DETROIT — Baseball games can change completely in one inning, and turn on one pitch.
The Detroit Tigers experienced those realities Friday night in the unlucky seventh inning, when a 3-0 lead became a four-run deficit en route to a 9-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
And since it was Motown Night at Comerica Park, there were plenty of appropriate songs from the Hitsville U.S.A. catalog to choose from. Marvin Gaye’s "What’s Goin’ On?" seemed perfect.
This wasn’t the way the Tigers had hoped to start the second half of the season — what with the American League getting home-field advantage in the World Series and Detroit’s own Max Scherzer getting the AL win in the All-Star Game.
However, games at Comerica Park haven’t been dominated by the Tigers as they have been in recent years. Detroit is now 25-23 at home, but still well ahead of the pack in the Central Division by virtue of a 28-16 road record.
This one sure was looking like a Tigers win after six innings, though. Sanchez had allowed only three singles through six innings, and didn’t walk anybody during those frames.
Yan Gomes was the first to reach base with a one-out single in the third, and the only reason Sanchez got into trouble in the fourth was an infield single by Carlos Santana that put two on with one out. But Sanchez got dangerous Lonnie Chisenhall to hit into a double play to get out of that mess.
Sanchez wasn’t so fortunate in the seventh, when he failed to get even one out. He gave up two singles with a walk in between to load the bases, and then Nick Swisher singled in two runs.
That was it for Sanchez.
"I think he just got tired, actually," said Detroit manager Brad Ausmus, noting that having two extra days off between starts might have been a factor. "It was almost like he hit a wall."
Sanchez — who has pitched past the seventh inning only once in 17 starts this season — left before addressing reporters.
Detroit still had a 3-2 lead when lefty Ian Krol was brought in to face lefty David Murphy. Ex-Tiger Ryan Raburn was inserted to pinch hit for Murphy, and promptly doubled in the tying run.
Al Alburquerque came on with runners on second and third and nobody out. He got ahead in the count to both Gomes and Chris Dickerson, and struck out both. Then he got ahead of Jason Kipnis with a 0-2 count.
Alburquerque then fired a fastball near the outside corner that just missed being a strike, and Kipnis hit the next pitch out for a three-run homer. He totally crushed a slider up in the zone.
How close was the 0-2 pitch?
"It was close," said Tigers catcher Alex Avila, "but it was a ball."
Alburquerque had been one pitch away from striking out the side and freezing two inherited runners in scoring position.
"It would’ve been obviously enormous," Ausmus said of the scenario had Kipnis been the third out.
But just that quickly, everything had changed. Alburquerque slapped his thigh with his cap and was visibly frustrated.
"It looked to me like Kipnis might have been sitting on that slider," Ausmus said, "And big league hitters sitting on one in their zone usually hit it."
Asdrubal Cabrera followed that with a long solo homer for a 7-3 Cleveland lead.
So a game Detroit had total control of became a case of total frustration. What could’ve been a feel-good night, with Miguel Cabrera stealing his first base of the season and Torii Hunter swiping third base on his 39th birthday after doubling in one run, ended with the Tigers shaking their heads.
"It’s surprising," said Tigers slugger J.D. Martinez. "But that’s baseball. It’s why the game isn’t over until it’s over."
One inning, one pitch and the result became one big disappointment.
"Signed, Sealed, Delivered" (Stevie Wonder) it was not.