Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyand ordered Phil Coke to intentionally walk Albert Pujols in the 12th inning with two out, the bases empty and Josh Hamilton on deck.
The unorthodox strategy worked just fine, as Coke struck out Hamilton. But there was no one to purposely pass in the 13th ahead of Mark Trumbo, whose leadoff homer off Coke have the Los Angeles Angels a 5-4 victory on Sunday.
Hamilton is hitting just .176 with two homers and eight RBIs through the first 17 games with his new club – just slightly better than Pujols was doing a year ago at this time in his first season with the Angels after leaving St. Louis.
So Leyland rolled the dice – opting for the 2010 AL MVP instead of the three-time NL MVP, who had a two-run double earlier in the game.
”You have Coke against a right-hander like Albert Pujols, and a guy behind him who’s struggling. It’s not very comfortable to do that, to be honest, but I felt it gave us our best chance,” Leyland said. ”We play these guys again (the last week of June), and next time, Hamilton will probably be on fire and have 30-something home runs. So we won’t feel comfortable doing that. But in this particular series, he wasn’t. So you take your chances.”
Coke (0-2) threw a 3-1 changeup to Trumbo, and he drove it into the upper tier of the double-decker bullpen in left field for his second homer of the season.
”He threw it 2-0, and hadn’t thrown a fastball for a strike,” Trumbo said. ”The more mature you get as a hitter, the better educated guesses you can make. And in that case, I guessed right. That’s why you’ve got to pay attention to the game. I got some great scouting reports from my teammates who were up there, and they gave me a good idea of what to look for.”
Jerome Williams (1-0) got the victory with three innings of two-hit relief. The Angels’ much-maligned and injury-riddled bullpen combined to hold the Tigers scoreless on four hits over the final seven innings to help complete their second straight series sweep of the defending AL champions.
The Tigers finished their road trip 4-5, including a 14-inning win at Seattle on Wednesday.
”A 14-inning game and a 13-inning game can really wear you out, but we have no excuses,” said right fielder Torii Hunter, who was 3 for 12 with three walks and no RBIs in his first series against his former teammates. ”We have a day off Monday, so we’ll kick back, watch some basketball and come back Tuesday ready to go.”
Tigers starter Doug Fister allowed three runs – two earned – and six hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and two walks. The right-hander also hit three batters, two of them during a three-run third that gave the Angels a 3-1 lead. Detroit’s pitching staff has hit seven batters through the first 18 games – six by Fister, who plunked seven last season in 161 2-3 innings.
”He uses both sides of the plate. Sometimes his ball runs and sometimes it might hit somebody,” Leyland said. ”I think they realize that we certainly weren’t trying to hit one of their guys (Peter Bourjos) to get to (Mike) Trout and Pujols (in the fourth). I mean, that’s pretty obvious.”
The Tigers left the bases loaded in the ninth, the third time in the game they failed to capitalize in that situation. They stranded 13 runners all together.
Angels starter C.J. Wilson allowed three runs and five hits in six innings. He struck out four, walked four and got out of bases-loaded jams in each of the first two innings.
”We were trying to work him a little bit and make some pitches, then get him out of there and get to the bullpen. But the their bullpen did a fantastic job,” Hunter said. ”We’ve been grinding, trying to get runs across the plate, and it’s just been tough for us.”
Wilson has thrown 100 first-inning pitches over his last three starts – including 28 Sunday.
”That’s what you do all of your conditioning for – to be able to survive something like that,” said Wilson, who gave up a tying two-run homer to Prince Fielder in the fifth. ”It’s unfortunate that I haven’t had a quick first inning recently. Sometimes you throw your way into a jam and you have to pitch your way out of it, so you have to be confident in your ability to make pitches.”
Detroit’s Al Albuquerque struck out the side on 11 pitches in the eighth and fanned two more in the ninth, giving him 16 strikeouts in nine innings so far. In the 10th, Joaquin Benoit struck out Howie Kendrick on a full-count pitch in the dirt after a double-steal by Trout and Trumbo, who was intentionally walked with two outs.
”I thought the entire bullpen was terrific, including Cokie,” Leyland said. ”But we had a tough series. I thought the guys battled today. We pitched well and Prince hit a big home run, but I felt like we had an opportunity that was taken away from us.”
Leyland got into a lengthy argument with umpire Gary Darling in the Tigers’ ninth, after Darling called Omar Infante out at second base on Austin Jackson’s attempted sacrifice bunt to reliever Ernesto Frieri.
NOTES: Only two pitchers in Tigers history have hit four batters in a game – Frank Lary in 1960 and Earl Whitehill in 1924. … Peralta was hitless in three at-bats against Wilson, and is 1 for 20 lifetime against him. … Leyland was planning to start Ramon Santiago at SS on Sunday, but Santiago went to see a doctor after Saturday’s game because of dehydration, back issues and stomach problems. … Fister has pitched 32 1-3 innings since his franchise-record nine consecutive strikeouts against Kansas City last Sept. 27, and has fanned no more than two in a row at any time during that stretch. … Wilson has a 3.66 ERA in 111 big league starts, one point higher than his ERA in 252 relief appearances. … Fister was trying to become the first Tigers pitcher to win his first four starts of a season since 1988, when Frank Tanana won his first five.