Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tigers at Royals game blog July 23


The Tigers look to prolong their post-All-Star Break winning ways with a sweep against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium – a stadium notoriously recognized by its outfield fountains – in Kansas City, the City of Fountains. Anyone else think there’s a direct correlation between the two?

Detroit rookie Armando Galarraga (7-4, 3.41 ERA) takes the hill against Kansas City’s Zack Greinke (7-6, 3.90) – whose baby face seems to indicate he’s the rookie in this matchup, rather than a 24-year-old veteran who has battled through a history of personal barriers in his five-year career.

Something has to give in today’s pitching duel, with Greinke’s 3-0 home record and 2.39 home ERA – about 2 ½ points lower than his road splits – facing Galarraga’s 5-2 road record and 2.85 road ERA – about 1 ½ points lower than his respective home statistics.

Greinke is 1-0 in two starts against the Tigers this season with an ERA just a shade above two and Galarraga hasn’t faced the Royals but has been dominant in matinee games, with a 3-0 record and 1.17 ERA in four daytime starts.

The Tigers have been beating the pulp out of Royals pitching – not even a two-hour rain delay could dampen the offense – and have gained three games on the Minnesota Twins after they have dropped three in a row.

Both Minnesota and Chicago have already kicked off and I’ll keep you updated as the games progress.

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

Royals lineup: DeJesus DH, Aviles SS, Grudzielanek 2B, J. Guillen LF, Gordon 3B, Teahen RF, Olivo C, Gload 1B, Gathright CF

Rod Allen comments on Greinke’s home prowess by simply stating, “He’s comfortable at the crib.” I couldn’t have put it any better.

Kansas City is donning their sexy, 1980’s-style powder blue uniforms. And when I say sexy, I mean it. If I didn’t have a personal rule that restricted me from sporting any other A.L. Central colors, it’d be in my closet as we speak.

Top first

Granderson leads off the game with a hard-fought walk, fouling off two high fastballs in a 2-2 count, before watching the last two pitches all the way to first base.

Leyland is immediately putting the pedal to the medal, employing a hit-and-run on the very first pitch with Polanco, who slaps it through the right side of the infield. The play looks executed to perfection, except Granderson doesn’t get a read on the ball, instead standing a few feet past second base with his hands outstretched, taking a look to the outfield then to third base coach Gene Lamont then back to the outfield, as if to say “What in the world?” Oh well. I can live with a Granderson gaffe once in a while, especially if it doesn’t result in an out.

Guillen, up to the plate with two on and no out, chases a high Greinke fastball and heads back to the bench for strike three. Three fastballs, two fouled off and one big strikeout.

Magglio Ordonez picks up right where he left off in last night’s three-hit affair, singling to right on Greinke’s second offering, scoring Granderson from second. Cabrera up with runners on the corner and one out, a big swing away from opening that cut from the first two games very early.

Greinke challenges Cabrera with a steady dose of high fastballs – two of which he fouls off – before striking him out swinging on a full count, with Ordonez running at first. The throw comes down to second on a line, but Ordonez is nowhere in sight. The second baseman Grudzielanek looks home – where Polanco scores – before Ordonez is tagged out in a run down. An absolutely brilliant play by both Ordonez and Polanco, who basically stole a run from the Royals with great baserunning.

On the replays, they show Ordonez coming to a halt after the ball is sent to second, retreating and glancing at Polanco, who trots home.

It’s your run-of-the-mill 1-4-3 double play to end the inning, but the Tigers score twice in the opening frame and it’s 2-0.

Bottom first

Galarraga sets down the Royals in order, throwing a dandy of a breaking ball to the leadoff hitter DeJesus, who loses his bat to the backstop before he lines out to short.

After a seven pitch at-bat with DeJesus, he retires Grudzy – sick of typing out Grudzielanek, so get used to it – and rookie Mike Aviles in four pitches, on a weak groundout and fly out, respectively.

2-0 Tigers after one, 2-0 Yankees over Twins in the bottom of the sixth, and 3-1 White Sox in the top of the second.

Top second

The sweet-swinging Matt Joyce reaches to lead off the second on a ball down the left field line that has three Royals converging, with major-collision-and-injury written all over it. The shortstop Aviles misses the ball amidst the chaos and Joyce ends up standing on second.

Sheffield puts a charge into a 94 MPH fastball and it’s deep and looking like it will drop on or before the warning track in left center, but is tracked down by the speedy Joey Gathright for two outs. Joyce fails to advance to third …

… but does advance two pitches later when Greinke skips a wild pitch past his battery, Miguel Olivo, all the way to the backstop.

Royals manager Trey Hillman decides to move in the infield, with one out and a man on third in the top of the second. Not a bad idea because the way the Tigers have been scoring and the lack thereof for his club, runs are at a premium.

Renteria punches a bloop base hit into left field, scoring Joyce and giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead.

Inge and Granderson are retired on a pop out to short and a sharp grounder to the first baseman Ross Gload, who makes a nifty play, much to Granderson’s despair. Tigers out in the second but up 3-0.

Bottom second

The G-Train – I didn’t want to use Galarraga to start off a sentence again – keeps rolling, freezing the temperamental Jose Guillen with a slider right down the pipe for strike three, and inducing ground balls to the left side of the infield off the bats of Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen.

Six up and six down for Galarraga through two, throwing only 18 pitches so far.

Your personal A.L. Central out-of-town scoreboard: Yankees score three in the bottom of the sixth, leading the Twins 5-0, and the Rangers score two in the top of the second to tie the White Sox at three in the Windy City. So far, so good.

Top third

The well-oiled machine that has become the Tigers offense just keeps chugging to start the third. Polanco drops one perfectly between Gathright in center and Grudzy at second and the batting-gloveless Guillen draws a walk to put two on with no outs for the hit machine Ordonez.

Mags grounds out softly to Gordon at third, whose only play is at first, advancing both runners for Cabrera.

Cabrera has been hitting ropes as of late. This at-bat is no different, smoking Greinke’s first-pitch fastball offering into left field, scoring two runs and the Tigers now lead by a handful.

This could get ugly really fast, which means this blog could get really boring fast.

Greinke shows flashes of his once-effective stuff – and by once-effective I mean before today and his last start against Chicago, where he was shelled for seven runs – striking out Joyce and Sheffield on good breaking balls to end the Tigers half of the third, stranding Cabrera at first.

Bottom third

Well, that didn’t take long. Galarraga strikes out Olivo swinging on the first three pitches of the inning, all sliders, all swung on, and all missed.

Gload bounces one over a leaping Galarraga, into the glove of Renteria, positioned just behind second base for the second out of the inning.

Galarraga’s stuff today is nasty. He’s throwing his slider at two different speeds and getting swings like Gathright’s on a 0-1 pitch. You can almost hear him talk to himself as the pitch comes: “Should I … I mean … No, don’t … But … Ah!” That conversation producing a half-hearted swing that looked u-u-ugly.

Two strikeouts in the third, three on the game for Galarraga.

I’m late in submitting this so no out-of-town scoreboard this inning.

Top fourth

Apparently the guys in the booth are reading today’s blog. First, today’s AFLAK trivia question: What’s the only city that has more fountains than Kansas City? Then they head into a long rant about the Royals sexy jerseys. Both guys kind of like them but kind of don’t. Thanks for reading guys.

Inge singles through the left side of the infield with one out, but nothing is doing after Granderson lines out to second and Polanco pops out to short.

Tigers out in the fourth, leading 5-0.

Bottom fourth

Rome. I knew it. I knew Rome had more fountains than Kansas City. “At first, I thought it was Italy. But Italy isn’t a city,” Mario says.

You know, I’m starting to like Galarraga today more and more after every inning. You know why? I have to type less and less.

This is how the bottom of the fourth went: Out. Out. Out.

Sure, Aviles might have fell down out of the box on the second out and Renteria bobbled the third out – eerily reminding me of Guillen’s errors at short last year – but that’s just splitting hairs.

He’s pitching good. Very good, to be exact. 12 up, 12 down. Tigers lead, 5-0.

A.L. Central out-of-town scoreboard: Yankees still lead the Twins by five in the middle of the eighth and Texas goes ahead, 4-3, on a David Murphy RBI groudout.

Top fifth

Greinke strikes out the Detroit side in the fifth, which, by my calculation, was Guillen, Ordonez and Cabrera. He’s got seven strikeouts, and that would be impressive if he hadn’t given up five runs earlier in the game.

Greinke’s a strikeout pitcher with good stuff, coming into the game with 106 strikeouts, good for 24th in the league.

Strikeouts or no strikeouts, Tigers lead by a handful.

Back to the Armando Galarraga show in the bottom of the fifth …

Bottom fifth

… and he picks up right where he left off, with Alex Gordon flailing at a full-count slider that started at the bottom half of the zone and ended up an inch off the ground for the second out of the inning.

Galarraga has been masterful the first half of this ballgame, throwing 14 first-pitch strikes to the first 15 batters.

He’s recorded five strikeouts – mostly on sliders – eight groundouts and only two fly outs. 15 up and 15 down so far. Tigers lead, 5-0 after five.

Top sixth

Nothing doing for the Tigers in the sixth, as Greinke officially establishes an impressive rhythm of his own, now retiring 12 straight after a weak groundout, his eighth strikeout – Sheffield’s the victim – and a weak popout.

Bottom sixith

Galarraga opens the Royals half of the sixth with yet another first-pitch strike, a slider that Olivo swung on top of, followed by a biting slider out of the zone that Olivo merely waves at. Three balls later, Olivo swings and misses at, you guessed it, a slider.

Today’s Belle Tire pitch-by-pitch is simply titled “Filthy,” followed by a series of wanna-be swings by the Royals on Galarraga fastballs. Nice touch, guys.

Gload is retired on a threatening bloop that settles into Joyce’s glove in left, followed by the speedy – and I swear I’ve called him this three times now – Gathright nearly beating a slapper up the middle, but Renteria fires to Cabrera and beats him by half a step.

18 up, 18 down for Armando Galarraga. He’s been efficient, dominant, and, not to be too cliché, filthy so far.

Top seventh

Greinke is relieved by Horacio Ramirez, who I believe played for Atlanta back in the day. In times like these, is a man’s best friend.

Granderson triples with one out, and I just have to wonder if everyone is guilty of taking Curtis Granderson for granted the way I am. Each and every time he finds the wall or gap, I think triple. Some of the time he gets it, some of the time he doesn’t. But I’m jaded and now it’s expected of him. But something tells me it’s expected of himself as well.

With the infield drawn in, Polanco hits a sharp grounder, corralled by Grudzy at second for the second out of the inning.

The batting-gloveless Carlos Guillen is batting-gloveless no more. He appears at the plate with two outs and a runner on third with his mitts on for the first time this game, trying to punch across another insurance run.

The gloves play no part, as Guillen walks.

A batter later, Ordonez drives in that all-important sixth run of the game when you’re ahead by five. He singles to left field, scoring Granderson. Guillen advances to third.

The ever-hot Miguel Cabrera then singles opposite-field over the head of Grudzy to drive in Guillen from third. It’s Cabrera’s third RBI of the game and his 71st of the year.

A.L. Central out-of-town scoreboard: Yankees defeat Minnesota, 5-1, and Texas leads the White Sox at Comiskey – yes, Comiskey – 6-4 in the bottom of five.

This means with a win, the Tigers creep closer to Minnesota – to the tune of three games – with each team having a four-game streak in opposite directions. Key words: With a win.

Bottom seventh

Well that’s a downer. I suppose I can pull out my phone from underneath the couch and call my friend Verm back and ask him “Why would you call me to tell me he’s throwing a no-hitter? No. Seriously. Why?”

David DeJesus singles on a full-count inside fastball into left field and the possibilities of both a no-hitter and perfect game have disappeared.

The words of wisdom from one Mr. Allen still ring in my head as Aviles flies out to right, “Make ‘em beat you with your best pitch.” But hindsight is always 20-20 and the battery probably figured DeJesus would be sitting slider.

After a one-out walk, Jose Guillen grounds one past an outstretched Renteria into center field and DeJesus scores.

Naturally, there has to be a massive letdown after pitching perfect through six innings and letting it go. These guys know what’s going on. The adrenaline simmers and the focus dimmers. It’s called being human.

Right after a mound visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, Alex Gordon singles into left on the first pitch of his third plate appearance, loading the bases with one out.

After allowing three hits in the seventh – three more than he had allowed the first six innings – Galarraga buckles down and tosses another trio of unhittable sliders, striking out Teahen for the second time this game and inducing a fly out off the bat of Olivo.

Fairly disappointed that I can’t put “21 up, 21 down” in this spot, we go to the eighth inning with the Tigers ahead, 7-1. And I can call my friend back and give him an earful.

Top eighth

Sheffield pops out to first amidst FSN highlights of Jon Lester’s no-hitter from earlier in the year, Verlander’s from last year and Jack Morris’ no-no at Comiskey in 1984, followed by a list of Tigers no-hitters. There’s nothing like pouring salt into the wounds of what could have been, right?

Renteria singles, Inge grounds out and Granderson flies out to end the Tigers eighth inning.

Before cutting to commercial, Casey Fossum emerges from the Tigers bullpen to relieve Galarraga, who turned in quite the performance today.

A.L. Central out-of-town scoreboard: Jarrod Saltalamacchia – he of the longest name in baseball history, with 14 letters – delivers a two-out two-RBI single to put Texas ahead by four, 8-4, over the White Sox, going into the bottom of the seventh.

Bottom eighth

As the southpaw takes the hill, Galarraga’s final line looks like this: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K. The seven strikeouts are a career high for the rookie.

Fossum navigates through the bottom of the eighth with only one blip on the radar screen: A double by that guy. DeJesus, who broke up the no-hitter just an inning earlier.

Through eight frames, Tigers lead, 7-1.

Top ninth

The Tigers load the bases in the top half of the ninth – Polanco led off with a walk, followed two batters later by Ordonez cashing in his second straight three-hit game – but fail to push a run across after Sheffield pops up to Gordon at third.

Tigers up six going into the ninth, with Todd Jones entering the game to get some work in before their weekend showdown with the White Sox at Comerica Park.

Bottom ninth

Jones comes in and breezes through an inning of work but doesn’t escape without a scary moment – a high and inside pitch that tailed into Jose Guillen’s left shoulder, just missing his head.

A groundout off the bat of Mark Teahen, scored 4-3, ends it, and the Tigers sweep the Royals, 7-1.

And for the last A.L. Central out-of-town scoreboard: Chicago tallies a run in both the bottom of the seventh and eighth, now trailing Texas by two, 8-6. Hold your breath, Tigers fans.


The Tigers did what they needed to do in Kansas City – and then some. After a four-game split in Baltimore, where they put up 45 hits, they come to the City of Fountains and put up 43 in three games, outscoring the Royals 33-6.

Since the downtrodden start, the motto has been to win each series to get themselves back into the race, but when faced with an inferior opponent, they need to capitalize and sweep series more times than not. That’s exactly what they did here.

The offensive juggernaut we expected at the start of the year has finally come to form, with almost every player firing on all cylinders, but not to be ignored is the consistent and solid starting pitching that we’ve seen in the week since the break that saw the Tigers go 5-2.

Miguel Cabrera is on track and is primed for a post-All-Star Break explosion. His average is again creeping towards .300 – Miggy’s at .290 right now – and he’s smacking the ball around with authority.

Now down three games to Minnesota – and possibly shaving a game off Chicago’s lead depending on today’s finish at U.S. Cellular – this weekend’s series with the White Sox looms large.

The surprising Gavin Floyd takes on Nate Robertson Friday night, John Danks takes on resurgent ace Justin Verlander on Saturday night and Javier Vazquez duels with Zach Miner on Sunday.

Clearly, the Tigers need to take the series to inch even closer to Chicago in the standings, hopefully replicating the last time the White Sox took a trip to Comerica – a three-game sweep in mid-June.

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