runs in 32 at bats against Batista, and Curtis Granderson has two home runs in eight at bats. Ichiro is hitting .367 in his career against Bonderman.

Starting lineup for the Tigers: Granderson CF, Polanco 2B, Sheffield DH, Ordonez RF, Cabrera 1B, Guillen 3B, Joyce LF, Renteria SS, Inge C

Starting lineup for the Mariners: Ichiro CF, Beltre 3B, Lopez 2B, Ibanez DH, Sexson 1B, Reed LF, Johjima C, Balentien LF, Betancourt SS

Top first

And now for your weekly installment of “Jeremy Bonderman’s First Inning,” which is usually a story in itself.

Ichiro leads off with an infield single by simply slapping Bonderman’s fastball to the left of Renteria. He fields it cleanly and makes a nice throw but it’s Ichiro. He’s fast. And he’s safe.

And the self-destruction begins … Bonderman’s pickoff throw skips between Ichiro’s legs off the Ball Park Frank-sponsored tarp and down the right field line. He’s fast. He advances to third. E-1.

Surprisingly, Bonderman rights the ship retiring Beltre, Lopez and Ibanez in order. Lopez hit a shot that Guillen snagged at third base.

Bottom first

Sheffield is going to kill somebody one day. Seriously. After a couple of weak ground outs to the right side of the infield, Sheffield unloads foul with one of his patented line-drive-out-of-a-cannon shots that skips off the Tigers dugout. It’s a wonder he hasn’t seriously hurt someone already in light of Albert Pujols liner off Chris Young’s nose last night in San Diego. Batista is working him inside, brushing him back a couple of times, and Sheffield takes his third inside offering through the hole into left field for a two-out hit.

Ordonez delivers with a high-flying double that lands on the dirt just inside the right field line. Sheffield chugs around the bases and is safe at home with a beautiful slide – his right leg snags the outside of the plate before Johjima’s tag. Seattle manager John McLaren comes out of the dugout to argue, but to no avail. Tigers up 1-0 after one.

Top second

Richie Sexson is the anti-Ichiro. Not only can he not hit, but he’s as slow as molasses. He grounds one off Bonderman’s right leg, the ball ricocheting to Renteria, who beats him by a step at first base. A step. Sean Casey would have made it closer at first.

After Jeremy Reed beats out a potential 3-6-3 double play, Guillen makes another lackadaisical play at third base – one of those that makes you wonder what world he’s in – bobbling Johjima’s ground ball down the line that could have potentially been a double play. First base umpire Bob Davidson bails him out though, calling Johjima out at first when he was safe. And let the instant replay debate begin …

I don’t see the issue with the league experimenting with replay in spring training. Major League Baseball is behind the times when it comes to this. Although I’m nostalgic in the sense that I don’t mind the human error part – the majority of fans just want to get the call right. The issue has reared its ugly head yet again with a couple of controversial home run calls this week, but nothing will change until a critical play in the postseason forces the league’s hand.

Bottom second

Joyce squeezes a grounder down the first-base line past a diving Sexson into right field for a double, followed by a nubber off Renteria’s bat that Batista can’t field to put runners on the corners with one out. Even if he had a clean scoop of the ball, Batista probably wouldn’t have got Renteria at first.

Inge disposes of Batista’s 2-1 offering just over the yellow line on the right field fence – into Reed’s glove. But when Reed’s right arm hits the fence, the ball pops out and the glove falls between the fence and bullpen for a Brandon Inge three-run homer. Hitting the ground, it wasn’t clear if Reed had the ball, but the crowd’s roar told it all.

Polanco walks and Sheffield doubles off the 345’ marker in left to put runners on second and third, but Ordonez whiffs on an outside fastball to leave them stranded. 3-0 Tigers after two.

Top third

Yuniesky – such a sweet name – Betancourt leads off with a double into the right-center gap. One batter later, Ichiro lines a one-hopper to Renteria. Betancourt breaks for third after Renteria’s throw – he’s only about ten feet off the bag and looks like a dead duck – but Cabrera can’t make a clean glove-to-hand exchange with the ball and he’s safe at third. It was a baserunning error – he would have been out nine out of ten times.

Just when it looks like Bonderman’s going to dance around another runner in scoring position, Ibanez singles on an elevated two-out hack to right, scoring Betancourt.

The Mariners might not be in sending a bunch of guys to New York in July, but they sure field a team of All-Star first names: Ichiro, Raul, Yuniesky. And that’s not even the best one. Try Wladimir. Now that’s a sweet name. Sexson – which isn’t a bad last name in itself – grounds out, leaving two runners on, to end the top of the third.

Bottom third

Miggy leads off with a double that could have went either way – it skipped off of a jumping Balentien’s glove in right – but I’ll take it. And by saying I, I mean my fantasy team will take it. That’s a nice two points right there.

Guillen follows with a line-drive that just gets over a leaping Lopez’ glove. Gene Lamont holds Cabrera at third – seemingly wise at the moment – but Balentien doesn’t field the ball clean in right. Cabrera would have scored. No matter. Two batters later, Renteria drives home Cabrera with a sacrifice fly to centerfield. 5-1 Tigers after three.

Top fourth

Bonderman starts the top of the fourth having thrown a respectable 46 pitches, but still looking for that groove.

Well, that was definitely the time I should have went to grab a bite to eat. A relatively boring inning, the only highlight a Balentien liner in which Renteria let the ball play him instead of him playing the ball. It was a shot – scored a single – that had the official scorer taking some joking boos from fellow writers in the press box.

Now I’m really going to get some food. Let’s see what I miss …

Bottom fourth

I get back just in time to catch a comical exchange between the baseball, R.A. Dickey, and the first base line. After Sheffield singles for his third hit in as many at-bats, Ordonez fouls a dribbler down the first base line. Rolling in the foul dirt, it’s spin suggests it may roll back into play. The ball gave it’s best effort, but stops maybe half an inch to the right of the line. Foul ball. But Dickey and Sexson point to the ball, saying it’s touching the chalk. It’s not, and both walk away with smirks on their face. Ordonez strikes out again on some weird looking 72 MPH pitch (screwball?) that I swear moved two different ways. Tigers up four after four.

Top fifth

Ichiro continues hitting well against Bonderman, lining a frozen rope off of the right field wall. Ordonez fields it quick and clean, and Ichiro – get this – is held to a single. I can guarantee you that is the longest single you will ever see Ichiro hit. He’s fast. But I guess he’s not that fast.

Bonderman gets himself into some real trouble for the first time all day, following Ichiro’s single with a walk of Beltre and a single to Lopez. Lopez’ single is hard-hit and Ichiro is held at third. Bases loaded, none out.

Raul “My Name Can Put Women To Sleep” Ibanez ground into a 4-6-3 double play, scoring Ichiro. Sexson flies out to a sprinting Ordonez down the right field line to end the inning. Cabrera to lead off the inning for the second time in the fifth.

Bottom fifth

Guillen smacks a patented line-drive double to right field, resembling his earlier single, followed by a Matt Joyce bomb to right. He took a hanging Dickey slider and put it about 10 rows deep for his fifth home run of the year. Earlier in the at bat, Dickey had Joyce flailing at his breaking pitches, but he hung one and Joyce hung two on the board. 7-1 Tigers after five.

Top sixth

Bonderman gets into some early sixth inning trouble, allowing a leadoff single to Reed then plunking Johjima on his left elbow. He buckles down and induces three pop outs after that, and the final one is sure to catch the highlight reels today. Ichiro and his superpowers tried dropping one right on the right field foul line, but Joyce – with superpowers of his own – lays out and makes a spectacular diving catch to put out Bonderman’s flames in the sixth.

I’d say a couple runs could seal it for the good guys, but like we saw on Tuesday, you just never know.

Bottom sixth

Sean Green enters the game as Seattle’s third pitcher of the day, and his sling-shot sidearm delivery is promptly greeted with a single into center from Curtis Granderson.

Two batters later, Sheffield walks in a full count, on a pitch that looked good enough to get rung up on, starting a Tigers rally. Ordonez follows with a rope into the left-center gap that hops over the fence and into the centerfield ivy. Sheffield tries to sneak one by the umpire crew by taking home, but he’s sent back to third.

Cabrera gets the job done, driving Sheffield home with a sacrifice fly to centerfield. I never would have thought I’d enjoy seeing sacrifice flies this much, but after this rocky start, it’s a good sign seeing these hitters stay in their shoes and do the little things to get a run across rather than trying for the three-run homer every time up. Tigers up 9-2 after six.

Top seventh

Leyland brings Freddy Dolsi into the game in the seventh, lining up Bonderman for the win. His final line: 6 IP, 8 HA, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K. Polanco delivers the Tigers second Web Gem of the day, diving to his left and snaring Lopez’ bid for a single in the hole. As the healthy crowd stands for the seventh inning stretch, Seattle’s bullpen door opens, signaling the Mariners fourth reliever of the day.

Bottom seventh

The new Mariners reliever is Brandon Morrow, a 23-year old flamethrower that Seattle drafted No. 5 overall in 2006. Morrow blows away Renteria and Inge with 97 and 98 MPH fastballs, respectively. Granderson bloops one over second base, putting runners on the corners, and Polanco flies out to shallow right field to end the inning. Tigers up seven after seven. Funny how that works. Earlier I wrote, “Tigers up four after four.”

Top eighth

Ramon Santiago replaces Polanco at second and Dolsi picks up right where he left off, retiring Seattle in order in the eighth.

Bottom eighth

Nearby Trenton native and last year’s Rolaids Relief Man award winner J.J. Putz comes in to get some work against the Tigers in the eighth. Putz strikes out Sheffield and for the first time this game he doesn’t reach base. The only blemish on his line is a Cabrera walk, and he freezes Guillen to end the inning. Heading into the last frame, Tigers up by seven.

Top ninth

Dolsi records his first career save and brooms the Mariners back to Seattle with a 1-2-3 inning, capped off with Renteria throwing out pinch-hitter Willie Bloomquist. Tigers win, 9-2.


The offense looked on cue early, jumping out on the Mariners and scoring runs in five of the first six innings, including hanging a crooked number on the board in three of those innings.

Bonderman pitched solid and efficiently, throwing 90 pitches through six innings and looked as if the game were closer he could have went longer. He allowed his fair share of hits – eight – and he didn’t strike a bunch out, but he didn’t self-destruct either. He put out the fires when need be. Tigers starters have seemed to emerge from that early season funk, as they are stringing together decent start after decent start.

Every win is nice at this point, but don’t jump all over a sweep against the Mariners. They are playing awful at this point, much like the Rangers and Yankees were in early season sweeps.

A bigger test will be this weekend’s matchup with the pesky Minnesota Twins, who are a couple games ahead of the Tigers in the standings. Robertson, Galarraga, and Verlander will be taking the hill for the Tigers this weekend.

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