Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tigers vs. Cardinals game blog June 26


I’m going to start today’s blog with a shout-out to my good friend Bob. Bob’s not really my good friend – maybe if he was younger and we grew up together or something he would be – rather he’s a gate usher at the main entrance of the park whom I met spontaneously last night.

Most of you know about the two-hour and twenty-five minute rain delay that hit right smack-dab in the middle of yesterday – or this morning’s – game, a game that ultimately ended with a Gary Sheffield walk-off single about a half-hour past midnight, giving the Tigers an 8-7 victory.

Around 10:45 yesterday night, my friend Kyle came up with a crazy idea: “Let’s go to the game,” he said on the phone, as I was watching what seemed like an endless series of FSN Spotlight installments. After deliberating on all of the unknowns: start time, tickets, parking, FSN’s Mario Impemba jumped on the air and announced a planned start time of 11:05. We both said “Why not?” and decided to take the 20-minute trip down I-75 to the park.

Walking up to the park just after 11, scalpers were nowhere to be found and the box office windows were closed. Out of luck, we thought. And that’s where Bob enters the story. “Can you guys just … let us in?” I asked an usher.

“It’s up to him,” he replied, pointing to Bob. I was fully expecting a “Sorry guys, we can’t let it happen,” or something of that nature, leaving these two guys to walk around the park, pondering if they really could squeeze through those rails in centerfield like they always thought they could. (You can’t, we tried the reverse-way after the game.)

“Come on in,” he said, as if smuggling a couple of immigrants across the border.

It was at that very moment I realized there is still a semblance of good-natured, old-school people around. The park was barely a quarter-full, midnight was lurking and there were only a few minutes left. He could have just as easily turned us away.

We thanked him and sat down in some pretty nifty seats by the time Joel Zumaya took the hill in the seventh and watched one heck of a finish.

I took a couple of laps around the concourse earlier, trying to find Bob and thank him for his generosity last night. Just as I was about to give up, I see him walk out of the guest services building. I introduced myself and thanked him. “We try to do what we can,” he said.

So thanks again, Bob. We need more people like you around the ballpark and you made this 20-year-old kid’s night.

Now, on to that usher down the first-base line that wouldn’t let us get some seats …

Top first

Brian Barton leads off the game with a dribbler that bounces perfectly in the middle of the trio of Robertson, Polanco and Cabrera, between first and second. Barton, a speedster, loses his helmet halfway down the line and is safe for an infield single.

Robertson induces a 6-4-3 double play on an Aaron Miles bouncer, a big twin killing, considering the almighty Albert Pujols looms on deck for his first at-bat since returning from the disabled list with an injured calf.

Well, what do you know. Pujols first swing produces a picture-perfect line drive over the head of shortstop Michael Hollimon for a single.

Troy Glaus follows with an excuse-me check swing that finds its way through the hole between Polanco and Cabrera. The pitch count display underneath the scoreboard isn’t working and it’s annoying me. Yes, you old-timers, this is what baseball fans growing up in the 90’s are accustomed to.

With two on and two out, Robertson strikes out Ryan Ludwick with a slider down and in to retire the side.

Bottom second

Granderson, he of the 13-game hitting streak, lines a grounder whose short hop eats Brendan Ryan alive at short. The ball ricochets off Ryan’s glove and trickles into centerfield. Granderson books it around first and takes second on a very heads-up play. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 14 in a row for Curtis.

Welp, first the pitch count display, now the entire scoreboard is out of commission for the moment. Polanco grounds out to third. One out.

Guillen strikes out swinging, two outs.

Ordonez up and he slaps a 94 M.P.H. fastball off the right side of the pitcher’s mound right to the second baseman Adam Kennedy. Kennedy flips to Pujols and the Tigers strand a leadoff double by Granderson. No score after one.

Top second

Scoreboard is back up and running as Rick Ankiel pops out foul to Guillen, who reaches over the Tigers dugout. I can’t help but imagine what kind of fantasy monster Ankiel would be if he lived up to his pitching potential. What a freakish athlete.

Journeyman Jason LaRue doubles off the scoreboard in right, followed by Kennedy slapping a single to left. Runners on the corners with one out and the Cards have something brewing early …

Nate walks the rookie shortstop, Ryan, on four straight pitches to load the bases with Barton – who led the game off with an infield single – at the plate.

Barton hacks at Robertson’s first offering and it’s a tailor-made, unassisted double-play ball to Polanco at second. He fields, steps on the bag and throws Barton out at first. Two for the price of one and Robertson dances around the fire and into the dugout.

Bottom second

Cabrera leads off and pops out to Troy Glaus – who’s playing first base today – followed by Clete Thomas and his beautiful inside-to-out swing dropping a single into centerfield.

Last night’s hero Gary Sheffield then hits a high chopper to third, which is corralled by Miles who starts the 5-4-3 double play. Tigers leave one stranded on the double play.

Top third

I’ll be right back I’m going to get a pop with Miles up at the plate … and yeah, I had a feeling I was going to miss something. But my instincts took over and as ice was filtering in my cup I watched the propped-up T.V. in the press lounge out of the corner of my eye.

Miles hits a hard grounder up the middle that Polanco backhands then throws an off-balance strike behind the bag to get the runner at first. Very nice play by a very nice … I was going to say man but I don’t know him, so fielder.

Well, what do you know. What I do know is that’s the second time I’ve started a sentence out like that, and they both involved Pujols. He singles for the second time this game on a 1-1 pitch that just gets past an outstretched guillen.

Robertson gets Glaus swinging and Ludwick grounds out to Guillen at third, who has been looking a whole lot more confident over there at the hot corner, by far the most comfortable-looking of all the positions he’s played this year.

Bottom third

Hollimon and newly-called up catcher Dane Sardinha lead off the third for the Tigers, both searching for that ever so elusive first big-league hit.

Hollimon flies out to center and Sardinha pops out to short. During Sardinha’s at bat, I glance over at a FSN TV next to me. He played baseball at Pepperdine University. Other notable alumnus: Padres pitcher Randy Wolf and Diamondbacks’ stud Dan Haren.

Granderson is robbed to end the inning when Kennedy stabs at a line drive, diving to his right to end the inning. No score after three.

Top fourth

Ankiel reaches base on an infield single, grounding hard to Cabrera’s right. Cabrera smothers the ball but doesn’t connect with Robertson, who is sprinting to the base.

LaRue grounds to third, moving Ankiel into scoring position.

Kennedy strikes out swinging on a check-swing, home plate umpire Paul Schrieber giving him the point-then-punch, indicating he went too far.

Robertson induces a groundout from Ryan, his 52nd pitch of the day, to end the inning. 2-3-4 up for the Tigers in the fourth, still trying to scrape a run across on St. Louis starter Todd Wellemeyer.

Bottom fourth

Polanco rips a double into the left-center gap and reaches third base on a Wellemeyer wild pitch that squirts through LaRue’s five-hole.

Guillen can’t knock him in, popping to short, and the rally is killed when Ordonez bounces one to Ryan at short – with the infield in – Ryan fields the ball to his left, spins and throws Polanco home at the plate without a slide.

Cabrera strikes out swinging on a slider way, way, way out of the zone. He tried to hold up but didn’t, the umpire drawing a round of boos from the crowd. It wasn’t close though. Again, Detroit’s leadoff hitter is immediately in scoring position, but the heart of the order fails to drive them in. No score after four. That rhymed. Nice.

Top fifth

With one out, Miles dribbles one to the left of the mound. Robertson takes a half-serious attempt at fielding the ball, conceding the single with a slide. Guillen charges in, barehanding the ball and making a clean throw, but Miles is safe.

Well, what do you know. Leave it to Albert Pujols to step in the box from a lengthy absence and promptly rattle off three hits, two of them crisp liners. This crisp liner travels over Thomas’ head in left off the fence. Thomas gets it in quick and Miles pulls up at third. A long, wall-banging single for Pujols, his third of the game. He’s pretty good, I guess.

It’s 2:22. Make a wish.

Robertson strikes out Glaus looking on a fastball that has Glaus barking at Schrieber all the way to the dugout. Schrieber just glares. I like that approach versus the I’m-gonna-bark-back-and-get-you-to-say-the-magic-word-then-throw-you-out approach. It was a strike though.

Ludwick pops out to Polanco to end the inning, Robertson again escaping from trouble. Ludwick is 0-3 and has stranded four runners so far.

Bottom fifth

And there it is for Mike Hollimon, his first major league hit. With two out and nobody on, Hollimon drops a high flare in front of Ankiel in centerfield. The ball is escorted off the field, from third base umpire Wally Bell to third base coach Gene Lamont to Tigers trainer Kevin Rand.

Sardinha can’t duplicate the feat, grounding out to short. Still no score after five.

I just have to take a minute to paint a picture of how beautiful the weather is today. 83 degrees with a slight breeze right to left, and the only clouds in sight are those big, puffy ones that look like you can take a nap on.

Note to my super-fantastic Hall-of-Fame web editor Lee Snider: I’m at the game, not on my couch.

Top sixth

Nothing doing in the top of the sixth for St. Louis: a couple of groundouts and Robertson leaving Adam Kennedy staring at strike three.

Bottom sixth

Todd Wellemeyer is lifted for the veteran left-hander Ron Villone after only 77 pitches. Wellemeyer allowed four hits and struck out three in five innings. I’m curious as to why Tony La Russa made the change …

On a 1-0 pitch, Granderson nearly has a triple in the bag, grounding inches foul down the first base line, past Glaus, who was playing close, defending a possible bunt. Two pitches later, Granderson lines a single into right. Look for Leyland to put something on here with Polanco up and Granderson on first.

Polanco is rung up and tossed out on a full-count pitch down and away that just catches the corner. Polanco stopped, turned around, pointed a finger as if lecturing home plate umpire Schrieber, then became more heated and got the heave-ho. Leyland comes out to have a word with Schrieber as Polanco is held back. After further review on replay – and let’s all pray this never, ever, happens (replays for balls and strikes) – the pitch could have went either way. I don’t have a problem with it being called a strike at all.

Villone is keeping a close eye on Granderson at first during Guillen’s at-bat, drawing throw after throw from the southpaw, stirring up the crowd, their boos more voluminous each throw over.

Villone walks Guillen, putting runners on first and second with no outs, Leyland putting his hands together for a couple claps in the Tigers dugout. The big bats need to produce right here.

Receiving a steady diet of breaking balls from Villone – two of which he swung through, one he barely tipped to stay alive – Ordonez floats a fly in front of Ankiel and behind Ryan in centerfield, a ball that hung in the air and found a landing spot on the turf. Bases loaded, one out for Cabrera.

Cabrera strikes out for the second time today. I wish I could analyze this at bat more, but it comes down to this: See ball, hit ball. And he didn’t

Clete Thomas up and I’m predicting he’ll clean up this mess with a single.

Villone loses Thomas with a pitch way out of the zone, plating Granderson for the first run of the game. 1-0 Tigers. La Russa calls to the bullpen for Jason Isringhausen – whom the Tigers got to late in yesterday’s game – to face Sheffield with the bases loaded and two outs.

Sheffield pops out to short on the first pitch to end the inning. Tigers score one in the sixth and lead, 1-0.

Top seventh

Robertson takes the mound in the seventh with no Tigers warming in the pen, marking his fifth straight start of six innings or more and his eighth out of his last ten. He’s 5-2 in that stretch.

He allows a leadoff single to Ryan and Fernando Rodney – gasp! – is getting loose in the bullpen.

Following the single, Barton pushes a beautiful bunt down the first base line that is scooped up by Robertson, who tosses it to Cabrera. Barton hits Cabrera’s glove and the ball is popped loose, but first base umpire Laz Diaz calls the runner out for interference. Barton was running on the grass.

Miles then pokes a fly that lands in the right field corner. Ryan is held up at third as the relay reaches the infield, but Ryan Raburn – substituting for the ejected Polanco – airmails the throw into the Tigers dugout, scoring Ryan from third and allowing Miles to advance to third. Leyland can only shake his head.

And for your fourth, “Well, what do you know …” comment of the game, the Tigers elect to walk Albert Pujols with a man on third and one out. If that’s not a no-brainer, I don’t know what is.

Shortly thereafter, Leyland walks out to the mound, relieving Robertson of his duties, and calls for Rodney who is greeted with a mixture of cheers and boos.

Robertson’s final line: 6 1/3 IP, 11 HA, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. All in all, a solid showing by the left-hander. Unfortunately, he won’t be rewarded with a win and depending how Rodney pitches here, could be in line for the loss.

Rodney makes quick work of Glaus – popping out on the first pitch – and Ludwick – ground out to second – to get out of the jam, winning back probably 17% of the 41,022 fans in here today.

Personally, I love Rodney, and it has nothing to do with getting the ball over the plate or not. I love athletes for different reasons. Rodney because he looks so hood and portrays such a carefree attitude, Guillen because he’s so goofy, and former Tiger Jason Grilli because every time he entered the game you could expect a meltdown.

Bottom seventh

As Isringhausen opens the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout of Hollimon and a Sardinha pop out, the smells of the ballpark are taking over. With Granderson up, I’m debating whether or not I can jet downstairs and get back up in time for the next inning.

I’m going to do it. Might as well. Not like it’s a close game or anything.

Granderson singles up the middle to prolong the inning for Raburn, most assuredly looking to make up for his throwing gaffe earlier in the inning.

Granderson is thrown out trying to steal on a 2-1 pitch and I’m out of here to get a pretzel.

Top eighth

You had to have figured that would happen. “Sorry baby, you’re out of luck. We don’t have any more pretzels,” a concession lady informed me. Just my luck. I wasn’t going to give up though, finally finding one a couple of sections down, eyes peeled at the T.V. to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I didn’t. Rodney strikes out Ankiel swinging and LaRue and Kennedy follow with fly-outs to the outfield to end the inning. It was somewhat of an adrenaline rush, having to stop every few seconds to watch the pitch then walk in-between.

One of these days I’m going to attempt to blog from a different seat in the stadium each inning. That should be interesting. Anyways, back to the game. Raburn, Guillen, Ordonez due up for Detroit in the bottom of the eighth.

Bottom eighth

Raburn leads off, joining the healthy crowd of 41,000-plus as a spectator, watching Isringhausen drop a bender in for strike three.

Guillen flies out and Ordonez punches an opposite-field single into right field, bringing Cabrera up to the plate. He swings at the first pitch and lines one to second, where Kennedy makes the stop on a short hop, ending the inning.

It’s a tie ballgame as we head to the ninth, Todd Jones with his glove in his right hand, trotting to the mound.

Top ninth

Jones gets Ryan swinging to open the ninth. Skip Schumaker then pinch hits for Brian Barton with one out and he slaps a fastball into right field in a full count for a single.

Miles is up, but my mind can’t help but to drift to the man that is crouching in the on-deck circle, waving his bat back and forth. (It’s Pujols for those of you that haven’t been paying attention).

Miles bloops one into right field with Schumaker toiling with indecision between the bases, trying to decide if it will drop or be caught, only for that decision to be thrown out the window by a Clete Thomas misplay.

Runners on first and second with one out and there’s that man at the plate.

Jones buckles Pujols knees with a first-pitch curveball, but you know the story after that. Pujols grounds a fastball through the hole and Schumaker beats Thomas’ throw easily at the plate. St. Louis takes the lead, 2-1.

Pujols is 4-4 – all singles – with a walk in his first game back off the disabled list. That’s sick, but what’s even more sick is that this isn’t surprising in the least bit.

The next batter, Glaus, grounds into a 6-4-3 double play. Cue up “Eye of the Tiger” for the bottom of the ninth. Tigers down one with Thomas, Sheffield and Hollimon up in the inning for Detroit.

Bottom ninth

Right-hander Ryan Franklin takes the hill for St. Louis in the ninth and promptly punches out Thomas looking. Thomas didn’t like the call, evident by the conversation after the pitch. That was simply a pitch you can’t take in that situation. Players from both teams have been at odds with Schrieber’s strike zone today.

Sheffield is up with one out and a couple pitches into his at-bat laces one far … and deep … and foul. Then a couple pitches later he laces one far … and deep … and over the left-field fence for a tie game!!!!!

The 362-foot blast is Sheffield’s fifth of the season – second since his return from the DL – and 485th of his career, his swing looking more powerful each game, hinting that the 15 bombs he needs for 500 could be well within reach.

Comerica absolutely erupts, undoubtedly a little bit giddy from the foul ball that looked good to go.

Wow, what a ninth inning …

Before you can even catch your breath, Hollimon lines a pitch down the right-field line, the ball rolling into the corner, with the crowd smelling a triple. Almost simultaneously with the right fielder Ludwick picking up the ball, Gene Lamont waves him to third. Hollimon’s slide towards the outside of the bag comes short due to a perfect relay-and-tag from Ludwick to Kennedy to Miles. Miles makes a very, very nice tag, in a fluid motion, needing every split second to get Hollimon.

Sardinha gets called out on strikes to end the inning and we’re playing extras in Downtown Detroit …

Top tenth

Jones is relieved by Bobby Seay in the tenth and starts off by freezing Ludwick with a slider.

Ankiel follows with a fly out to Ordonez in right.

Seay walks LaRue with nobody on but gets Kennedy to ground out 6-3 to end the inning. Top of the order for the Tigers in the 10th.

On a personal note, this scene is set perfectly. A 2-2 game, played well on both sides the entire game, with a touch of drama in the ninth, now is in the bottom of the tenth on a sun-drenched, beautiful day that was seemingly made for a baseball game like this.

Bottom tenth

Granderson leads off, rolling a single beyond the outstretched glove of Kennedy into right field.

Raburn sacrifices him to second and the Tigers have the winning run in scoring position with one out and the heart of their order up.

These guys haven’t delivered so far this game and now would be, well, an ideal time to do that, don’t you think?

La Russa elects to intentionally walk Guillen, setting up a potential force play. The highly-acclaimed Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan takes a stroll to the mound as the infielders convene amongst a staggering chant from the crowd.

Ordonez up, two on, one out. He flies to Ankiel down the right field line, Granderson advancing to third.

Alright, I’m going to call it right now. Cabrera ends it if they pitch to him – which they very well may not – deciding to pitch to Cle … Nope, they’re not pitching to him. They’ll take their chances with Clete Thomas on deck.

Clete up, bags full, two outs, a single wins the game and the series …

Mike Parisi starts Thomas off with four straight breaking balls, two of which drop in for strikes. Here we go …

A mighty rip by Thomas on a 2-2 pitch, sending one back to the netting. I need to get into play-by-play, this is amazing.

Ball, high and outside. Full count …

And it’s outside!!!!! Clete Thomas wins it for the Tigers in the tenth on a bases-loaded walk! Tigers win, 3-2, in a great ballgame that lasted just about three and a half hours.


What a way to wrap up their fifth consecutive series victory, with back-to-back games filled with late-inning heroics. Clearly, the squad is getting some of its mojo back, first in the form of a Joel Zumaya 100 M.P.H. fastball, then in the form of a Gary Sheffield liner over the fence.

Clete Thomas’ plate discipline won the game today, driving in two runs without swinging the bat. He drew bases-loaded walks both in the sixth and tenth.

Nate Robertson cashed in another strong performance, continuing the recent trend that is Tigers pitching going deeper and deeper into games.

I don’t think it’s a question anymore: This team has turned the corner. Saying they haven’t would be unfair to them, because honestly, what more can you do over the past 2 ½ weeks that saw two of their losses come because of late-inning bullpen blowups?

Judging by his first three games – which is not a legit sample size by any means – Gary Sheffield back in the lineup is starting to look like he can equal the loss of Jeremy Bonderman in the rotation, especially with the way Armando Galarraga has been pitching.

The Tigers now face off against the defending National League – but now struggling – Champion Colorado Rockies. It’s a very favorable matchup, especially with the way the Tigers are kocking the ball around and playing complete baseball. And don’t you fans forget: Our favorite whipping boy, Jason Grilli, is back in town. Can’t wait for that reception.

No comments: