Tigers start strong, hang on against Orioles
Baltimore — They vowed to keep fighting.
As they said goodbye to their ace pitcher David Price and their closer Joakim Soria on Thursday, as they await to bid adieu to Yoenis Cespedes, Rajai Davis and possibly even Alex Avila before 4 p.m. Friday, the Tigers players and coaches believe a playoff spot is still attainable.
"You don't want to be on this side of the ball," second baseman Ian Kinsler before the game. "You want to be on the other side of the ball, where you're adding pieces and you're trying to make a run for something. But at the same time, there's still games left, so there is still a possibility.
"If you've got a chip and a chair, you're still in the game. We have a lot of opportunity here and hopefully we can take advantage of those opportunities."
The Tigers unleashed a 16-hit attack and built leads of 7-0 and 9-2 Thursday; and then held on for dear life for a 9-8 win at Camden Yards.
“We swung the bats well, but we need to pitch better out of the bullpen,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “A seven-run lead, in any ballpark, should be enough.”
If this was their final game as Tigers, Cespedes and Davis went out with a bang. Cespedes had three hits, including his 18th home run of the season. Davis had a two-run triple.
“He’s a bonafide big league power hitter and a great athlete,” Aumsus said of Cespedes. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to him, but I’ll keep using him as long as they let me.”
Cespedes declined to speak to reporters. Davis said he will just keep showing up and playing until they tell him to go elsewhere.
“I’m not really thinking about it, as much as I can,” he said. “It’s not my decision.”
J.D. Martinez knocked in three runs with a pair of doubles. Kinsler and Jose Iglesias had three hits apiece and scored four times between them.
They did the bulk of the damage (five runs, 10 hits) against starter Miguel Gonzalez, who beat the Tigers on July 19 at Comerica Park. They sent nine men to the plate in the fourth and, against Bud Norris, sent eight to the plate in the sixth.
It was the first time the Tigers won consecutive games since July 8-9.
“We’re not giving up,” Ausmus said. “Would we rather have David and Soria? Yeah, absolutely. But we don’t. It doesn’t mean you give up.”
Nobody embodied the “keep fighting” mindset more than starter Alfredo Simon. Pitching on a tender groin, an injury that forced him out of his previous start, he was unable to throw with his normal velocity.
His fastball was topping out at 89 mph, and all his other pitches were 3-5 mph slower than usual. But, he was able to locate the pitches where he wanted and his bread-and-butter pitch, the splitter, had good sink action.
“I was throwing the ball hard in the bullpen before the game, but when I face the hitters, I try to throw my fastball and it was hurting,” Simon said. “I just try to throw the ball down, make them put it in play and everything worked out OK.”
Ausmus and trainer Kevin Rand came out to check on him in the first inning.
“He was adamant that he was fine to pitch,” Ausmus said. “I was caught between him telling me he feels good, watching how he looked and seeing him put zeros on the board.”
The reason Simon was so adamant about staying in the game? He started his career with the Orioles and had been waiting a long time for the chance to face them.
“I couldn’t throw hard today; my leg hurt, but I didn’t want to go out of the game,” he said. I want to pitch against the Orioles so bad. I thank God I was able to pitch hurt and everything came true.”
He made it through 5.2 innings and allowed two hits — a pair of long two-run home runs, one to Adam Jones and another to Chris Davis.
Simon said he doesn't expect to miss a start.
But, as has been typical, things got dicey when Ausmus went to his bullpen.
It took two relievers to finish the sixth. Lefty Ian Krol gave up a single and was replaced by Shane Greene. In his first relief appearance with the Tigers, he gave up a single to J.J. Hardy but struck out Jonathan Schoop.
Greene came back out for the seventh. He gave up a pair of singles then walked Jones on a close, 3-2 pitch.
Blaine Hardy came on to face left-handed hitting Davis and gave up a two-run single. Pinch-hitter Matt Wieters then hit a smash on a high hop that went through third baseman Nick Castellanos. It was ruled a single, and it was suddenly a two-run game.
Al Alburquerque came on to strike out J.J. Hardy to end the seventh.
“We had to stem the tide,” Ausmus said. “You never want to burn that many relievers to get through an inning, but we had to stem the tide somehow.”
The Orioles kept pecking. Schoop singled off Alburquerque to start the eighth and went to second on a one-out walk to Caleb Joseph.
Enter Alex Wilson. A wild pitch put runners on second and third, but he induced ground ball outs from Manny Machado (which scored one) and Nolan Reimold to end the inning and preserve the lead.
With Soria traded to Pittsburgh, Wilson came back out for the ninth.
He got Jones and Davis before allowing a single to Wieters. He was able to get Hardy to end the game — his first major league save, a five-out job.