Big inning spoils Randy Wolf's Tigers debut

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — The stage was set for one of those heartwarming, made-for-TV comeback stories.

Left-hander Randy Wolf, a 16-year veteran on his 39th birthday, back on a major league mound after toiling the entire season at Triple A Buffalo. A story of perseverance and humility. A testament to a man's love for the game of baseball.

Except somebody forgot to send the Rangers the script.

They spoiled the ending, scoring four times in the third inning and beating the Tigers, 5-3, Saturday night at Comerica Park.

BOX SCORE: Rangers 5, Tigers 3

"He did what I thought," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He competed. He used his experience as a weapon as much as his pitches. "

It was Wolf's 373rd major league start but his first since June 14, 2014.

"I have to be honest," he said. "I may be 29 years old (wry smile), but I'm glad I was nervous. Because if I wasn't nervous, then I would realize that I need to retire. To be out there, and have that kind of nervous anxiousness — which kind of got my delivery a little fast in the game — it was nice to just tone it down and find my delivery as the game went on."

He was beaten by a string of five singles. Delino DeShields, Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli singled in succession in the third, plating the four runs.

"If you can't put guys away, sometimes there are going to be hits," he said. "I had a couple opportunities where I could've put a couple guys away, and got them back in the count where they could put a ball in play, and they just happened to be hits.

"You learn from that and move on, and when you get ahead in the count, instead of trying to put a guy away, just concentrate on making a better pitch."

Wolf gave up eight singles in an 11-batter stretch between the second the third innings. He allowed just one other single the rest of the game. He retired 14 of 15 from the end of the third through the seventh.

"I'm never not amazed by guys like Wolf," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "They know how to pitch and they read bats very well. Here's a guy that, he saw that our guys were pretty well locked in on his fastball in that third inning. After he gave up the runs, he made an adjustment. He went soft on us with all the off-speed stuff and used his fastball late in the count — which made his fastball play up.

"Veteran guy. He knew what he needed to do and he capitalized on a group of guys that are good fastball hitters."

Wolf is the first former teammate that Ausmus has managed. He caught Wolf with the Astros and Dodgers. The guy he saw out there Saturday didn't look all that different than the one he caught.

"His velocity was about the same," Ausmus said. "The only difference is he's added a cutter to his repertoire. Other than that, he looked very similar."

The Tigers' suddenly somnolent offense couldn't undo the early damage.

After being shutout Friday night, right-hander Yovani Gallardo blanked them through seven innings. They were running a scoreless streak of 18 innings until the ninth. They were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position Friday, 0-for-7 Saturday.

Hard to fathom after scoring 25 runs in two games against the Cubs in Chicago.

"Nobody could ever really explain it," Ausmus said. "We just haven't hit as well as we did in Chicago. Certainly the Wrigley Field conditions played into that a little bit, the stadium itself being a small ballpark. But we didn't do much against Gallardo. Our bats have been a little quiet the last couple of days."

The three runs came after two were out in the ninth on a three-run homer by Ian Kinsler.

Even though there was no Hollywood ending for Wolf, he still made a positive impression.

"I totally understand the psychology of the game," he said. "If I come in and I don't get out of the first inning, given my age and all that stuff, it's like 'he's all washed up.' That's something you have to battle. If it's a young guy, 'he's not ready. Bad games happen.'

"You just don't want it to happen on the first one, or the second one. You don't want it anytime, but obviously when it's your first game, you want to leave a good impression. It's obviously important. There's definitely a psychology to that."