Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tigers vs. Giants game blog June 18


The hot Tigers, winning 11 of their past 14 games – and I’d love to say red-hot-and-on-an-eight-game-winning-streak Tigers but Fernando Rodney likes his changeup a little too much (See: Monday night) – are looking to win their third straight series since looking up an 11-game ladder at the Chicago White Sox on June 9.

Since that day – an 8-2 loss to the Indians more infamously known as the Dontrelle Debacle – the Tigers have shaved off 4 ½ games in the standings, are playing their best baseball of the year and Marcus Thames apparently hasn’t yet got the memo that contrary to popular belief, yes, you can reach base in ways other than mashing 400-plus foot moonshots out of the yard.

Thames past eight base knocks have been, well, long knocks, going yard off of a pair of Giants in Timmy and Vinny and a Dodger trio of Brad, D-Lowe and Chan Ho. Look Mom, I can rhyme!

The boy that is some kind of country strong, according to Rod Allen, is tied for second all-time with eight consecutive hits for home runs, trailing Mark McGwire’s 11. McGwire was some kind of strong, although to be fair, we don’t know what kind.

Thames will try to keep the streak alive today against the comfortably-salaried Giants left-hander Barry Zito (2-10), whose career has taken a nose-dive since hopping across the bay and signing a then pitcher-record $126 million deal before the 2007 season with San Francisco.

In Oakland, Zito and his bending, how-in-the-world-did-he-get-that-over-the-plate curveball won a Cy Young Award in 2002, winning 23 games as a 23-year-old, made three All-Star appearances and averaged just over 13 wins a season.

Last season, at 29, Zito failed to reach 200 innings for the first time in his career and produced his lowest strikeout total. This April, he opened the season 0-6 with a 7.53 ERA, prompting a demotion to the bullpen late in the month, where he never made a relief appearance and returned to the rotation in early May.

Ladies and gentlemen, right there is Exhibit 1-A on how long-term lucrative contracts can go terribly wrong. To put the money into perspective, you could have built three Golden Gate Bridges, the White Sox (Payroll: 121 million), or even roughly half of my favorite stadium in baseball, AT&T Park. I don’t know what good a half-built stadium is, but it serves the purpose here. As long as that big Coca-Cola bottle in left-center is built first.

Zito is 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA in his career against the Tigers, his most recent start being Game One of the 2006 American League Championship Series, where he allowed five runs and took the loss.

Opposing Zito is Armando Galarraga (6-2), the reliable rookie who has been the Tigers best pitcher thus far this season.


The Tigers are wasting no time getting started on Zito. After Renteria pops out to start the game – a beautiful, sunny, 76 degree day in northern California – Polanco slaps a single into left, followed by a Guillen walk, to put runners on first and second early for Ordonez.

Much like Guillen’s at-bat, Zito falls behind early. He is nibbling at the outside corner early on, looking very fearful of putting anything over the plate or inside.

On a full count with the runners moving, Ordonez singles hard on the ground up the middle, scoring Polanco from second for his 43rd RBI on the year. Cabrera ties him for the team lead on the very next at-bat, sending a Zito offering into center, scoring Guillen for the second Tigers run of the inning, which looks to be a big one.

This is going to be a short outing for Zito. He can’t find the plate, walking the sizzling Thames on five pitches. Bases loaded, one out for Pudge.

Pudge strikes out, swinging at a high and inside Zito slider, screaming at himself in frustration as he walks back to the bench.

Granderson ends the inning with a fly out to center, Zito dodging what appeared to be a huge inning for the Tigers. He allowed two runs, but the Tigers let him off the hook, stranding the bases loaded with one out.

Bottom first

Galarraga retires the first two batters with groundouts, then falls into a slight bit of trouble, walking the speedy Randy Winn and allowing a line-drive single into left off the bat of Bengie Molina – the Giants cleanup hitter – a sign of the times in San Fran.

With two on and two out, the hulking presence that is Aaron Rowand – bulging muscles and all – flies out a few feet in front of the warning track in left, halting the mini-rally being staged by the Giants. 2-0 Tigers after an inning of play.

Top second

The boo birds are out at AT&T Park as Zito walks Galarraga, the pitcher, in the No. 9 spot. Zito’s control isn’t there and frankly, he looks scared facing these hitters, including the pitcher. On a 2-2 count to Galarraga, he threw a changeup that missed versus challenging him with a fastball.

Zito then walks Renteria – his fourth walk in the game. There is already action in the Giants bullpen.

After Zito drops two patented curveballs in on Polanco to jump ahead 0-2, he leaves one hanging that Polanco laces into the left field corner for a double. Galarraga scores and runners are on the corners with no outs.

This isn’t even cool to watch. Zito again jumps ahead of Guillen on curveballs – he has abandoned his fastball – and Guillen, sitting on the bender, doubles down the left-field line, scoring two runs. 5-0 Tigers.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy takes a trip to counsel with Zito but doesn’t pull him, drawing more boos from the crowd. Zito is absolutely getting shelled, but I like the move to keep him in. A manager’s worst fear is having to go to the bullpen in the second inning.

Following the mound visit, both Ordonez and Cabrera hit liners to Rowand in center. Both were hard hit line drives that in all reality were hit too hard, as weird as that sounds.

Detroit is squaring up on every ball, including two Thames foul balls that were rockets down the third-base line, before he strikes out swinging to end the inning.

Bottom second

Looking dead in the water early on, the Giants continue to apply offensive pressure on Galarraga. Travis Denker doubles with one out followed by a Cabrera error at third. Omar Vizquel’s grounder rolled up his left arm – a play he absolutely should have made – and both runners are safe.

Zito is done for the day, with pinch-hitter Brian Horwitz taking his place in the lineup for now. Horwitz flails at a nasty Galarraga slider, but the pitch ricochets off Pudge near the Giants dugout, scoring Denker from third.

Fred Lewis grounds out to end the inning, but the Giants are on the board. 5-1 Tigers after two innings.

Top third

Billy Sadler enters the game for Zito, trying to tame the offense that feasted on the southpaw for five runs on five hits in two innings. Zito walked four and struck out two.

Pudge leads off the third with an opposite-field single down the first-base line, followed by Granderson flying out to center on a ball that kept going and going and going, until Rowand finally caught up with it feet from the wall, slamming into a Visa advertisement. Off the bat it looked like a routine fly but the wind carried it.

Galarraga then bunts Pudge to second on an example of exactly how not to bunt the ball. Instead of meeting ball with bat, Galarraga takes a bunting hack but makes contact and gets the job done, but Pudge is stranded after Renteria strikes out swinging on a breaking ball.

Bottom third

In the bottom half of the inning, Winn singles to center with one out, only to be stranded after Molina – the slowest man in baseball – grounds into a double play. Nobody else in the majors would have been doubled off on this play, as Guillen bobbled the ball at third, threw high to Polanco, who turned in a strong throw to Cabrera at first for the 5-4-3 double play. 5-1 Tigers after three innings.

Top fourth

Same story, different pitcher. The Tigers brought their hitting shoes to the ballpark today – Jim Leyland elected to have them take batting practice before the game, Bochy did not – as Polanco leads off with a bloop single that nails the first-base line in right field for his third hit of the game, followed by a Guillen single through the right side of the infield.

Ordonez flies out to right with runners on first and second, and Cabrera follows by ripping a liner at the third baseman Jose Castillo. At first glance, Castillo appeared to have caught it but did not. He throws to second to force Guillen out, but Denker’s throw to double off Cabrera – who wasn’t running – is high and off the first baseman’s glove, rolling a handful of feet away in foul territory. Polanco hustles around third and beats the throw at home as Cabrera shakes his head in disgust at first base after not running on the play, figuring the ball was caught.

Could Leyland pull the same card Phillies manager Charlie Manuel did earlier this season in benching his star player, Jimmy Rollins, for not hustling? I doubt it, but we’ll see …

Thames grounds out to short – I’m still waiting for the daily installment of “Marcus Thames Goes Yard” – and the Tigers take a five-run lead into the bottom of the fourth.

Bottom fourth

John Bowker – he of the three-run bomb that nearly landed in McCovey’s Cove Monday night, welcoming Fernando Rodney back to the big leagues – doubles with one out.

Denker then hits a squibber to the right of Galarraga, who makes a very nice bare-handed play, throwing him out at first for the second out of the inning.

Galarraga ends the inning, striking out Omar Vizquel – who is playing his 2,600th game at shortstop – by inducing a swing at his bread-and-butter slider that bit the dirt.

Almost halfway through the game, Galarraga is showing the same cool, confident control that he has displayed throughout the season. He’s at 58 pitches through four innings and the Tigers lead, 6-1.

Top fifth

After Pudge flies to left to open the fifth, Granderson sneaks one just inside the bag at first and down the line for a double. Galarraga – now dubbed the “Venezuelan God of Walks” – draws his second base-on-balls of the game, and yet again, the Tigers are threatening.

Renteria flies out to Rowand in left center for the second out, but Polanco, in what else, an 0-2 count, delivers with his fourth hit of the game. Granderson scores the Tigers seventh run from second and Polanco has his fourth four-hit game of the season.

Bottom fifth

The first two Giants – Emmanuel Burriss and Fred Lewis – reach base on a walk and single, respectively. Burriss is in the game for the human Gold Glove, Vizquel.

With two on and no out and Galarraga nearing 70 pitches in the fifth, Castillo is punched out swinging at – you guessed it, a slider.

Winn follows by slapping a grounder to the left side of the infield, Guillen ranging far to his left, fielding the ball near the shortstop position and flips to Polanco for the second out.

Galarraga hits Molina – potentially San Francisco’s only All-Star – in the buttocks and the bases are now loaded, one swing away from a one-run game, drawing Leyland to the mound to have a chat with the rookie.

Rowand is ahead in a 2-1 count and Galarraga better be very weary of straightening out a fastball down the pipe. Instead, he sticks with the slider and gets Rowand swinging after he nearly doubled down the third base line. Both Pudge and Galarraga exchange fist pumps, the rookie slapping his glove as he exits the field.

Galarraga hasn’t got through today scot-free, but the Giants haven’t been able to capitalize on their opportunites, as they are 0-9 with runners in scoring position today.

Top sixth

Nothing really doing in the top of the sixth for Detroit, stranding Cabrera, who walked, on first with a Thames fly out and Pudge strikeout. During his six-pitch at-bat, Cabrera lined two shots down the third base line. He is finally starting to punish the ball the way we expected but needs to cut down on the strikeouts.

Bottom sixth

Freddy Dolsi was warming up in the Tigers bullpen but Galarraga is back out on the hill to start the bottom of the sixth. It might not be a bad idea for Rodney to get some work in today, getting that confidence back up heading to San Diego for three, where flamethrower Joel Zumaya will return.

After Galarraga induces a couple of groundouts, pinch-hitter Steve Holm doubles to right just as I was preparing to write about a boring inning. The next batter, Burriss, grounds sharply to third, where Guillen makes a diving snag. He pops up and makes a strong throw to Cabrera, who just kind of misses the ball. The play is scored a base hit and error – a tough error – on Guillen, as Holm scores and Burriss advances to second.

Galarraga eclipses the 100-pitch mark just before he rings up Lewis looking on a back door slider. His day is probably over, in line for the win with the Tigers leading 7-2 going into the top of the seventh.

Top seventh

Michael Hollimon, a rookie shortstop and recent call-up, takes Galarraga’s spot in the lineup, signaling a call to the bullpen in the bottom half of the inning.

Hollimon reaches on an error by the third baseman Castillo with one out, but that’s all that really happened in the inning, besides Polanco reaching base for the fifth time this game via the walk. Cabrera and Pudge pose for a picture in the Tigers dugout, with Cabrera’s arm around Pudge with Pudge’s head rested on his shoulder. Cute.

Bottom seventh

Dolsi enters the game in the bottom of the seventh. Galarraga’s final line: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HB. Another steady performance by the rookie, who keeps emerging as a player in this year’s Rookie of the Year race.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Brent Clevlen entering the game last inning for Thames in left field, signaling an end to Thames’ five-game power surge with a home run in each. Ryan Raburn, not-so-affectionately called a “scrub” by a San Francisco Chronicle writer today, takes Ordonez’ place in right field. Ordonez is the only Tiger to have played in every game this season.

Dolsi’s only blemish on the inning is a Molina single to right, hitting the upper-90’s on the gun and giving Comcast some bonus advertisement with the high and low pitch speed icon. Tigers well in control, 7-2, heading into the eighth.

Top eighth

And the ball dude takes a tumble! Known as the “Ball Dudes” in San Francisco, they have older guys alongside both baselines collecting the balls, and this particular 68-year-old retired elementary school teacher took a fall over the Giants bullpen mounds trying to make a diving stop on a foul ball. The fans cheer as he gets up and hustles to the ball.

Oh, and about the game: Detroit goes 1-2-3 in the eighth.

Bottom eighth

Dolsi dances around a pair of walks, Denker with one out and Burriss with two outs, eventually getting Lewis to ground out to Polanco to end the inning. This after a visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and Pudge on separate occasions.

Casey Fossum and Zach Miner are warming up in the Tigers bullpen going into the top of the ninth in San Fran, the Tigers leading by five.

Top ninth

Detroit goes down in order again, with Dolsi getting his first career at-bat, looking at three straight pitches down the middle for a strikeout. Leyland didn’t want to waste another position player that at-bat.

Earlier in the inning, another tough break for Ball Dude, as he misplays a Granderson foul ball, attempting to sandwich it between his bare hand and glove hand, and it falls out. A dejected Ball Dude tosses his glove on the ground in disgust.

Last call for the Giants in the ninth, down five, against Zach Miner.

Bottom ninth

Miner retires the Giants with three ground-ball outs in the ninth, and Ball Dude gets some ice from Giants mascot, “Lou Seal.” Tigers win, 7-2.


The Tigers exploded early, scoring five of their seven runs in the first two innings and off of starter Barry Zito, who only lasted those two innings. Zito looks like a shadow of his old self, without any semblance of control and his velocity plummeting from his heyday in Oakland.

Pitch after outside pitch, nibble after nibble, the Tigers took what Zito gave them and gave it right back to him. Up the middle, down the line, into the corner, the Tigers tagged Zito for five runs on six hits and after their at-bats in the second, the game looked to be over. Zito recorded his 11th loss of the season.

Armando Galarraga pitched yet another solid game, going six innings for the win, his seventh of the year. He was relatively out of trouble most of the game, but held the Giants to an 0-fer with runners in scoring position.

“Who’s the leader in the clubhouse for the Chevy?” Rod asks late in the game, referring to the Chevrolet Player of the Game. That one is easy for me: Placido Polanco. Polanco had four hits, was on base five times, scored three times and drove in two runs.

The Tigers now travel south to San Diego, where they square off with the N.L. West bottom-feeding Padres for three games. Joel Zumaya will rejoin the team on Friday, completing the return of two of the bullpen’s top horses.

It’s another series win for the Tigers, their third in a row, as they attempt to claw even further back into the race. Winning the games they should win needs to be priority number one, and the series in San Diego definitely fits that description.

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