Ausmus stews as Tigers cough up another lead, lose

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez strikes out swinging in the eighth inning. Martinez went 0-for-4.

Detroit — He could relate to all those Tigers followers slamming hands on sofa cushions Thursday night and flipping stations to the Warriors-Cavaliers game.

A manager also was disgusted, even if he’s in this together with his team.

“I’m getting tired of fighting back but losing,” Brad Ausmus snorted after Tigers pitching tossed away an early lead, a relatively common event that doubly hurt when the Tigers rallied and nearly stole one from the Yankees in a 5-4 loss at Comerica Park.

The manager said again, almost with a bark: “Let’s hang onto a lead!”

But it all dissolved: The early 1-0 Tigers edge, a supreme first five innings from rookie Matt Boyd, and, once again, a bullpen that helped treat the Yankees to a big inning, in this case a four-run seventh. Finally, and cruelly, there was a ninth-inning Tigers surge that saw them load the bases with none out against 100-mph man Aroldis Chapman.

BOX SCORE: Yankees 5, Tigers 4

They scored only once, when J.D. Martinez scorched a grounder that was headed for center field until Didi Gregorius snagged it, wheeled, and hocus-pocused a relay to second baseman Starlin Castro, who barehanded the ball and whipped a bullet to first to double up Martinez.

A run was in, but Miguel Cabrera, who already had three hits, grounded out to end the game and slap Ausmus’ team with a loss that sent Detroit dipping to 25-28.

Forty-eight hours earlier Ausmus had seen his gang fire back from a 9-2 hole and tie the Angels before losing in the ninth. Thursday night, it was a seventh-inning collapse that made single-run thrusts in the seventh, eighth, and ninth inadequate.

A huge hit in that big Yankees seventh came on a ground-ball RBI single by Aaron Hicks against Bobby Parnell, who was throwing his first pitch in a regular-season game for the Tigers.

“Parnell gets a ground ball and if it’s five feet to the right, it’s a double-play ball,” Ausmus said, almost spitting his words. “J.D. hits a bullet (ninth inning) just within reach of Gregorius, and it’s a double play. And J.D. even hits his ball harder.”

But this is what happens when two things indigenous to the 2016 Tigers happen over, and over, again.

A starter, even one who pitched as brilliantly as the rookie Boyd threw for five innings, begins to fade. The bullpen makes a bad situation worse. And a team that missed some juicy scoring chances early in the game – Victor Martinez grounded into an inning-smothering double play in the first with runners at first and third – donates too many unscored runs on a night it ultimately loses by a single run.

That the Tigers got three late runs against a merciless back-end Yankees bullpen was probably the night’s big shocker. But, down 5-1 after the Yankees had torn into them for four runs, the Tigers scored single runs in the seventh (Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk, Mike Aviles double), eighth (two walks and a pinch-hit RBI double by Ian Kinsler on which Justin Upton was thrown out at the plate by a lovely relay from Gregorius), and the ninth, when it looked as if the Tigers might topple Chapman.

“In all honesty, no one’s happy with a loss,” said Aviles, who singled to help load the bases in the ninth, ahead of a walk to Jose Iglesias and a bunt single from Cameron Maybin. “But the way we lost is something to look at.

“We were fighting, scoring runs, against three of the best relievers in baseball.”

It seemed through five innings that the Yankees would be crying about another near-miss defeat and an offense that hasn’t been a big favorite in the Bronx.

Boyd, a left-hander who is working hard to win a spot in a Tigers rotation that has planted a Help Wanted sign, barely threw 50 pitches through the game’s first five innings. His only blemish: a walk to Chase Headley, which followed a 2-2 pitch that appeared to have been a strike to lots of folks other than home plate umpire Dan Iassogna.

But the Yankees got him for three hits and a run in the sixth when they began ambushing Boyd’s change-up. In the seventh, three more hits forced Ausmus to pull the bullpen trigger.

Parnell, Kyle Ryan, who was lashed for a two-run triple by Jacoby Ellsbury – nothing worked. The Yankees had a big lead and Boyd, who had pitched so well, was suddenly on the hook for four runs, two of which were runners inherited by his relievers.

“He got the change up a bit in the sixth,” Ausmus said of Boyd’s sudden dive. “But he definitely looks more comfortable at the big-league level.”

Boyd, who came to the Tigers in last July’s flesh-feast that saw the Tigers trade David Price and Yoenis Cespedes, threw steady strikes with four pitches and learned something rookies tend to be taught in the big leagues.

“My change-up started going the other way,” he said, giving the Yankees credit for waiting him out. “I’ve got to make adjustments to counter that. I need to recognize that (their counter-moves) earlier.”

Other teams have been outmaneuvering the Tigers all too regularly in 2016. For all the explanations, and analyses, and anatomies of defeats, a team from Detroit seemed also to acknowledge that, on so many nights, it has simply been outplayed by clubs that tend to do more things better.