Tigers stay unbeaten, pour it on Rays in eighth
DETROIT — Four games into the season, it normally would be a bad sign that the Tigers starting rotation still doesn't have a
But since Detroit has the only undefeated record in the American League, and three
of the four starts have gone very well (minus the Doug Fister injury), it is
the last thing anyone is worried about.
On Tuesday it was Rick Porcello's turn, and he came through with flying colors.
He allowed only two runs on seven hits in seven innings as the Tigers beat the
previously undefeated Rays 5-2.
"Those were two great young starters today — (Tampa’s) Matt Moore is
everything that was advertised — and the only reason we won the game is that
Ricky did such a great job," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Porcello didn't get the win — that went to Phil Coke after the Tigers took the
lead in the eighth inning — but he knew he helped with the victory.
"I'm just out there trying to make pitches and give us a chance to
win," Porcello said. "I'm not worried about anything else."
It might have helped that Porcello had Gerald Laird behind the plate. Porcello has a career 4.11 ERA in 40 starts with Laird behind the plate, and a
4.80 ERA pitching to anyone else.
"He threw the ball really well today," Laird said. "He was
running sinkers in on them and then sinkers away, and when he can do that, he
pitches like he did today. They don't know what to expect. This is a great
building point for him."
When Porcello finished his seven-inning stint, he was in line for a tough loss,
but the Detroit offense came through with another late-inning rally. Austin
Jackson got things started with a two-out homer in the seventh, tying the game
Jackson finished with two walks and the homer — the first time he has done that
in his career — and now is hitting .563 with a .650 on-base percentage. His
homer was the last pitch thrown by Tampa Bay's newest young ace.
"He'd been battling me all game, so even though we've never faced each
other, he had seen just about everything I throw," said Moore, who was
making his second career start. "He got the count to 3-2, and I think he
figured out what was coming next."
Jackson hit the ball into the Tigers bullpen, where Phil Coke made a nice
catch. Moments later Coke sprinted onto the field to pitch a scoreless eighth
and set up Detroit's third final at-bat victory of the season.
Meanwhile, Jackson's homer had Tampa manager Joe Maddon in a quandry. One of
baseball's best tactical minds, Maddon didn't have a good plan for an inning
that started off with Miguel Cabrera.
"We had a righty/lefty matchup with Jake (McGee), but Cabrera doesn't care
if he's facing a righty or a lefty. He kills everyone," Maddon said.
"You just throw it up there and hope he hits it hard at someone.
"Unfortunately for us, he hit it hard at the right-field wall."
Cabrera's liner bounced off the right-center-field scoreboard, putting the
go-ahead run on second. Maddon stuck with McGee and decided not to walk Prince
Fielder. That didn't work either, as Fielder hit an RBI single to right.
Maddon kept making moves, bringing in Burke Badenhop in hopes of getting Delmon
Young to hit into a double play, but the Tigers foiled the Rays skipper again
as Young singled through a snow shower.
Now it was Leyland's turn to make a move in the managerial chess game, and
it turned out to be the perfect decision. Clete Thomas ran for Young, and
Leyland started the runners on a 3-2 pitch, even with no one out.
Ryan Raburn hit what looked like a perfect double-play ball, but Thomas beat the
throw to second, turning it into a 6-4-3 out at first.
Jhonny Peralta then made it 4-2 with a sacrifice fly and Laird gave the Tigers
an insurance run with his first Tigers RBI since September 2010.
"Prince hit the ball into the perfect spot, and then Delmon has a great
at-bat," Maddon said. "We get the grounder we want, but Jim's got his
runners going and Thomas beats the throw. Then Peralta hits a ball the opposite
way for a sacrifice fly and Laird gets the hit.
"This was a great baseball game, and it came down to the fact that they
did all the little things they needed at the end to win the game. They do that to a lot of teams."
Jose Valverde then erased the memories of his Opening Day struggles with a
perfect ninth, getting his first save and the bullpen its fourth
So the Tigers are 4-0, and they have Justin Verlander on the mound Wednesday
afternoon. It is hard to imagine a better way to start the season.