Monday, April 21, 2008

Live Tigers game blog; post thoughts


It’s a new week – the fourth of the young baseball season to be exact – and the Tigers are still looking for that groove. They are still searching for their first winning streak (two in a row doesn’t fit the bill for me), consistent pitching that doesn’t bow out halfway through the game, and Band-Aids in the bullpen that can stop the bleeding when need be.

But hey, just like for us fantasy baseball geeks out there, it’s a new week. Today, they will try to start strong and finish strong – if that makes any sense whatsoever – by attempting to salvage a split in the four-game series with the Blue Jays north of the border.

On the bump for the Tigers is Armando “Little Cat” Galarraga – in only his second start of the year after being called up from Toledo in the wake of Dontrelle Willis landing on the disabled list. Yes, I just made the “Little Cat” nickname up – and would like to trademark that if possible – with obvious regards to former five-time all star Andres Galarraga, whose nickname was “Big Cat”. Both are from Venezuela, but no word on if they are related or not.

His line Wednesday against Cleveland looked like this: 6.2 IP, 2 R/ER, 1 HA, 0 BB, 6 K. The key? No walks versus six strikeouts. Throughout his seven-year minor league career – he was signed by the now-defunct Montreal Expos as a 19-year old in 1998 – Little Cat sported a good 2.62 strikeout to walk ratio. So for as little as you can expect out of a youngster like this, you can count on him to pound the strike zone.

Lineup-wise, the Tigers are without Placido Polanco (back) and Gary Sheffield (shoulder).

Top first

Shawn Marcum’s first pitch is at 12:39, two minutes tardy of today’s game time of 12:37. All games in Toronto start on a seven. 1:07 … 7:07 … 12:37. I have no idea why, but it’s an interesting footnote to say the least. Baseball is weird with start times. In Chicago, the White Sox and 7-11 have an agreement that night home games start at 7:11.

Pudge battles Marcum through a nine-pitch at-bat – fouling six pitches off – and eventually doubles on a belt-high fastball into the left-center gap. Guillen and Ordonez can’t drive him in, popping out to short and flying out to right field, respectively.

Bottom first

Galarraga breezes through the first inning, starting his day by striking out David Eckstein on a nasty slider that fell off the table and had Eckstein flailing, followed by a fly out and a pop up. 11 pitches is all Little Cat needed to get through the first frame. No score after one inning.

Top second

Cabrera – last week’s co-A.L. Player of the Week, shared with Manny Ramirez – leads off with a walk, a look to the dugout, and a clap on the way to first base, as if to say “Let’s go!”

Jacque follows with a back-spinning soft liner hit to the shortstop Eckstein, who misplays the ball while charging it. The ball ricochets off of his knee and both runners are safe. Eckstein probably should have sat back on the ball as Cabrera was conceding second base instead of charging hard. Both runners are safe.

Renteria smacks one up the middle, moving Cabrera and Jones up a base, and Ryan Raburn – who missed a couple home runs by a few combined feet yesterday – takes Marcum’s offering and lines a single into right, scoring two. Whatever Marcum had getting through the first inning looks like it’s lost him. His pitches are flat and very hittable – and the Tigers are capitalizing.

Inge sacrifices Renteria home and following a Clete Thomas walk and Pudge singles past a diving Eckstein up the middle, scoring the Tigers fourth run this inning in the form of Ryan Raburn. These guys are teeing off on Marcum with no end in sight.

Swinging at yet another first pitch, Guillen grounds out, followed by an Ordonez walk and Cabrera grounding out to third to end the inning. The Tigers send 10 men to the plate in the big inning, and Marcum is laboring with 53 pitches thrown through two innings.

Bottom second

Now this is the kind of guy we need running our nation’s economy. Little Cat posts another efficient inning, looking very calm and collected in the process. He caps the half-inning catching Lyle Overbay looking at a very nice two-seam fastball right down the heart of the plate. 4-0 Tigers after two.

Top third

Bouncing back after the Tigers hung a crooked number on him an inning earlier, Marcum makes quick work of Jacque, Renteria, and Raburn, appearing to get back on track for the time being.

Bottom third

Galarraga weaves his way through the bottom third of the Jays order, walking a guy that prompts Pudge to take a visit to the mound – “You’re not allowed to do that,” jokes Mario about his first walk this season – and giving up a hit to put runners on the corners.

That pesky Eckstein lines a rope to Jacque in right, but the ball is hit too hard for Zaun to tag at third.

Shannon Stewart finally walks – he strolled out of the box on Little Cat’s 3-0 offering only to get called back – but should have been rung up on a 3-2 slider that caught the inside corner. These guys leaving the box assuming walks are really starting to get annoying. Not only does it make them look stupid half the time, but it’s sort of a shot at the umpire. Wait for the ump to make the call, then take your walk.

Aaron Hill grounds out to Renteria – making a tough on the run throw look easy like usual – to end the inning and leave the bases loaded for Toronto. Tigers up four after three.

Top fourth

Inge leads the inning off with his 10th walk of the season – and I think his new approach and discipline at the plate has just as much to do with his early season success as his new stance. He’ll strike out, but he’s not swinging at as much of the junk as he did last year.

A couple of force outs at second and a Guillen grounder put the Tigers away in the fourth. Marcum has rebounded and since throwing 53 pitches his first two innings, has thrown only 28 the past two.

Top fourth

With a steady diet of first-pitch fastballs, Galarraga finds himself in some trouble after Stairs and Overbay hit a pair of line-drive singles with one out.

Scutaro draws the Jays A.L.-leading 89th walk of the season to load the bases with one out for Gregg Zaun. Little Cat better be careful about grooving a first-pitch fastball because one swing can tie the game.

He strikes out Zaun with a sick slider that starts at the outside corner and disappears under Zaun’s hands by the time it crosses the plate. He has a strikeout slider and a get-me-over slider. Both are good, but the strikeout variety is nasty.

Inglett grounds out to Cabrera, who sprints to and through the bag all the way to the dugout because he needs to get his helmet and bat – he’s up second. Toronto has left the bases loaded each of the past two innings. Tigers still up four.

Top fifth

Ordonez, Cabrera and Jacque go down in order in the Tigers half of the fifth. Jacque is retired on a fly ball to right field and tosses his bat in irritation. It wasn’t an animated toss, yet one that shows he’s frustrated with the way he’s swinging his bat right now.

Bottom fifth

Eckstein – a busy bee, rocking back and forth and back and forth in the box – does his job and draws a walk, Galarraga’s fourth of the day. Lamont phones the bullpen, and Aquilino Lopez heats up.

Again, Stewart starts his stroll down the first base line before being awarded a walk. This time he even throws his bat aside before hearing the strike call. He has words with the home plate umpire and on the full-count pitch, grounds into a 5-4-3 double play. Serves him right.

Little Cat looks a little bit on the shaky side, his control waning, but manages to muster a strikeout of Aaron Hill to end the inning. It’s his fourth strikeout to go with four walks. Tigers up by four heading into the sixth.

Top sixth

Renteria leads off the sixth with a bang – a gopher ball that Marcum tried to sneak by … well, right down the middle. Renteria pulls his hands in and drives one over the left-field wall. After Raburn and Inge are retired, Marcum’s day is done. He looked done for in the second inning when the Tigers went bonkers and put up four, but somehow weathered the storm and gut out a few more innings.

Let me say this: I am going to miss Clete Thomas when and if he is sent back down or certainly when his playing time is cut when Granderson returns. He’s a hard-nosed player and his inside-out swing is absolutely beautiful. He singles to center and chugs to third when Pudge singles to right field a batter later.

Guillen pops out and the Tigers are out. Galarraga will most likely come back out, but on a short leash.

Bottom sixth

Little Cat’s day is done after retiring Rios, and chalk up another good start for the rookie. His final line is 5 1/3 IP, 3 HA, 0 R/0 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. After taking a seat in the dugout, the skipper comes and gives him a congratulatory pat on the back. Clay Rapada and his funky delivery enter the game – retiring a batter and allowing a single – and Leyland is right back to the mound to get the right-hander Lopez.

After a wild pitch, Lopez freezes Scutaro with a nice bender to end the inning. Tigers up 5-0 after six.

Top seventh

Mags strikes out on three consecutive pitches looking and Migs hits a deep fly ball to right center that is put away at the wall. The right-fielder Inglett makes contact with the wall and it somewhat opens like a door. Someone should probably check that out.

Bottom seventh

Lopez gets through the side, a Joe Inglett double over the head of a leaping Clete Thomas the only bump in the road this half of the inning. As I wonder if Stewart will finally get that walk he’s wanted oh so bad this game, he grounds out to Inge to end the inning. 5-0 Tigers after seven and the game should be well in hand. Who knows with the bullpen though.

Top eighth

It’s the dog days so-to-speak for a game blogger. Tigers up five in the eighth and just going through the motions on a getaway day as I let out my first yawn of the afternoon. Toronto reliever Jason Frasor sits Renteria, Inge, and Raburn down in order.

Bottom eighth

Denny Bautista comes out of the Tigers bullpen and seemingly can’t hit the broad side of a barn, walking Hill on four pitches before striking out Rios looking – with mainly breaking pitches. He retires Stairs, walks Overbay, and gets Scutaro to fly out to end the frame all while battling his erratic fastball.

Top ninth

Pudge collects his fourth hit of the day, followed a couple batters later by Ordonez lining a single to left. Shortly thereafter, the FSN cameras catch a comedic exchange between the two, with Ordonez tilting his head up to the sky, mimicking Pudge’s usual routine. Pudge shoots him a smile back, gives him a thumbs up, but hints that it’s not finished until you make the hand gestures. A smiling Ordonez complies, finishes the routine and shoots him a laugh back. To the ninth we go, Tigers up five.

Bottom ninth

Todd Jones comes into the ninth in a non-close situation and gives up a lead-off home run to Zaun. Zaun parks one into the second level in right field, but that’s all the Jays can do in the ninth, the game capped off with a brilliant Magglio Ordonez shoestring catch in right field. Tigers win, 5-0.


This was an important win – but aren’t they all at this point – to get some momentum heading into their six-game homestand against A.L. West squads Texas and Los Angeles. I think the upcoming week will be where you see this team really take off. Justin Verlander has two starts and he has pitched very well against the Rangers in his career, so this could be just what the doctor ordered.

The offense smelled blood early in the second inning and took full advantage of Marcum leaving pitches up in the zone, to the tune of four runs on three hits. The hits were solid and they sprinkled in a pair of walks, including Cabrera’s lead-off walk that set the tone for the inning, as he came around and scored.

Armando “Little Cat” Galarraga posted his second stellar start in a row, not allowing the Blue Jays that breakthrough hit that they needed. He fell into a couple of jams but buckled down, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings. He’s still young and raw, but the early returns are looking good.

Plain and simple, the team looked like they were on a mission today. They were focused, executed sharp, and seemed to be having fun out there. You could tell this by observing Cabrera fire up the team after a walk in the second inning, to which he gave the dugout a glance, said “Let’s go!” and put his hands together.

This was an important win – but aren’t they all at this point – to get some momentum heading into their six-game homestand against A.L. West squads Texas and Los Angeles. I think the upcoming week will be where you see this team really take off. Justin Verlander has two starts and he has pitched very well against the Rangers in his career, so this could be just what the doctor ordered.

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