Detroit — No matter how well the first eight innings go, bad ninths make for bad games.
And with Joe Nathan faltering again, the Tigers had a bad ninth in their 5-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
It was so bad, in fact, that a three-run home run by J.D. Martinez with an out to go couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.
All the Martinez home run did was counter the three-run shot Brett Lawrie hit off Al Alburquerque in the top of the inning — when everything unraveled for Nathan.
He didn’t get full-count call he wanted on the first batter he faced, Anthony Gose, after getting ahead of Gose 0-2.
He didn’t get the call on a tag at third he thought he might get, but a review proved the umpires correct by ruling that Jose Reyes beat the tag.
Nathan also didn’t get the call on an appeal at first.
By that time, he said afterward he was thinking, “What is going on right now? Do I need to go to church more? Say some more prayers? I don’t know.
“Every call was borderline, but it wasn’t anything anyone had against me. They were borderline calls that didn’t go my way.”
For seven innings, the game was scoreless duel between starters, Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers and Drew Hutchison of the Blue Jays.
Sanchez allowed two hits, Hutchison three, but neither team put together anything more than a mild scoring chance.
The game remained scoreless through eight innings, in fact, the initial relievers pitching one inning each.
Nathan took over in the top of the ninth for the Tigers after a four-day rest following a couple of rough outings in Oakland. It was after the second of those games against the A’s that Nathan’s only comment to the media was, “You guys can talk to those who did their part” — meaning he hadn’t.
His first mistake this time, though, was in walking Gose on the full-count pitch he felt could have been called a strike. Gose quickly stole second and took third on Jose Reyes’ single.
A pop-up later, Jose Bautista hit a single up the middle that quite frankly shouldn’t have been a single up the middle.
“There was no confusion, it should not have gotten through,” said shortstop Andrew Romine, who seemed to hesitate in his final steps before reaching the ball.
Manager Brad Ausmus initially thought he was looking at an inning-ending double play off Bautista’s bat. But instead of a DP, it turned out to be the hit that gave the Jays a 1-0 lead.
They made it 2-0 on a sacrifice fly off Ian Krol — and 5-0 on the home run by Lawrie.
Martinez cut the lead to two by connecting with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but closer Casey Janssen came in to quickly strike out Don Kelly for the final out.
It had been another marvelous game for Sanchez, but also another case of not getting him any run support.
With four runs allowed in 1⁄3 inning, Nathan’s ERA climbed to 6.86 — from the 3.66 it was three appearances ago.
In those three appearances, Nathan has allowed eight runs on seven hits in 11⁄3 innings.
Ausmus has no choice but to stick with him, however.
“First of all, that one pitch (the full-counter to Gose) was pretty darn close, quite frankly,” Ausmus said. “Joe’s been very good for a very long time, and I expect him to be very good for the Tigers. And he expects himself to be very good. But even the best have rough times.”
These are rough times, certainly. But keep in mind that Nathan has had good times as a Tiger, too.
From April 12 to May 16, he had a 0.69 ERA in a stretch of 13 appearances that included 10 saves. Opponents hit .122 against him during that time.
“But results are everything in this game,” he said, “and this one didn’t go the way we planned. It’s been a tough few outings for sure — but today more so because the results didn’t match the way I threw the baseball.
“There are things that can surprise you in this game, and I’m going through a bad stretch right now. But I’ve seen a lot of stuff, have dealt with a lot of stuff, and right now the most important thing in my mind — and why I came to this baseball club — is to be in first place.
“I could care less if I go out there with an 18.00 ERA, if at the end of the day, we go to the playoffs with a chance at going to the World Series.”
One-third through the season, the first-place Tigers are 31-23.
They’re on a pace to win 93 games. But they definitely need Nathan to pitch better than he’s done the last three times out.
And they need to score more runs than the five they’ve scored in their last three games.
Or the four games they’ve won in their last 15 could start looking like the most important trend of all.