Big 3rd quells late-inning jitters in Tigers' victory

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Has a 9-4 lead ever felt as small as it did Wednesday night?

With the scars of horrific, late-inning losses to the Twins (July 10) and Mariners (last night) still fresh, the Tigers handled the late innings Wednesday with extreme care, despite the big lead.

Alex Wilson was used to get Nelson Cruz out with two on in the seventh and the Tigers leading 8-4. Then with two on and two outs in the eighth, closer Joakim Soria was summoned for a four-out save opportunity.

"You don't want to," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Like I said, it could have been a lot cleaner from the pitching perspective. But we needed this win. We didn't have a choice."

Soria, though with some drama in the ninth, did in fact close it out and "preserved" the 9-4 win. It was his 22nd save of the season and the 200th of his career.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 9, Mariners 4

"Thank God for that," said Soria. "I was out for two (Tommy John) surgeries and now I have a chance for 200 saves. That's all Him. That's is why I am here."

The Tigers expunged much of their sorrow from Tuesday night with a season-high, eight-run third inning. The key blow was the first career grand slam by Nick Castellanos off Mariners starter Mike Montgomery. He hit a 2-0 fastball 447 feet to center field. It bounced off Al Kaline's nameplate on the wall next to the flag pole.

"I was just glad I was able to get the job done," said Castellanos, who has hit safely in 17 of his last 23 games (.333). "They walked J.D. (Martinez) to get to me to set up the double play. It makes it a little extra when they intentionally walk somebody so they can pitch to you with the bases loaded."

It was not only his first grand slam, it was also the longest homer of his career.

"When (Yoenis) Cespedes told me it hit off Kaline's name off the brick wall, I didn't believe him at first," Castellanos said. "But then other guys said the same thing, so, I guess, yeah, that the farthest I've ever hit a ball."

From there it was just a matter of holding on — which shouldn't have been as hard as it seemed.

"We kind of scrapped by a little bit," Ausmus said. "We could have been a little cleaner but we got the job done."

Anibal Sanchez (10-7) started strong throwing three scoreless innings and getting seven straight outs before the Tigers' outburst. But he gave back three of eight runs in the top of the fourth inning.

"I like the runs," Sanchez said. "I'd rather the team score as many as they can. But it made me a little bit off for that next inning."

Nelson Cruz hit a two-run home run and the first four batters got hits in the fourth. Sanchez got his first out when Seth Smith, after smacking one 380 feet off the right field wall, was thrown out at second by J.D. Martinez.

It was Martinez's 11th outfield assist, second most in the major leagues and most by a Tiger since Craig Monroe had 12 in 2006.

Cruz would strike again leading off the sixth. His first home run went deep into the seats in left field. His second was a laser into the seats in right. Last night he hit one into the bushes in center field.

"Cruz has Sanchey's number, period and he had his number today," Ausmus said.
"There's always going to be those hitters for every pitcher, they just have trouble getting them out."

Counting the playoffs, he's hit 20 home runs off Tigers pitching in his career.

That's what made Cruz's at-bat in the seventh inning so dramatic. The Tigers were still up 8-4 and the Mariners had two on and two out. Ausmus called on Wilson.

"I don't think ideally Wilson is a single batter match-up pitcher," he said. "But I felt like we had to get Cruz out and he was our best option."

Wilson got ahead with a couple of sharp cutters. Then he went to his fastball. Cruz fouled off five pitches before Wilson finally snuck a 93 mph heater past him.

"I've faced him quite a few times in my career and at times I've felt he was anticipating a slider from me," Wilson said. "If I can use my fastball to my advantage, especially by doubling up and tripling up with it, that's what I am going to do."

Catcher James McCann tried to call for the cutter or slider but Wilson shook back to the fastball.

"I just felt in my gut it was the right pitch," he said.

The eighth inning has been a minefield for the Tigers all season. So, Ausmus managed it like it was a one-run game.

Left-hander Blaine Hardy came on to face left-handed hitters Robinson Cano and Smith. Cano flew out but Smith doubled off the wall in center.

Hardy then struck out right-hander Mark Trumbo.

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon then called on Franklin Gutierrez to pinch hit. He hit the game-winning grand slam Tuesday.

Ausmus countered with right-hander Al Alburquerque, who walked him to put two on and two out.

With the tying run on deck, Ausmus didn't hesitate. He called on Soria, who got Brad Miller to ground out.

The Tigers made Soria's task a bit easier, adding a run in the eighth. Ian Kinsler, who had four hits on the day and has eight in the series, singled and eventually scored on a single by Victor Martinez.

Still, he needed to induce a double-play ball from Seager to navigate through a two-on, no-out jam.

"It's never easy, with any team," said Soria, who threw 30 pitches and should be able to pitch Thursday. "They have really powerful hitters. You have to be careful."

The Tigers moved to 3 games of the second wild-card spot.

"I certainly think there is some added importance to these games (because of the looming trade deadline)," Ausmus said. "But I don't dwell on it because I take the approach that every game is must-win, whether the deadline is in front of us or behind us."

Twitter @cmccosky