Detroit — A baseball season that for Tigers followers has been played as much in a torture chamber as at Comerica Park featured Friday another sit-down session with the sadists.
And then, as also has been the case during a summer of extremes, the Tigers somehow rescued a 5-4, 12-inning victory over the Kansas City Royals as a crowd that was alternately irked, dazed, and finally thrilled, took it all in at the corner of Montcalm and Woodward.
A half-inning after the Royals took a 4-3 lead in the 12th, Dixon Machado finished a two-run, game-winning uprising when he hooked a single to left past a tumbling Alex Gordon to bring home Rajai Davis with the winning run.
The Tigers had tied the score at 4 when Royals closer Greg Holland walked Tyler Collins with the bases loaded to force home Anthony Gose.
This night, though, was defined as much by what the Tigers and manager Brad Ausmus did — or failed to do — in the ninth inning of a game that might have set some kind of September record for incensing Tigers Nation.
The Tigers and Justin Verlander were within an out of taking home a neat 3-1 victory. But, after Verlander had been slapped for two hard outs and a single to start the ninth, Ausmus, wary of Verlander’s 114 pitches and with the Royals beginning to smell blood, pulled his star in a swap for generally reliable reliever Alex Wilson.
Bring on Stephen King.
Salvador Perez, one of the Royals’ trademark tough guys who historically has been tough on Verlander, slammed a two-run homer into the left-center field bullpen to tie the score, 3-3.
Ausmus has heard boos before. He heard them in high decibels Friday, the most in his two-season stint as skipper, as he walked to the mound, and back to the dugout following the decision to yank Verlander.
It was a move Ausmus defended, mostly because Perez has so often bashed Verlander.
“Perez has hit about .450 (against Verlander),” said Ausmus, who wasn’t ceding anything to the critics. “Nine extra-base hits, 40 plate appearances. Taking Verlander out was a no-brainer.
“The last three guys had barreled-up (hit squarely) the ball.”
Verlander was caught between emotions as he talked in the postgame clubhouse. He wanted the victory. He wanted to remain in the game.
He wanted also for fans to let up on Ausmus.
“They (customers) have the right to boo,” said Verlander, who made clear that he felt “great” as he left the mound in the ninth, “but I’ve got to say you don’t like to hear it as a player.
“I just think it’s more frustration from this year. I’m sure fans wanted me to stay in. I wanted to stay in. But he (Ausmus) is looking at the big picture. It’s the manager’s decision and you can’t second-guess that.”
Verlander was asked about his high pitch-count, the fact three consecutive Royals batters had attacked his ninth-inning pitches, and whether Ausmus’ move could be considered defensible, given his past numbers against Perez.
“I think everyone knows he’s hit me well in the past,” Verlander said, “and I’m sure he (Ausmus) is taking everything into account.”
Wilson, who sank to his haunches in misery after Perez’s homer, was still feeling bruised as he sat in front of his locker afterward.
“I think it was the right pitch,” he said of the slider Perez walloped. “I just didn’t execute it. I knew he was sitting on that pitch, but I just didn’t execute it.”
Wilson’s deeper regret, he said, had to do with his teammate Verlander.
“I hang a breaking ball,” Wilson said, shaking his head, “and it spoiled an excellent outing.”
The Tigers did little to change overall pictures Friday. The Royals remain comfortably en route to the playoffs. The Tigers, who have won two straight, are now 68-78.
Verlander, it had appeared, was headed for his fourth victory and a neat wrap-up to one of his most deft games from a complicated season. That, at least, was the script after Detroit got a pair of runs in the eighth to break a 1-1 tie andtake a 3-1 lead.
Anthony Gose led off the eighth against Johnny Cueto and steered a 3-2 change-up on a line to left-center for a double.
That brought on lightning-bolt reliever Wade Davis. Ian Kinsler, who had four hits, got a gutsy single to right on a fastball after taking a first-pitch, 96-mph heater that scarcely missed beaning him.
Gose could only move to third, but he scored when Miguel Cabrera lined to right on a 1-2 pitch that became a sacrifice fly.
Davis next walked J.D. Martinez, but not before Kinsler ran to third when Davis’ pickoff attempt at first missed Hosmer and rolled into right-field foul territory.
Kinsler scored on Victor Martinez’s line-sacrifice fly to right, and it was 3-1, with Verlander headed to the mound for the ninth.
The Tigers had taken a 1-0 lead in the first on a single by Kinsler and Cabrera’s RBI double into the right-field corner.
A potentially bigger surge ended when, on Victor Martinez’s two-out single, Cabrera was gunned down by several yards at home plate on a throw from Paulo Orlando.
Ausmus, afterward, was in more of a mood to talk about victories than about single innings.
“Couple games in a row,” he said, speaking also about an extra-inning victory Wednesday at Minnesota, “where the guys have fought back.”
The Tigers had a fine crowd, at least in terms of tickets sold: 32,926. But unless a weight-loss program has reduced area baseball fans to all but invisible proportions, there were far fewer than 32,000 on Pink Out The Park night at Comerica, where triumphs against, and the challenges yet associated with, breast cancer were observed.
For those who appreciate a night at the ballpark, Friday eventually qualified. For those who long ago thought a Royals-Tigers matchup in September might have playoff implications, well, things haven’t worked out quite as planned.