Tigers must hit or stay home

BY foxsports • September 30, 2009

The Tigers' lead in the American League Central is down to one game, and I could tell you that the pressure rests squarely on Detroit ace Justin Verlander in tonight's crucial encounter with the Twins.

But then I'd be lying.

The burden will belong to the nine hitters on manager Jim Leyland's lineup card. Based on what transpired on a gray Tuesday afternoon, that's not a good thing for the Tigers.

Detroit squandered a number of scoring chances early in the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader. Leyland estimated that his team could have taken a 3-0 or 4-0 lead on Twins starter Nick Blackburn in the early going.

Instead, the Tigers sustained a devastating 3-2 loss in 10 innings, and Leyland wasn't shy about offering his explanation for what took place.

"We had a chance to do some real damage early in the game," he said. "We didn't do it. And it came back to haunt us. We had a shot at Blackburn early, and we let him off the hook.

"You can't miss those chances like we did. A sac fly or anything, and it's a whole different ballgame."

Brandon Inge didn't necessarily see it the same way as his manager. Inge talked instead about how some hard-hit balls didn't fall.

"In my interpretation, if someone says, 'Letting him off the hook,' it's kind of implying to me a lack of focus, a lack of concentration," Inge said. "I don't feel like that was the deal at all. I thought we had great at-bats. I thought we did a good job. ... It's just the way it happens some days."

Inge, an All-Star who is playing on a badly hurt knee, is entitled to his opinion. But we're not talking about just one day — or even "some days," as he put it. The sample size is large and recent.

Detroit has scored three or fewer runs eight times in its last 20 games. The Tigers are 1-7 in those games. Now you know how the Twins, who trailed by seven games earlier this month, have gained ground so quickly.