Mariners knock out Tigers with grand slam in eighth
Detroit — There are only so many times a team can get stabbed in the heart before it bleeds out.
The Tigers Tuesday night had the look of a team that had circled the wagons and vowed to fight — either fight their way back into the playoff race or go down fighting.
They did fight. They battled back from two four-run deficits to lead 8-6 in the eighth inning.
Yet, they walked off the field with another staggering defeat — 11-9 to the Seattle Mariners.
"This one is right up there with the one in Minnesota," manager Brad Ausmus said, referring to the game on July 10 when Brian Dozier hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.
This dagger came in the top of the eighth. Pinch-hitter Franklin Gutierrez hit a two-out grand slam off Neftali Feliz.
"It's just a loss, it's not that big of a deal," said Andrew Romine, who started at shortstop in place of an ill Jose Iglesias. "How much of a difference is it between this loss and the first loss or the last loss? They are all just one.
"For us to sit around here and think this is the end of our season, that's kind of naïve. Every game has importance to it, but no game is more important than any other."
Maybe so, but this late in the season, with the trade deadline looming and the Tigers way on the outside looking in at the playoff chase — if there were standing eight-counts in baseball, the Tigers would be receiving one right now.
The Tigers are 10-1/2 games behind the Royals in the AL Central and four games out of a wild-card spot.
"We will get up and we'll come back at it tomorrow," Ausmus said.
Pitching continues to fail the Tigers.
Shane Greene started and dug a 4-0 hole before they even came to bat. It was 5-1 in the third. And it was Greene's early departure that help set in motion the events that would lead to the Tigers' ruin in the eighth.
"We can get into the second-guessing based on results, but the truth is, I would do nothing different at all in this game," Ausmus said.
Rightly so. Critics can complain that Ausmus should have saved one of his left-handed pitchers for the later innings since the meat of the Mariners lineup — Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, Seth Smith, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison — are all left-handed batters.
But Ausmus needed to use his two left-handers — Blaine Hardy and Ian Krol — early to keep the game close and give the offense a chance to fight back.
If they don't stop the bleeding early, using the left-handers late would be irrelevant.
That's what happened, though it became in the end a Catch-22.
"You try to put players in position to succeed," Ausmus said. "You try to get through the game. We were running short on pitching from early on. Quite frankly, that's exactly how I would do it again."
They were down 5-1 in the third after Nelson Cruz hit a 452-foot home run to the second row of shrubs in center field. But after Greene put two on with two outs in the fifth, Hardy was summoned to stop the rally.
And the Tigers fought back.
J.D. Martinez sounded the charge in the bottom of the third, hitting the longest measured home run in Comerica Park history. He hit it off the top of the camera well in center field — measured by MLB.com at 467 and by ESPN at 466.
Miguel Cabrera previously had the record for the longest recorded blast (since 2006 when the measuring technology was instituted) at 466. Carlos Pena and David Ortiz hit home runs that were estimated over 470 feet, both to right-center.
Martinez's two-run shot, his 27th of the season, made it 5-3.
The Tigers completed their comeback in the fifth. They batted around and scored four runs.
Yoenis Cespedes hit his 14th home run, a two-run shot to the bullpen in left-center, to tie the score at 5. Later in the inning, Romine knocked in a run with an infield single and reliever Tom Wilhelmsen walked Anthony Gose with the bases loaded to make it 7-5.
Nick Castellanos would add a home run in the seventh to make it 8-6.
And with Hardy, Al Alburquerque, Krol and Bruce Rondon pitching in in relief, the Tigers got the game to the eighth inning with a lead — which was Ausmus' goal.
"Feliz has pitched well since he got here," he said. "He's been a closer, he's used to high-pressure situations. We're trying to find someone to bridge us to (closer Joakim) Soria. We are having a little trouble finding that."
Feliz struck out the first batter he faced, but Austin Jackson beat out an infield single. Seager followed with a single, but Feliz got Nelson Cruz to pop out to shortstop.
He got two strikes on Cano, but lost him — single, bases loaded.
A wild pitch scored one run, then he walked Smith intentionally.
That brought up right-handed hitting Gutierrez, who hit a 1-1 pitch into the seats in right field.
Ausmus was asked why he didn't use Alex Wilson, who apart from Soria was the only arm available.
"I can't use Wilson because if we go extra innings, I have to have him available," he said. "So he was unusable unless something else happened."
This loss wasn't due to any managerial failure. It was due to poor pitching, early and late.
Tigers starting pitchers the last seven games have a combined 8.21 ERA. Greene has given up four or more runs in six straight starts; so has Alfredo Simon. The Tigers have managed to win two of those seven.
When they write the obit on this season, cause of death will be ineffective pitching.