Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blue Jays at Tigers game blog Aug. 14


Fasten your seatbelts, folks, because history could be made today at Comerica Park. It’s not the kind of history Tigers fans want to see made, nor is it the kind of history anybody really cares about.

But after the opening three games of this series have embedded an image of a Tigers squad falling off the baseball map, desperately trying to cling on to anything to stop their freefall, we turn to the opening page of today’s Toronto Blue Jays game notes. (Talk about investigative journalism!)

Here is the second bulletin for today’s game: “The Blue Jays are looking to sweep the Tigers in a 4-game series for the 1st time in club history”

So there you have it. Either the Tigers win today, or they go down in history as the only Tiger team in history to drop a four-game set to their brothers from north of the border. And that’s just embarrassing.

Sarcasm aside, it’s been a lowly 20 games since the Tigers swept Kansas City, looking primed for a second-half run. In that span, the club has gone 7-13 – 3-7 in their previous ten – and has seen their bullpen go from bad to seemingly improved to bad to worse to “UGH!”, their playoff hopes going from maybe to non-existent.

Stellar rookie Armando Galarraga (10-4, 3.23 ERA) takes the hill against the recently recalled Jesse Litsch (8-7, 4.46). Galarraga’s second start this season came in Toronto, where he held the Blue Jays scoreless in 5 2/3 innings for the win.

Litsch opened his 2008 campaign on fire, with an April and May record of 7-1. Since June he has gone 16 with an ERA just above six, earning him a demotion to Triple-A Syracuse, where he made three starts. This is his first start since his demotion.

Blue Jays lineup: 2B Inglett, 3B Scutaro, RF Rios, CF Wells, DH Stairs, LF Lind, 1B Overbay, C Zaun, SS McDonald

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

Top First

Galarraga delivers today’s first pitch at six minutes past one, the weather an absolutely perfect 81-degree day with the sun shining through a small patch of clouds. With the team reeling, it’s days like this that keep the stands looking healthy.

Two pitches later, Toronto leadoff man Joe Inglett singles to right.

Marco Scutaro grounds a pitch sharply up the middle but Polanco takes a few steps to his right and snags it with a backhand and flips to Renteria for the force out.

Alex Rios follows by ripping a hanging Galarraga slider down the left field line – but just foul. Later in the at-bat, Rios grounds out to Inge, who forces Scutaro out at second. Rios beats the throw at first.

Last night’s villain – hitting a grand slam for Toronto’s only runs of the game – Vernon Wells grounds out to short to end the inning.

Bottom first

Granderson leads off with a deep fly to right center, straight at the scoreboard, looking like either a home run or an easy Granderson triple, but Rios catches up with the fly at the warning track, the wind helping to keep that one in the yard.

With two outs, Ordonez walks and Cabrera goes down on your normal 3-4-1 putout to end the inning. Lyle Overbay dove to his left, got leather on the ball but it skirted past him, only to be corralled by Inglett at second and flipped to the pitcher Litsch for the out.

Top second

Former Tiger Matt Stairs looks at strike three to open the top half of the second. If you don’t remember Stairs donning the Old English D, don’t fret because most people don’t. His defining moment as a Tiger came in the final game of the 2006 regular season, when his 8th inning home run against Kansas City wasn’t enough to propel the team to a division title.

After an Adam Lind walk, Overbay flies out to left and Gregg Zaun takes a called strike three to end the inning, Galarraga’s second called strikeout of the inning.

Bottom second

“BOO! ... first pitch … BOO! … second pitch …” That’s some guy sitting in the section behind the Jays dugout, trying to scare Sheffield off. The boos have considerably tapered off since Monday – think his two homers on Tuesday have anything to do with it? – but as he strikes out swinging, the tension between Sheffield and the fans remains.

Litsch strikes out Joyce on a nasty full count breaking ball for the second out.

Renteria singles through the hole at short and on the next pitch to Inge, he’s plunked in the shoulder, but the Tigers can’t capitalize. Backup catcher Sardinha – with a make-a-wish average of .111 at the time – grounds out to Litsch to end the inning. Through two at Comerica, no score.

Top third

Another former Tiger, John McDonald, leads off the third inning for Toronto and slaps one to the middle of the diamond, where Renteria closes in on the ball, retrieves it and takes one too many steps and fires late to first. McDonald was busting down the line and beats the throw. Renteria has to know the runner and his clock has to tell him that he can’t take the extra step and near-double clutch to get the runner out. The play is scored a single.

Inglett strikes out unjustly on an appeal to third base for the first out of the inning. Replays show his wrists never broke, keeping the bat head behind the plate. The pitch before was a backdoor slider that just missed the outside corner, so I’m thinking that had a little something to do with the appeal.

With two out and a man on first, Rios gave Galarraga all that he could ask for and more. It was an epic 11-pitch at-bat with five straight two-strike foul balls – one of which went straight into one of the TV or radio booths to my left – finally ending with Rios swinging over a Galarraga slider for his fourth strikeout.

Bottom third

Granderson draws a walk to open the third but that goes for naught as Polanco grounds into a 6-4-3 double play five pitches into his at-bat for a twin killing.

Magglio grounds hard into the hole at short and is nearly thrown out by an off-balance McDonald, but Magglio switches into his Michael Phelps-like second gear halfway down the line and beats the throw.

Cabrera grinds through a seven-pitch at-bat but ultimately grounds out to Litsch to end the inning. No score after three.

Top fourth

Inge records the first two outs of the fourth in typical Inge fashion. First, Wells hits a rocket to third that he plays on the short hop, then Stairs rolls one to his left – in shortstop territory, I might add – that he pounces on before delivering a dart that Cabrera scoops at first. Not bad for a catcher.

Lind flies out to end Galarraga’s first 1-2-3 inning of the day. Through four innings, he stands at 59 pitches.

Bottom fourth

Sheffield grounds out softly to lead off, the boos picking up with both outs made today, followed by Joyce nearly finding the hole at second base but he’s denied a base hit when Inglett makes a diving stop to his left for the second out of the inning.

Renteria lines out to third and we head to the fifth in a scoreless tie.

Top fifth

Galarraga’s fifth inning line one pitch in: One pitch, one hit, one run. Lyle Overbay disposes of the initial offering about 10 rows deep in right field, giving the Jays a 1-0 lead. The pitch was belt-high, right where they like ‘em.

After retiring the next two batters, Galarraga finds himself in a little bit of trouble after allowing two singles to Inglett and Scutaro. Scutaro’s single was a high chopper that hit off the hard dirt right in front of home plate, bounced once, then off of Galarraga’s right hand who tried to bare-hand the ball. Two on, two outs with Rios at the plate.

Did you know Alex Rios – whose non-abbreviated first name is Alexis – was born in Alabama? Neither did I, until I watched a Jays game on CBC earlier this year. Useless information aside, the Alabama-born Rios grounds to Renteria, who flips to Polanco for the ever-dangerous looking third out. Once again, Renteria needs to speed up that internal clock because it looked like Scutaro was very, very close to being safe on that play.

Tigers down one going into the bottom of the fifth, 1-0.

Bottom fifth

Inge flies out to right, Sardinha pops out to second base in the middle of the diamond, nearly touching the heavens in the process, and Granderson strikes out swinging in the Tigers fifth.

Litsch is pitching very well. He has three strikeouts and has limited the Tigers to only two hits, both singles. Jays up, 1-0 through five.

Top sixth

Wells grounds out to start the inning, followed by Stairs walking. Lind battles through an at-bat but finally flies out hard to Granderson for the second out.

Overbay grounds out to Polanco to end the inning and Galarraga is through six innings with his pitch count hovering right over the 90-pitch mark.

Bottom sixth

With one out, Magglio flies out deep on the first pitch he sees to the warning track in left field.

Cabrera bloops a pitch into right center between the second baseman Inglett and the centerfielder Wells for a two-out hit.

Sheffield then grounds one hard into the hole at short where McDonald makes a nifty play, leaping and delivering the throw in mid-air to second, where Cabrera is forced out by a step. 1-0 Toronto after six innings of play.

Both pitchers are pitching well, only allowing eight hits between them.

Top seventh

Galarraga trots – yes, he trots versus the majority of other pitchers walking – back out to the mound to start the seventh and promptly induces two fly outs to Ordonez in right.

On a 1-2 count to Inglett, Galarraga freezes him with a fastball right down the pipe, possibly his last pitch of the game, No. 108. The strikeout is his sixth of the game.

Bottom seventh

Matt Joyce leads off the Tigers seventh, with the crowd still on its feet after the seventh inning stretch. And stretch a couple runs across is exactly what the Tigers need to do right about now.

Joyce lines a single up the middle for the Tigers first leadoff baserunner of the game.

Renteria flies to left for the first out of the inning.

Litsch’s first pitch to Inge registers as his 106th of the game, and the Jays have double-barreled action in their bullpen – both a righty and lefty.

Inge grounds sharply down the third-base line, the ball fielded by Scutaro after two steps to his left. He forces Joyce out at first, but Inge beats the double play throw to keep the Tigers seventh alive.

Sardinha pops out to Inglett – who drifted to right field – to end the inning.

In his first start back from the minors, Litsch has dealt the Tigers seven innings of shutout ball, allowing only four hits. 1-0 Toronto after seven innings of play.

Top eighth

Jim Leyland elects to leave Galarraga in the ballgame, and with one out, Rios triples into the right-center gap. Granderson appeared to misplay the ball just a little bit, but the misplay wouldn’t have mattered, as Rios – who has good speed – was motoring around second before the ball reached Granderson.

With one out and Rios on third, Galarraga is pitching to the dangerous Mr. Wells with the infield brought in.

On a 3-1 pitch, Wells grounds one up the middle, a ball that looks like it will scoot through the cheating infield. Renteria takes one step to his left, dives, not coming up with the ball cleanly but keeping it in the infield. Rios can’t advance and the shortstop collects himself and throws Wells out at first.

Leyland is still leaning on Galarraga – with two pitchers up in the ‘pen – and Galarraga delivers, inducing a groundout off the bat of Stairs to Polanco at second.

Kudos to the skipper for letting Galarraga earn his stripes out on the mound. Experience like this for a young pitcher is invaluable, especially for a pitcher like Galarraga, who has shown his resiliency and mental toughness more than any pitcher on the staff.

With two at-bats left, the Tigers need to tally a run. Blue Jays 1, Tigers 0.

Bottom eighth

Granderson smokes one deep to the wall in right center, only to be denied of an extra-base hit for the second time today as three-time Gold Glove winner Wells outstretches his left arm behind his head and makes a wonderful catch a handful of feet away from the scoreboard. Patrolling the outfield in Toronto, Wells won three straight Gold Gloves between 2004-06.

Toronto manager Cito Gaston calls to his bullpen – southpaw Jesse Carlson entered the game strictly to face Granderson – for the right-handed Jason Frasor.

Frasor quickly falls behind Polanco 3-0, but works his way back, ultimately walking Polanco on a low pitch in the dirt.

Ordonez flies out to center, putting Cabrera at the dish with two outs and a runner on first.

Frasor uncorks a wild pitch and Polanco advances to second. It’s a big play that won’t get much pub in the box score, because now the tying run is on second and a base hit will most likely get the job done.

Cabrera comes through and singles hard through the hole at short. Polanco rounds third and heads for home, looking to score easily and does. Lind air-mails the ball from left field, over Zaun’s head and Cabrera reaches second base. Tigers tie the game at one in the eighth.

Oh, the irony in baseball. Toronto elects to intentionally walk Sheffield, drawing a symphonic array of boos from the crowd. Earlier in the game, Sheffield was receiving the boos, now the fans are booing the Jays for walking him. Two on, two out for Matt Joyce.

Joyce walks to load the bases for Renteria.

I had just enough time between the at-bats to get up, grab a pop, and get back into my seat by the time the Tigers had the lead. Renteria delivers on a first-pitch 94-MPH fastball that he laces into the left-center gap for a double, scoring two Tigers on the play.

The healthy crowd at Comerica has shown its first signs of life with the Tigers newfound lead.

Toronto makes a pitching change and Inge is up with runners on second and third and two outs.

Inge lines a single past the diving Scutaro into left field, plating two more Tigers, the good guys exploding for five runs in the bottom of the eighth – all with two outs.

Sardinha strikes out to end the big inning, and the team gets a round of applause as they try to close the game out in the ninth.

5-1, Tigers, with one to play.

Top ninth

Fernando Rodney jogs out to the mound to face Lind, Overbay and Zaun in the ninth as the Tigers try to avoid the four-game sweep.

Rodney retires the side in order, capping the game with two strikeouts, the last of which saw Zaun trotting down the first base line with an expected walk, only to be punched out at home.

Tigers win, 5-1 and avoid the sweep at home.


Both pitchers, Galarraga and Litsch, threw gems for their respective teams. Galarraga’s only blemish was a solo home run to Overbay in the fifth and Litsch shut down the Tigers through seven, only to see the bullpen squander his lead in the eighth.

When people look at the box score, they will see five Tigers runs in the bottom frame of the eighth. The five is important but the fact that all five came with two outs carries more weight.

I’m not even going to reference any kind of playoff race right here, because their play as of late doesn’t condone that. There’s nothing that we’ve seen as of late that indicates this squad is capable of putting together the kind of winning streak that is required to pull back into the race. Today’s win was nice, but it’s just a win.

Now the Tigers look forward to a weekend series at home against the Baltimore Orioles, who they split a four-game set with right after the All-Star break.

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