Bullpen blues: Tigers worst in AL after 7th inning
Detroit – So many twists and subplots to the Tigers’ 13-inning, 13-11 loss to the Orioles Tuesday night that it bears a second look.
Baseball historians are still researching the last time a visiting team blew a six-run lead in regulation and a three-run lead in extra innings and still managed to win, as the Orioles did. Suffice to say, it hasn’t happened often.
Nor has it happened often that a player, in this case Chris Davis, smacks two go-ahead home runs in extra innings. The only other player to do it since 1961, according to Elias, was Cardinals' Matt Adams in 2013.
But the Tigers’ bullpen seems bent on creating historical feats this season. It was the Tigers’ fourth loss when they entered the ninth inning with a lead, the third in the last nine games.
When Mark Trumbo sent a two-out fastball from Justin Wilson into the seats in right field tying the game in the ninth, it was the Tigers' ninth blown save – second in the American League to Seattle (10).
And when Francisco Rodriguez gave up the winning two-run homer to Davis in the 13th, it was his fifth loss, most among relievers, to go along with his four blown saves.
All of that on a night when, to that point, the Tigers' bullpen allowed two earned runs in 9.2 innings.
“It's not about K-Rod,” manager Brad Ausmus said in the wee hours Wednesday morning. “I know you (media) like to point fingers and blame people, but that's not how it works. We're a team. Even before K-Rod got in there, we had the lead and then we fought back to tie it.
“No bullpen is perfect. You think the Orioles' bullpen is perfect? They also gave up a three-run lead. There are no perfect bullpens. Some bullpens are better than others, some have more talent. But there are no perfect bullpens. There is no pen with a zero ERA.”
That is true. But presently, there is no bullpen in the American League allowing more runs after the seventh inning than the Tigers – 54. There is no other team in the American League with a higher ERA after the seventh than the Tigers at 6.20.
Until Tuesday, the bullpen had seemingly settled in. In the recently completed West Coast trip, relievers Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Shane Greene, Blaine Hardy and Chad Bell combined to spin 19 innings and allow just one run with 18 strikeouts.
Until Tuesday, Justin Wilson had allowed runs in just one of his 17 appearances. Since April 29, Hardy, who was tagged for a Davis home run and two unearned runs, had faced 16 batters in six appearances without allowing a run.
Even Rodriguez was showing signs of recovery, pitching two scoreless outings.
Alas, with the Tigers’ bullpen, every day is a new adventure.
Here are some other odd bits from the five-hour, 19-minute marathon:
• When Miguel Cabrera was hit by a pitch with one out in the 11th inning, Ausmus had pitcher Daniel Norris cleated and ready to pinch-run. But he opted against it.
“Daniel Norris is our most athletic and fastest pitcher,” Ausmus said. “Daniel Norris is also very injury-prone. We told him to go put his cleats on, but ultimately I didn’t want to risk injury to Norris.
“His brain goes 100 percent. If he gets on, he’s going to want to steal second base, steal third base and steal home. I would rather he not get injured. His pitching is more important to us than running the bases one time.”
• It was the right play in the seventh inning to pinch-hit left-handed hitting Tyler Collins for right-handed hitting Mikie Mahtook against a right-handed reliever. Especially since J.D. Martinez had just hit a go-ahead grand slam and the Tigers consider Collins a slightly better center fielder than Mahtook.
But that strategy looked worse later when Collins, mired in an 0-for-30 slump, came to bat twice with the winning run at third base and was overmatched by a left-handed pitcher each time.
• There was another seemingly prudent move that didn’t pan out for the Tigers. Ausmus, for the first time this year, subbed Andrew Romine for Nick Castellanos at third base for defensive purposes in the ninth inning.
Sure enough, Romine’s error in the 12th inning led to two unearned runs.