Detroit — As is always the case, the umpire gets the last word.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Tuesday, Los Angeles Angels closer Bud Norris threw a 3-2 slider to Alex Avila that, depending on your point of view, was either just on or just off the outside corner.
Home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher called it strike three and the Angels took a 5-3 win over the Tigers in the first of a three- game series.
“That was a ball,” Avila said to Fletcher as he walked back to the dugout.
“It was a strike,” Fletcher replied.
End of discussion.
“Sometimes you do everything you can and it gets taken out of your hands,” Avila said.
Avila factored in two of the three Tigers runs. He hit his ninth home run of the season in a two-run sixth inning and singled and scored on a J.D. Martinez sacrifice fly in the eighth.
With two outs in the ninth, Alex Presley and Jose Iglesias singled and then advanced on a wild pitch. Norris pitched around Ian Kinsler, walking him on five pitches to load the bases.
Avila got ahead in the count 3-0. He swung and fouled off two straight 95-mph fastballs before taking the borderline slider.
“We didn’t quit, there’s no question about that,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
The loss ended the Tigers’ four-game winning streak.
“We squared a bunch of balls up, hit a bunch of balls right on the screws,” Ausmus said. “Victor Martinez hit three balls right on the screws. We struggled to score runs early … but we swung the bats well.”
Victor Martinez, who doubled and scored on a single by Justin Upton in the sixth inning, came within a couple of feet of tying the score in the eighth. After Avila led off with a single and Miguel Cabrera walked, Martinez sent a pitch from reliever Kenyan Middleton to the triangle in right-center field.
Right fielder Kole Calhoun caught it right in front of the wall.
“I knew I hit it pretty decent,” Martinez said. “But I’m not Miggy, I’m not J-Up and I’m not J.D. (Martinez). It is what it is. I hit the ball pretty decent and it got caught, like a lot of balls I hit that way. That’s why I’m a different hitter here (at Comerica Park).
“I’m tired of getting out and hearing, ‘Good swing, good swing.’ Like I told you guys a couple of weeks ago, good swings don’t get you paid and good swings don’t get the fans happy.”
Left-hander Daniel Norris, who pitched a strong 5 2/3 innings on May 13 and helped the Tigers beat the Angels in Anaheim for the first time since 2010, had to scratch and claw to get through six innings.
“It was good he got through six,” Ausmus said. “His stuff was good. It was his command that caused issues and caused his pitch count to go up.”
Calhoun, the only left-handed batter in the Angels starting lineup, hit an opposite-field home run on a fastball that was several inches wide of the strike zone in the first inning.
Then, after Norris survived a 30-pitch, three-walk third inning, he left a 1-2 slider over the plate to C.J. Cron, who blasted it well beyond the Tigers’ bullpen in left field — a two-run home run.
“Looking back, I wish I could’ve started like I finished it,” Norris said. “I need to get that rhythm from the get-go, and keep it. The home runs, they are going to happen, I guess. But I have to find a way to be more efficient and not let the pitch count get up.”
The fourth run was unearned. Alex Presley misplayed a single to center by Calhoun (another slider). The ball got past him and Andrelton Simmons scored from first.
“Overall, we have to be better in the outfield,” Ausmus said. “Tonight was not our best night there.”
Norris set down the next six batters he faced after that, striking out three of them. But his pitch count was at 110 after six and his night was over.
“I’m working hard and I feel I am really close,” Norris said. “These past three outings I’ve shown myself that I am getting there. I feel really close. I know it’s frustrating, but I feel it’s right around the corner.”
The 30-pitch third is the kind of inning that’s beleaguered Norris all season.
He walked Eric Young Jr., but, after a stolen base, he picked him off second base. With two outs, he walked Simmons and Calhoun, spiking a couple of sliders along the way. But he pulled himself together and got Albert Pujols to roll over on a well-placed slider.
“He’s got amazing stuff,” Avila said. “It's pretty obvious to see. It’s just a matter of him honing it in.”
The fifth run came off reliever Blaine Hardy in the seventh inning. He allowed a walk and single to the first two batters he faced. Calhoun cashed it in with a sacrifice fly.
Had the Tigers played Calhoun’s fly ball a little sharper, they might have prevented the run. While Young was jogging home from third, Shane Robinson was tagging from first. A good throw from the outfield might have gotten Robinson before Young crossed the plate.
But there was poor communication between Presley and J.D. Martinez. Martinez caught the ball but was not in position to make a strong throw.
“Like I said, tonight was not one of our best nights in the outfield,” Ausmus said. “But it was just one night.”