August 11, 2013 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Tigers' comeback crushed by walk-off HR; series reveals some concerns

New York – Some baseball games are so good, or crazy, or both, they qualify as unforgettable. And, if you’re really lucky in the departments of drama and disbelief, you might run into a weekend series that slips past the barriers and chalk lines and becomes historic.

We had a lot of the above this weekend at Yankee Stadium. Most of the supernatural stuff was created by Miguel Cabrera, who Friday and Sunday decided to hit colossal ninth-inning home runs against a man who has a parking spot alongside Cabrera’s on baseball’s Mt. Olympus, Mariano Rivera.

That would be the same Rivera who had never before given up two homers in a save situation until Sunday, when Cabrera and Victor Martinez each torched him to temporarily tie a game the Yankees won, 5-4, in their half of the ninth on Brett Gardner’s homer off Jose Veras.

So, you had, on one hand, the movie-script twists and celebrity sequences, which Sunday blended with umpire squabbles (the Tigers had chats with Paul Emmel, and later with Will Little, who blew a bad call at second base) to make this series of interest to Hollywood’s best and brightest.

And while the Tigers were happy to have made two amazing comebacks in the series’ bookend games, they also confirmed how difficult it will be for even a team this skilled, with a superstar straight from Marvel, to win storybook games, and all because big-league baseball is so relentlessly cruel and unforgiving to teams and their flaws.

“To sum it up, we got Mariano Rivera twice in the ninth inning -- and we didn’t win either game,” Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, said afterward. “That’s pretty freaky.”

Or, maybe it isn’t. Even if they are 17-3 in their past 20 games, the Tigers are dealing with a couple of problems that surfaced or were reinforced during a series in which the Yankees won two of three.

They left 12 men on base during the first six innings of Sunday’s game. A factor there, maybe the game-deciding factor, is their rookie second baseman, Hernan Perez, who is no match, offensively, for the man who has missed the past six weeks with a bad ankle, Omar Infante.

Throw a batter of Infante’s skill into Sunday’s game, or Friday’s, which saw the Tigers miss an engraved invitation to break things open early, and you set the stage for two walk-off victories. Considering the ease with which Leyland’s guys were slamming pitches this weekend, one more bat -- Infante’s -- could easily have the Tigers working on a 15-game winning streak.

That’s baseball, of course. And it isn’t anything the Tigers will moan about. Infante should be back at some point in the next week or two and a good team will be better with his bat at the end of Leyland’s lineup.

Another issue is more worrisome: Alex Avila. He is on the seven-day disabled list because of concussive symptoms. He will be evaluated today by doctors, but Avila’s chronic beatings from foul tips have threatened his health as well as his bid for a second-half turnaround that might also perk up Leyland’s offense.

The Tigers are concerned on multiple fronts: Leyland, the players, his bosses (which include his father, Al, the Tigers assistant general manager). Minus the brand of catching Avila delivers as a starter -- his pitch-calling and set-ups are vital to Leyland’s staff -- the Tigers are a lesser team.

And if he is not healthy enough to play, or to work on restoring his potentially big bat to Detroit’s offense, the team slips a peg from the overwhelmingly talented bunch the Tigers have steadily been forging in 2013.

Those are the issues that count heading into these final seven weeks of the 2013 regular season. The other stuff is peripheral, right down to those skirmishes with umpiring crews that have been way too frequent in 2013.

The Tigers were being careful after Sunday’s game. Emmel, the home-plate umpire, got into a verbal spar with Justin Verlander, who wasn’t happy with an Emmel call in the sixth. The flap was smoothed over, nobly, by Emmel and Verlander between innings, with Leyland joining in the peace talks.

Another, later incident was not as easily forgotten. Little, who got into a tiff with Torii Hunter after a questionable call Friday night, was at second Sunday and in the eighth inning made what almost certainly was a missed call on a forceout of Jose Iglesias at second. It helped to shoot down what might have been at least a two-run inning for the Tigers after Brayan Pena had led off with a home run.

“I thought he missed the call -- and he did,” Leyland said afterward, speaking of his trot to second base and hot words with Little.

“But it’s part of the game. I’m not harping on it.”

Not when you’re 17-3 in your past 20 games. Not when you’re in first place. And not when your heavy concerns have nothing to do with umpiring. But, rather, with some health issues at up-the-middle positions, one of which, Avila’s, has the Tigers more than frightened.

Justin Verlander reacts to a walk to load the bases in the sixth inning. / Jim McIsaac / Getty Images
Brett Gardner watches his ninth-inning walk-off homer on Sunday. (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)
Alex Rodriguez points the heavens after his second-inning homer. (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)
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