Tigers' comeback wasted by 9th-inning flub

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — Someone had to win, which is what the Rays finally concluded Wednesday after nearly four hours of alleged baseball had carried on at Tropicana Field.

And so, after the Tigers had somehow turned their early 5-1 hole into a 7-5 lead, and after it seemed as though Brad Ausmus’ bunch would escape with an actual victory — it all blew up.

And in astonishing fashion, the Rays made off with what passed for an 8-7 triumph over the shell-shocked Tigers.

BOX SCORE: Rays 8, Tigers 7

“Weird game,” said Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who nearly helped end the night on a different note for the Tigers. “Weird ending.”

Down 7-6 in the ninth, the Rays loaded the bases against Francisco Rodriguez, with none out, all before Rodriguez got a strikeout against Steven Souza Jr. It came on a 3-2 pitch umpire Larry Vanover ruled Souza had swung at, and it so infuriated Rays manager Kevin Cash he was tossed by Vanover.

Logan Morrison then whacked a tailor-made double-play grounder to Kinsler at second, who fired a relay Jose Iglesias snagged at the bag for a forceout.

But Iglesias stumbled on his relay, appearing to have buckled a knee or leg against the bag, and his falling, desperate throw to first base skittered past Miguel Cabrera as the tying and winning runs scored.

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As the Rays skipped onto the field to celebrate, Iglesias remained flat on his face at second base. He had taken a knee to the head from Brad Miller on Miller’s slide as Iglesias, toppling, made his last-gasp throw.

“Nine times out of ten, that’s a double play that gets turned,” said Ausmus, trying to make sense of a nonsensical baseball night. “But Iggy kind of hit second base awkwardly and fell. It’s just one of those things you can’t predict and occasionally happens.

“Right now, we just hope Iggy is all right.”

The Tigers will wait until today to talk about Iglesias’ condition after he is monitored for a possible concussion. But initial signs were strong. Iglesias sat on a sofa in the Tigers clubhouse afterward, clear-minded from all indications, minus noticeable signs of injury, save for a bad scrape near his right elbow.

The Tigers were aching in other ways. And, again, it was their long-exasperating bullpen, this time in the person of Rodriguez, which led to another gut-punch.

“At the end of the day, there’s no excuse,” said Rodriguez, who set up the ninth with a walk, a double to Evan Longoria, and an intentional walk that preceded his Souza Jr. strikeout.

“I didn’t get the job done and that’s why we lost.”

On a night when baseball not so much as mayhem seemed to dominate the stage, the Tigers lost their second straight game to the Rays, dropping their record to 8-6 ahead of a series closeout this afternoon (1:05 p.m.) at Tropicana.

Tropicana had its role Wednesday night, as the stadium’s ringed, catwalk-laced monstrosity of a roof again helped confuse Tigers outfielders.

There were soft fly balls that disappeared against the murky gray-white canopy that covers this doom-dome. They fell to the turf for doubles and singles and nearly admitted Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones to a trauma unit as he dealt with the sight — and sound — horrors this venue uniquely concocts.

There was a liner to right-center that a man who normally catches everything within Pinellas County, super-skilled Kevin Kiermaier, played into a three-run triple by Nick Castellanos.

There was a ripped liner to left from Victor Martinez that another sure-gloved defender, Shane Peterson, grabbed with a dive — until the ball flipped in his glove and spilled to the turf for a two-run single.

There was a pitiable bunt attempt by Jones that not only didn’t advance baserunners from second and first base with none out in the sixth, it was popped up, which shrewd Rays third baseman Longoria allowed to fall gently and be turned into a double play, with Jones somehow not making it in time to first base.

And there was also Cabrera with a big RBI single in the third, and a critical double after he nearly hit a three-run homer in the fifth that just missed grazing the right-field foul pole.

All of this combined with some remarkable endurance by Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann (six innings worked) to somehow turn a 5-1 Rays lead into that final, improbable score by which the Tigers threatened to win Wednesday’s game.

The Tigers had burrowed their way into a comeback by scoring three runs in the fifth inning (Martinez’s single bringing home the final two) and another three in the sixth, the same inning when Jones’ bunt blew up.

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The Rays, however, have had bullpen issues to match or exceed Detroit’s and that led to three walks and a hit batter preceding Castellanos drive to right-center that Kiermaier couldn’t corral. The ball got past him and scooted to the right-center field fence as James McCann, Iglesias and Kinsler scored ahead of Castellanos sliding into third.

He became the first Tigers player since Austin Jackson in 2012 to have two triples in a game. His three-run drive followed a first-inning triple off the right-field fence that missed by a foot or so of carrying for a home run against Rays starter Chris Archer.

Archer, also, seemed not to make sense on a night when nothing about a baseball game was terribly conventional.

He was throwing 97-mph fastballs and 90-mph sliders that had the Tigers dizzy in the early innings. But he also threw too many pitches in the process.

By the time he was gone after five innings, the Tigers had made it a game, with the Rays hanging onto a 5-4 lead.

All ahead of the Rays' bullpen disintegrating in the Tigers’ wild three-run sixth.

And, ultimately, ahead of the Rays’ own comeback.

The Rays got a run against Alex Wilson in the seventh. They went 1-2-3  in the eighth, courtesy of three furious strikeouts by Justin Wilson.

But that simply invited a final, conclusive set of antics in the ninth when K-Rod arrived to get into trouble that the Tigers, on this night of absurdities, couldn’t ultimately overcome.

“It hurts,” said Zimmermann, who overcame a pair of pop-fly hits that should have been caught, as well as a bunt that seemed to have been remotely controlled to hug the third-base chalk line in the first, as he gutted through six innings.

“Obviously, you’re up a couple of runs in the last couple of innings and you’re feeling pretty good about it, and then you get the ground ball (to Kinsler in the ninth). Like I said, crazy things happen in this game.

“There were a lot of crazy things that happened tonight.”