By: Eric Thomas
When the Tigers finally finished their Wednesday / Thursday game against the Mariners around 2:30 AM EST, it was a classic. Torii Hunter threw relayed a laser to Prince Fielder who threw out a charging Justin Smoak, the game ended in a collision that left backup catcher Brayan Pena gasping with the ball held high. Few games in April make you stand up and cheer, but the game certainly did if you had the stamina to last until early this morning.
To be honest, many Detroiters probably didn’t see the end of the game. They probably gave it their best, sitting with increasingly droopy eyes and exaggerated yawns before the reality of a school night beckoned them to bed. You missed a truly great game, for a likely noble reason, hopefully not because you turned it off when Villarreal entered the game in the tenth inning.
As much as press as the Tiger’s offense gets, the starting pitching has been sensational. The duel between King Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer was exactly as advertised; the two pitchers pounded the strike zone for eight innings before surrendering to the bullpen. Both performances were brilliant, but were sadly forgotten by the scorecard when the game yawned into the fourteenth inning. It’s hard to say who the Tiger’s true number two starter is; all four in the rotation could be the ace on almost any team in the league.
King’s performance, along with the solid contribution from the bullpen, smothered the Tiger’s potent lineup for much of the game, allowing only one run until the top of the fourteenth. Prince Fielder went 0 for 6 with FIVE strikeouts. Miggy went 1 for 6. Austin Jackson went 1 for 7. Numbers like these don’t usually result in wins; the team struck out 21 times and tied a team single game record for strikeouts from 1996.
That’s the thing that Tiger fans should feel good about. While last year the five through nine positions in the lineup would have had to stand on their collective toes to achieve anemic, this year has been the opposite. The big guys are getting their hits, and the back half of the lineup is getting on base. If you forgive the cliché, since yrs. truly has been up since after the game ended, this team has a plucky determination that never emerged last year. The Tigers seem a lot more comfortable with their status as World Series favorite while they continue to scrap for wins.
Not that the game was a layup. Jim Leyland brought Brayan Villarreal and his 34.71 ERA to the mound with the game on the line, proving that the skipper has a ribald sense of humor. Tiger fans twisted with their nausea while the hard throwing right hander walked two batters, seemingly unable to throw a strike, but he got out of it when he struck out Franklin Gutierrez swinging. Tigers fans were left to wonder if Villarreal was just as surprised as they were.
He was only one of the EIGHT Tiger pitchers to take the mound. While there were plenty of uncomfortable moments, Dotel was underwhelming again, the staff only surrendered a single run in the seventh. Even when the Tigers struggle they still have enough talent to squeeze out a win and now stand on the precipice of sweeping the Mariners with Verlander on the mound later today.
Justin Verlander takes on Hisashi Iwakuma, who has been excellent so far this year with two wins and a 2.18 ERA, coverage starts at 3:40 PM EST on 97.1 The Ticket.