Tigers' 8th-inning meltdown 'a punch in the gut'
Detroit — Justin Verlander sure was pretty in pink.
The Tigers bullpen, um, well, not so much.
And, thus, the losing streak has reached six following an 8-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park.
Verlander pitched seven glorious innings, only to watch the Tigers bullpen suffer its first significant meltdown of the season — allowing seven runs in the eighth inning, Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe the guilty parties.
To pour salt on those still-fresh wounds, the big blow was a two-out, tiebreaking grand slam by Bobby Wilson, who was traded to the Rangers from the Tigers last week.
Delino DeShields followed with a home run as the crowd of 35,406 — decked out in pink, for Mother’s Day and breast-cancer awareness — let out a loud chorus of boos.
“Our bullpen’s been so good ... it just didn’t happen for us today,” Verlander said. “Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong this last week. Next week, everything that could go right, could go right. That’s the game.
Wilson’s ERA spiked to 3.46 from 2.08, and Lowe, gone when the clubhouse doors opened, saw his go up even more, to 7.15 from 3.38.
The loss drops the Tigers two games below .500 for the first time this season.
Verlander allowed just three hits, all singles, and two walks while striking out nine, moving him to second place in Tigers history for strikeouts at 1,985, ahead of Jack Morris and still well behind Mickey Lolich.
He rarely was in trouble — but when he was, he got nasty. In the third inning, with runners at the corners and no outs, he got back-to-back strikeouts and a flyout to end the threat. And in the seventh inning, after allowing a single and a walk with two out, he struck out DeShields to the delight of the crowd.
Verlander also got some defensive help from an unlikely source, Victor Martinez, playing first base for the first time this season. In the sixth inning, Prince Fielder ripped a line drive that Martinez caught — and turned into a double play following an epic and hilarious stareoff with Adrian Beltre, who was caught off the bag.
The fans’ glee didn’t last any longer than Verlander’s outing, though, as the Tigers’ 2-0 lead was gone in a flash the next half-inning, as manager Brad Ausmus went to the bullpen after Verlander had thrown 111 pitches.
“Losing three at home in front of your fans,” said Justin Upton, “it should (tick) you off.
“We can’t point the finger at anybody.
“At the end of the day, we all gotta look in the mirror and find a way.”
Justin Wilson, who didn’t allow a run in his first 12 appearances as a Tiger but had allowed three over his last two games, didn’t record an out, allowing seeing-eye singles to Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara.
That brought in Lowe, who, on the first pitch, allowed an RBI single to Beltre to make it 2-1.
Lowe (1-1) then got Fielder to ground out — Fielder was 0-for-13 in the series against his ex-team —but it moved a runner up, and Ian Desmond followed with a tying sacrifice fly, pinch-hitter Drew Stubbs just getting in ahead of the throw from right fielder J.D. Martinez.
After an intentional walk to Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus was plunked on the left elbow with a 92-mph fastball, Wilson connected for the grand slam to left field. It was the first slam of the journeyman’s major-league career.
Wilson had two hits in five games for the Tigers, and then had five hits in three games against them.
DeShields then followed with a homer, the second time in the series the Rangers went back-to-back.
When it was all over, the Rangers had sent 12 men to the plate.
“I’ll be honest with you, they score seven runs in the eighth inning, that’s a punch in the gut,” Ausmus said.
“We gotta find a way to win games.”
Texas added a run in the ninth inning of Francisco Rodriguez.
The Tigers offense was rather mundane again, scoring twice in the third inning — on a ground-rule double by Miguel Cabrera and a bases-loaded walk by Upton, who, amazingly, hasn’t put a ball in play the last two games, striking out five times and walking four.
Rangers starter Martin Perez limited further damage, striking out Nick Castellanos with the bases loaded. His day was otherwise pretty darn good, over six innings.
A perfect seventh inning earned Tom Wilhelmsen (2-2) the win.
The Tigers, wearing plenty of pink themselves, loaded the bases again in the eighth inning, off reliever Sam Dyson, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia, pinch-hitting for Anthony Gose (three strikeouts), grounded out into the overshift.
They did add a run in the ninth, when Jose Iglesias led off with a double and scored on an Ian Kinsler groundout, drawing as much applause as a wake from the small percentage of fans who stuck this one out.
Making matters worse, the road doesn’t get easier for Detroit, which is now seven games out of first place — and plays its next seven games against first-place teams, starting with three games against the Washington Nationals, followed by four with the Baltimore Orioles.
It’s not at all hyperbole to suggest a team with great expectations — not to mention a payroll of nearly $200 million — could already be arriving at the potential tipping point in a long season.
“We’re the ones that have been horse(bleep),” Victor Martinez said, defending the manager from his many critics in the stands. “Just keep playing, man. Keep playing and see what happens. I can’t say anything else. What can I say that can turn this team around?
“I wish I could turn this team around tomorrow.”
12 – Rangers who came to the plate in Sunday’s decisive eighth inning
6 – Tigers’ losing streak
4.42 – Tigers’ team ERA
45/117 – Strikeouts/at-bats for Justin Upton
30/78 – Strikeouts/at-bats for Anthony Gose
5 – Tiger regulars hitting .250 or less – Jose Iglesias (.250), Justin Upton (.239), J.D. Martinez (.239), Anthony Gose (.218), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.217)