Seattle — One thing the Tigers knew about Wednesday’s late lead is that it would hold like a beaten offensive lineman.
Tigers relievers are the team’s Special Forces, the medal-winners through 46 games of a season that looked Wednesday as if it would result in one more victory, and a long flight home from Seattle with a triumph on the last day of a harsh nine-day trip.
And then the Mariners launched an eighth-inning raid on Ryan Perry, socking him with five hits and a four-run burst that beat the Tigers, 5-4, at Safeco Field and dealt a deep bruise to the Tigers’ psyche, as well as to their win-loss record.
“You think you’ve got a game in hand, and one of our better relievers out there, and it just didn’t happen today. It’s that simple,” manager Jim Leyland said, after the Mariners had whipped the Tigers for the second consecutive day, mangling a road trip that had begun with a two-game sweep of the Athletics.
“It was a real nice, clean ballgame for us until the eighth,” Leyland said.
“But you can’t sit around and pout. These are testers. We’re big boys and we’ll move forward.”
Jeremy Bonderman was the man who had been moving forward Wednesday in what was his most dominating pitching performance in more than two years.
“Tremendous,” Leyland said. “He was really good — really good.”
Bonderman worked seven innings, allowed five hits and one run (unearned), while striking out six and walking two. Behind a dancing slider and slick location of his fastball, Bonderman was all set to win his third game of the season. It was a slam-dunk with a bullpen that was 16-0 in 2010 when the Tigers led after six innings.
The relievers’ record is now 16-1 after Perry, who was handed a 4-1 lead, walked the leadoff batter, struck out Milton Bradley, and then gave up a two-run homer on a slider that Mike Sweeney launched into the left-field seats to make it a 4-3 game. A single, double and another single off Perry by a trio of right-hand batters put the Mariners on top, 5-4, and ruined what stood to be a milestone game for Bonderman.
“The bullpen has been the strength of this team all year,” Bonderman said afterward, making sure Perry understood that no one, least of all Bonderman, was dishing out any blame Wednesday.
“The starting pitchers pitched like (junk) the first part of the year. Today was just a bad day. So be it. I got my (tail) kicked a few times.
“He’ll be fine.”
Perry came into Wednesday’s game with a 0.00 ERA in his last five appearances. He was tied for third among American League relievers with nine holds.
Leyland had no hang-up going to him after Bonderman had thrown 93 pitches, and when a bullpen with plenty of rest and an off-day Thursday stood to run its late-innings blitz to 17-0.
“An inning before they had just missed a double down the line, and (Chone) Figgins skied one,” Leyland said of his decision to pull Bonderman. “I felt it was definitely time.
“And I felt we were set up with the right hitters (mostly right-handed) coming up.
“He (Perry) just didn’t have it today. That happens. You’re not gonna do it every time.”
Perry, who fell to 1-3 on the season, said, “I felt like I made a couple of good pitches, and they hit a couple of good ones.
“I didn’t want it to happen,” he said of the blow-up, “but it’s part of the game.
“It happens to everybody and I’ve got to deal with it.”
There were other realities for the Tigers to absorb Wednesday, all of them painful:
Magglio Ordonez did his best to plug the Miguel Cabrera gap (Cabrera was home with his wife as a new baby was greeted) by hitting a mammoth two-run home run off the scoreboard in left field, as well as a double and a single.
Ryan Raburn had a single and some sadistically bad luck in two other at-bats. He hit a pair of 400-foot fly-outs, the last on a breathtaking 14-pitch at-bat against Mariners starter Jason Vargas.
Austin Jackson had two hits and a RBI, while his rookie cohort, Brennan Boesch, had a double off the left-center field wall, and a catch worthy of Ringling Brothers when he tumbled into the left-field seats to catch Ichiro Suzuki’s leadoff fly ball.
But none of it overcame one half-inning from a game the Tigers had all put placed in their, and Bonderman’s, trophy case.
“Our bullpen’s done such a great job,” Leyland said. “It was one of those things. And that happens in baseball.”
As do victories.
The Tigers would have bet Comerica Park they had one in their pocket Wednesday.