Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tigers vs. Twins game blog July 2


Two rookies take the slab this afternoon at the Metrodome in the rubber game of this midseason A.L. Central battle, a clash of two winning clubs that have cruised through the recently-ending month of June.

Minnesota, currently standing in second place in the division, 2 ½ games back of the Chicago White Sox, went 17-11 in June and have won 12 of their past 14 games.

Three days ago, Detroit finally found themselves hovering over the .500 mark for the first time this season, after posting an 18-8 record in June and winning their last six series.

The two teams split the first two games, Detroit taking the opener in late-inning comeback fashion and Minnesota taking last night’s contest with tough starting pitching, fending off a late Tigers run.

Eddie Bonine (2-0, 3.98) will battle Nick Blackburn (6-4, 4.05), and neither of these rookies has faced the other team.

These two teams meet for a four-game set at Comerica Park next Thursday but don’t renew acquaintances until early September.

Detroit: Granderson CF, Polanco 2B, Guillen 3B, Thames 1B, Joyce RF, Sheffield DH, Thomas LF, Renteria SS, Sardinha C

Minnesota: Gomez CF, Casilla 2B, Mauer C, Morneau 1B, Kubel DH, Young LF, Buscher 3B, Punto SS, Span RF

Former Tiger Craig Monroe, simply mashing against his former team this season to a tune of a .421 batting average with two home runs – including a key three-run shot last night – is not in the lineup today for Minnesota.

Before the game, it was announced that the Tigers optioned reliever Zach Miner, who walked four batters last night and has a 4.23 ERA, to Triple-A Toledo for right-handed reliever Aquilino Lopez. Lopez was up with the big league club earlier this year and since his demotion to Triple-A has sported a nice 2.67 ERA.

And now, right before the first pitch, some breaking news just into the Non-Baseball-Related-Information-Yet-Still-Relevant-To-The-Detroit-Sports-Fan Department: The Red Wings have signed forward Marian Hossa – seen recently in the Stanley Cup Finals with Pittsburgh – to a one-year deal worth $7.4 million.

Top first

Granderson leads off the game with a swinging strikeout, offering at a Blackburn fastball off the plate outside. Polanco follows with a line-drive that is snagged in mid-air by a leaping Brian Buscher at third base – a certifiable Web Gem right there – robbing Placido of a single.

Running the count to two strikes on each of the first three hitters, Blackburn strikes out Carlos Guillen on a slider that nabs the outside corner, Guillen unable to move the bat off his shoulders. Three up and three down for the Tigers in the first.

Bottom first

Carlos Gomez leads off for the Twins and he is quickly becoming much of a paradoxical player for me: I love him and I hate him. He seems to bunt every single time he’s at the dish. This at-bat is no different: He drags a bunt down the first base line that is fielded by Thames, but Thames is unable to beat the speedy Gomez to the bag, who is nearly a full-body’s width out of the baseline and extends his left hand to touch the base during a head-first slide.

“Come on Julius,” Rod Allen says, referring to first base umpire Chuck Meriweather’s real first name, playfully needling him as Allen doesn’t believe he touched the bag. Thames puts the tag on while pleading his case, but replays confirm Chuck – or Julius – made the right call.

Runners on first and second with one out after Alexi Casilla sacrifices Gomez to second and Bonine walks Mauer. Lurking on deck is 2006 A.L. MVP Justin Morneau.

On a 1-2 slider, Morneau bounces a perfect-hopper to Edgar Renteria, standing a handful of feet to the left of second base when he receives the ball. Renteria takes two steps, tags the bag and throws to Thames to complete the double play. Bonine tip-toes around Morneau with runners on and the Tigers escape the inning unscathed.

Top second

Blackburn works his second economical, shut-down inning in the second, challenging the hot Marcus Thames with a full-count slider high and right down the middle, inducing a pop out to second, followed by a fly out and groundout off the bats of Joyce and Sheffield, respectively. Blackburn has thrown 26 pitches through two innings.

Bottom second

Bonine responds with a quick and easy inning of his own. He strikes out Jason Kubel and gets both Delmon Young – younger brother of former Tiger Dmitri Young – and Buscher to weakly pop out.

Top third

Clete Thomas leads off the third with the Tigers first hit of the game – a patented opposite-field slapper that feeds off the turf and fills the hole between shortstop and third base.

With a man on first and nobody out, Renteria shatters his bat – that resembling a Red Orange or Orange Red Crayola crayon – to Gomez, sprinting inward from center field. Discussing the point of those two colors in the same box of crayons is for another time and place … but clearly I don’t get it.

Dane Sardinha follows with a soft liner into the glove of Nick Punto at short for the second out, but then Granderson puts a charge into a full count changeup, placing one into the right center gap. At the crack of the bat it appears Thomas will score from first, but the speed of Denard Span in right negates the run. Thomas advances to third and there are runners on the corner with two outs for Polanco.

Wow, that was a sick play. Absolutely sick. Polanco grounds a 1-2 Blackburn offering up the middle, only to be stopped by Nick Punto on a dive. Punto, lying on his stomach, then flips his glove and rolls the ball to second base, where the sprawling second baseman Casilla makes the catch for the force out. Blackburn and the dome are fired up. I’m still in amazement of the play. Unbelievable.

Bottom third

Usually, the story goes as follows: Player makes an unbelievable play in the field, leads off the inning with a home run. This time, a slight change. Punto walks. A batter later, Span lays a bunt down to sacrifice him to second, but the bunt dies a few feet in front of the plate and is pounced on by Sardinha, who delivers a laser to second for the out. A very nice play by the relatively unknown backup catcher.

With Span on first, that pesky Gomez guy is up again and this time rockets one off the turf just inside third base, past Guillen who is playing in for the bunt. Rounding second, Span looks ready to score, but after a quick corral by Thomas in left, he’s held up at third. Runners on second and third, one out.

After Casilla pops out to Renteria at short for the second out – a pitch that off the bat looked like it could bloop over Renteria’s head – Joe Mauer nearly takes Bonine’s head off and singles to center, scoring two runs. Mauer advances to second on the throw from Granderson.

With Mauer at second, Morneau hits one off the back of the plate that trampolines sky-high. Guillen camps under the ball to the back left of the mound, but fumbles it and he is charged with an error. The error is iffy, as the ball hung so high I don’t know if Guillen had a legit shot at Morneau at first.

Runners are on the corners and Jason Kubel takes aim at Bonine’s melon again, singling Mauer home with a liner to center. Bonine’s pitches are high in the zone and the Twins are making him pay. 3-0, Twins.

Chuck Hernandez takes a stroll to the mound to calm Bonine, but to no avail. It looks like somebody put a quarter in the merry-go-round: Following the mound visit, Bonine allows line-drive RBI singles to Young and Buscher, a harmless-looking inning suddenly turned into a five-spot for Minnesota.

Leyland has seen enough and the southpaw Casey Fossum is summoned to take on the bases loaded from the bullpen, Bonine failing to get out of the third for his first bad start with the big league club.

In what seems like a recurring theme this inning, Span hits a line drive to Guillen at third, whose knees buckle while making the catch for the third out in the inning. The Twins put up five runs on six hits – seven if you’re scoring with my discretion – and are delivering clutch hit after clutch hit, going 5 for 9 with runners in scoring position thus far.

Top fourth

Guillen grounds out to short to open the fourth and Thames reaches on an error a batter later, after Buscher makes a diving stop to his left but makes an errant throw to Morneau at first base. The ball tips out of Morneau’s glove. Again, I don’t like the error call. It was a diving stop!

Joyce grounds into a fielders choice and Blackburn strikes out Sheffield on a low fastball to end the inning. Give it a couple of innings and the Tigers will knock home a couple of runs, kick-starting their comeback trail, as they have the first couple games of the series.

Bottom fourth

My, my, my, Joe Mauer has such a beautiful swing. He lines one to the right of Guillen – who is playing near his old shortstop position in a shift – for his second hit of the game, with two outs in the fourth. He’s also one of the best looking guys in the league, but, uh, I feel weird writing that.

The back end of the “M&M Boys”, Morneau grounds out to second to end the inning and we head to the fifth with Minnesota leading, 5-0.

Top fifth

I guess if I had to make a choice, I’d say Renteria’s bat is Red Orange. It’s kind of different that such an even-keel personality has such a flamboyant bat color. It’s also amazing that with the personalities we have in the game today, that we don’t have guys strutting into the box with a lime green bat.

Anyways, Renteria’s Red Orange Crayola bat produces a fly out to left field for the second out, sandwiched between a Clete Thomas strikeout swinging and Sardinha groundout to shortstop for the final out.

Through five frames, Blackburn is dealing. 77 pitches through five innings, four strikeouts, no walks and only two hits allowed. Much like the first two starters this series, Glen Perkins and Scott Baker, Blackburn has been solid.

Bottom fifth

Minnesota puts up another run in the bottom of the fifth, Delmon Young scoring after his one-out double squeezed just inside the bag and to the right of Guillen at third. Young was then knocked in by Punto with two outs, who singled to left but was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double by Clete Thomas in left. Minnesota up by a touchdown – that of the missed extra-point variety – going into the sixth.

Top sixth

The Tigers enter the sixth being out-hit 10-2. They have recorded 10 hits in each of their last seven games, so if they are to prolong that streak, a comeback has to be in order.

Granderson leads off with a seven-pitch at-bat, resulting in a walk, followed by Polanco slapping a liner up the middle for a base hit. The Tigers are stringing some offense together for the first time today …

… but then there’s that Gomez guy again. With two on and no out, Guillen drives a pitch to center that looks like a hit but is taken away by Gomez’ speed, making a nice diving catch for the first out and a punch to the Tigers gut.

Thames flies out high to left-center a couple pitches into his at-bat, fielded by Gomez in center after he lost it in the dome. He camped under what he thought was the ball then had to switch directions quickly and made the catch, cracking a laugh after.

Gomez was the key piece in last winter’s Johan Santana deal with the New York Mets. He’s a very young player that has come onto the scene quicker than most expected, looking like a young outfield version of Jose Reyes.

Joyce grounds out to end the inning, an inning that saw a Tigers rally killed before it even started with Gomez’ diving catch in center.

Bottom sixth

The bottom of the sixth starts off in debacle-fashion: Span doubles opposite field to left-center, followed by that guy Gomez again, grounding one to the left of Renteria at short, who shuffles it to Ryan Raburn – a defensive sub for Guillen at third. The ball beats Span but he somehow gets his foot to the bag, much to the dismay of Raburn, who is trying to sell the tag that came too late.

Next up with runners on the corners, Casilla grounds to Renteria – the infield playing in – who pauses a second to hold Span at third then flips to Polanco at second. Right when he flips to Polanco, Span takes off for the plate and scores, and Casilla advances to second on the throw home. 7-0, Twins.

Mauer and Morneau each pop out with a man on second to end the inning.

Top seventh

Three up, three down, three pop outs. Thomas, Sheffield Renteria. Questions? No. Good. At stretch time in the Metrodome, it’s 7-0 Twins.

Bottom seventh

Nothing doing in the bottom of the seventh for the Twins besides Young’s second one-out double – and third hit – of the game. He is stranded on second after a Nick Punto groundout.

Casey Fossum has thrown over 50 pitches – he was starting in Triple-A Toledo – and he has done as good a job as you can ask for entering his situation. His innings-eating is helping Leyland, allowing him to rest some of his relievers for the upcoming series in Seattle.

Top eighth

Jesse Crain enters the game in the top of the eighth for Nick Blackburn, who pitched magnificently. His final line: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 4 K. No runs scored on Blackburn’s watch today.

Just when it looks like the Tigers are going to turn in another trio of fly outs, Polanco pulls a Justin Morneau from earlier in the game and slams one off the plate for an infield single. Polanco is replaced at first by Michael Hollimon.

Raburn follows with a line drive to the right-center gap that is cut-off just before the wall by Span. It’s the second time this game Span has saved a run with his speed, forcing Hollimon to pull up at third.

And with the Tigers first run of the game 90 feet away, Crain challenges the mighty, powerful, country strong Marcus Thames with a 94 M.P.H. fastball at the letters that Thames swings through for a strikeout.

Bottom eighth

Fernando Rodney replaces Fossum and strikes out that guy Gomez, seemingly keeping him off the base for the first time all series. Alexi Casilla then slaps one to Raburn at third and beats the throw.

It’s now no secret to why the Twins are a good baseball team: Speed. Their speed, from Gomez to Casilla to Span, puts so much pressure on opposing defenses and gives their pitchers an extra level of support. Minnesota has 102 infield hits this year, leading the A.L., 23 more than second-place Kansas City.

Rodney overthrows a fastball to Mauer, which Sardinha completely misses and ricochets off the padding behind home plate. The ball caroms all the way to first base, and Casilla, not missing a beat, advances all the way to third.

Mauer grounds out to end the inning.

Top ninth

Joyce, Sheffield and Thomas to start the ninth. Maybe they’ll start a seven-run rally. Probably not though.

Joyce grounds out to second and home plate umpire Tim Welke gets drilled by a Sheffield foul ball – the second time this game he’s taken one square off the mask. Umpires are underrated. Always have been, always will be.

Thomas flies out foul to Young just in front of the Twins bullpen mounds in left field to end the game and the series. Minnesota rocked Detroit for seven runs on 14 hits to the Tigers zero runs on five hits – four of them being singles.


As for the postgame analysis: The Tigers didn’t hit. That’s basically what it comes down to.

It’s not a sign of panic like earlier in the year, not when they have put together a handful plus two games of 10-hit baseball. Blackburn came out and executed his game plan and shut down the Tigers on a getaway day to Seattle.

Minnesota’s five-run third inning proved to be the undoing of today’s game, unraveling Tigers starter Eddie Bonine and giving Blackburn more than enough run support to win the series.

The Tigers now travel to Seattle for the final of their four trips to the West Coast. The Tigers are 5-1 against the lowly M’s and need to take care of their business to make sure they don’t fall any further behind Chicago and Minnnesota.

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