The Tigers loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth inning in a tie game. What happened next determined the outcome of the game and perhaps the series.
Josh Tomlin looks like he'll be ready to come off the Disabled List soon, but the way Zach McAllister has pitched in his absence, it's going to be tough to send the tall right-hander down to AAA. McAllister passed another difficult test, allowing 2 runs on eight hits, and those two runs were tainted. The Tigers scored their two runs in the sixth thanks to two plays that should have been outs. First, Quentin Berry hit a bunt double (not a typo); the bunt was a humpback lined that landed under Jason Kipnis' glove and bounded towards the right field line. Because both Kipnis and first baseman Casey Kotchman charged on the play, there was no one to retrieve the ball, and Berry ended up on second base. Then Andy Dirks hit a rising line drive that Shin-Soo Choo misjudged; the ball shot over Choo's glove and the to the wall, the Tigers had a run home with a runner at second with nobody out. There should have been two outs and no runs in. After a Miguel Cabrera fly out (on which Dirks went to third), Prince Fielder came to the plate with the infield drawn in. Fielder hit a sharp grounder that Asdrubal Cabrera made a fine diving stop on, but the throw came too late to nab Dirks at home. McAllister, to his credit, retired the next two batters to end the inning, keeping the game within reach.
The Detroit lead didn't last long, for Travis Hafner reached out and tagged a Doug Fister changeup over the right field wall with a runner on in the bottom of the sixth. Hafner earlier had seemed to hobble around the bases when going from first to third on an Asdrubal Cabrera double, but this time he could take his time matriculating around the bases. To this point Fister had been doing his usual dazzling act, blanking the Indians on three hits, so that two-run deficit seemed rather large. But not large enough for a home run not to fix it.
That takes us back to the top of the eighth inning. Tony Sipp started the inning with one mission in mind: get Prince Fielder out. He made the right pitch to Fielder, and Prince hit the ball directly into the shift, straight to Jason Kipnis, who was playing a Beliardesque second base. But Kipnis hurried his throw when he didn't need to, and the ball sailed high. That was all for Sipp; Vinnie Pestano was summoned, the fifth pitcher of the past two innings. Delmon Young hit a slice single down the right field line to put runners at first and second, and after a very good at-bat Andy Dirks hit the only solid ball of the inning, a line drive single through the left side of the infield. Fielder was held at third, leaving the bases loaded with nobody out.
I don't know about you, but even though Pestano was in the toughest of jams, I was still somewhat confident that somehow he'd get out of it. And he did get out it, and with little BABIP luck involved. He dispatched Jhonny Peralta via a swinging strike out on a ball in the other batter's box, then jammed Young; Kotchman fielded the ball and forced Fielder at home. Then Pestano faced pinch-hitter Alex Avila with two outs and the bases still loaded.
The announced crowd was a little over 22,000, but it sounded much louder than any of the larger weekend crowds. There were 6500 people that walked up to the game tonight, one of the biggest totals in Jacobs/Progressive Field history, and the atmosphere, even through the television, seemed if not playoff-like, then the notch just below it. Perhaps Chris Perez's answer on Sunday helped to drive it, or perhaps it was the combination of good weather, a division rival, and a first place club, but regardless of the reason, that crowd by the time Pestano faced Avila was standing en masse, and making enough noise that you'd think it was a sellout urging the third out of the inning. When Pestano threw a perfect fastball on the payoff pitch to strike out Avila, you felt through the crowd that the Indians had this one.
The Indians broke through immediately. After Choo was retired by southpaw Phil Coke, Jason Kipnis hit a dribbler that Coke couldn't handle. Then Asdrubal Cabrera tomahwked a double off the left field wall, putting runners at second and third with one out. The Tigers brought the infield in, and Hafner a grounder towards Fielder, in a play very much like what happened in the top of the inning. But this time the first baseman made a poor throw, and Kipnis was able to score on the fielder's choice. Now there was a run in, runners at first and third, and still one out. Carlos Santana hit a sacrifice fly to bring home an insurance run, and things were set for the ninth inning.
Perez would face the 1-2-3 hitters in the lineup. He retired Berry with ease, but Dirks, as earlier put up a very good at-bat. Up two runs, Perez certainly didn't want to walk him to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Miguel Cabrera, so he continually pound the outer half of the strikezone with fastball, which were fought off by Dirks. Finally, with the count full, he threw a fastball on the inner half of the plate; Dirks jumped back as if the ball was aimed right as his hip, and was flabbergasted when he was rung up. It was an easy strike. Now with Cabrera up with the tying run on deck, Perez went after the Tiger third baseman, and jammed him with a high fastball, which fell harmlessly into Michael Brantley's glove to end the game.
Now that the Indians have already won the series, facing Justin Verlander tomorrow feels like playing with house money.