The Detroit Tigers, combined with yet another loss by the reeling White Sox, claimed ownership of first place with a come from behind 5-4 win over the Kansas City Royals last night. The Tigers haven’t had sole possession of 1st place since July 23rd – over 2 months.
With 7 games to go they can make their own way now, rather than relying on others to get them home. Prior to last night’s game there was quiet concern over how Rick Porcello would fare. I wrote yesterday on how Jim Leyland needed to have bullpen arms ready to roll at the first sign of trouble.
Credit last night’s win to the man who has been taking shots all season long – Jim Leyland. Detroit took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd only to watch Porcello give up 3 quick runs in the top of the 3rd. Leyland gave Porcello one more inning, which included a Jeff Francouer home run, and that was it.
Leyland and the Tigers trailed 4-1 entering the bottom of the 4th. Porcello’s night was done as Luis Marte was getting hot in the pen. Leyland pulled Porcello at the right time, no question.
The Tigers offense answered quickly in the bottom of the 4th with a shocking and monster blast 2-run homer by Alex Avila into the right-centerfield seats. Two batters later Austin Jackson launched his career-high 16th homer of the season into left-center to tie the game at 4.
Marte recorded 2 strikeouts, which sandwiched an Alex Gordon double in the top of the 5th. Leyland wisely went to his strikeout artist Al “Senor Slider” Alburquerque to get the final out, and he did, via the punchout.
Alburquerque breezed through the 6th before giving up a leadoff single to the speedy Irving Falu in the 7th. This is where Leyland went to work. He waited out a David Lough popup for the first out. With Alcides Escobar at the plate, Leyland called for the pitchout on the first pitch of the at-bat. Royals manager Ned Yost was caught red-handed as Falu was caught stealing, quieting a potential rally. Alburquerque struck Escobar out to end the inning.
Benoit pitched a fairly uneventful 8th and this is where it got interesting. Leyland has gone to Jose Valverde in the 9th inning of tie games with regularity this season, and that decision has often been met with Grande failure. If the Tigers couldn’t score in the 8th, what would Leyland do? Well, he wasn’t taking that chance.
After Delmon Young mustered up an infield single (true story!) Don Kelly was summoned from the bench to pinch run. Kelly quickly stole second on a play that could have gone either way. The steal was just the 2nd of the year by Kelly. Andy Dirks promptly singled to left but Kelly had to hold at 3rd with Gordon’s golden arm waiting to burn anyone down at home plate that dare try.
Up came Jhonny Peralta. As has so often been the case this year in big situations, a bottom of the order hitter slapped into what appeared to be a rally-ending double play. Peralta grounded to short, was running through quicksand on his way to 1st and would have been toast. Escobar fired to Falu at 2nd who was met head on by an Andy Dirks freight train. Falu never got the throw off and the Tigers took a 5-4 lead.
Leyland was able to go to Valverde with a 1-run lead in the 9th instead, a much more comfortable proposition than a tie game, and the Big Potato got it done.
Division lead in hand. 7 games to go. Leyland is on his game. The Tigers are starting to have the moments (Anibal Sanchez complete game) and make the plays you’d expect (Dirks breaking up the double play to allow the go-ahead run to score) of a team that wants more out of their season than a 2nd place finish.
Just make the playoffs. It’s a free-for-all from there.
Notes: Max Scherzer has experienced a setback with his deltoid injury and may not start again during the regular season. Enter rookie Drew Smyly for 2 big starts with the first one coming tomorrow at Minnesota. Leyland has confirmed what we suspected – Justin Verlander will not pitch on 3 days rest. The drama builds…