DETROIT — In a pitching rotation filled with Cy Young winners, ERA champions and promising youngsters, no one ever expected that it would be Kyle Lobstein that had to save the day.
Actually, he might have saved more than that.
With Anibal Sanchez injured and both Buck Farmer and Robbie Ray having miserably failed in their auditions to fill the spot, Brad Ausmus turned to a 25-year-old lefty who made his major-league debut on Saturday. In that game — the first of a doubleheader — Lobstein turned in a desperately needed performance by pitching 5 2/3 innings of relief after Farmer and Pat McCoy had been knocked out of the game before the end of the third inning.
His stats weren’t spectacular — he allowed three runs on four hits and four walks — but Minnesota didn’t score off him until he had already pitched four scoreless innings. That, and the simple fact that he had gotten his debut out of the way, meant that he was the obvious candidate to pitch the next time Sanchez’s spot came up in the rotation.
"I think that game in Minnesota helped him," Ausmus said. "The first game in a big-league stadium is different for every single player, but I think there’s a lot more emotion going on, and it is much easier the second time. You are able to concentrate on your job rather than being in awe of your surroundings."
Lobstein gave the Tigers everything they could have hoped to get, and probably more than they even dreamed about. In six innings, he only allowed two runs, one of which was unearned, and kept Detroit in a game where they were struggling to do anything against Hiroki Kuroda.
"I had a little bit of nerves out there — the first inning was actually smooth sailing, but they kicked in a little in the second," he said. "I just tried to treat it like every other start I’ve made — go over the lineup and then go out there and throw strikes and pitch to contact."
Part of the reason that the first inning might have been easier for Lobstein was that no one was paying attention to him. Derek Jeter, playing what will almost certainly be his last game at Comerica Park, received a long standing ovation when he batted in the first, and an even longer one when he came up in the ninth.
"That was pretty special after growing up and watching him for so many years, that I was actually able to face him," Lobstein said. "I just tried to treat him like any other hitter and not let the moment get the most of me."
It worked — Jeter grounded out — and Lobstein was on his way to a quality start in front of his friends and family, who had flown in from across the country.
On paper, Lobstein didn’t get anything out of the game. Not only did Phil Coke get the win after Alex Avila’s game-winning hit in the ninth, he was sent back to Toledo as soon as the game was over. That, though, was simply a procedural move — the Tigers need extra pitchers for this weekend’s doubleheader, and he’ll be back when the rosters expand on September 1st — and he didn’t care about which pitcher got the victory.
"I’m on a pretty big high right now from this game," he said. "There’s no hard feelings or anything — with the doubleheader, it makes sense. I’ll be back Tuesday, either to start or whatever else they need me to do.
"I can’t compare this to any other feeling I’ve ever had."