Tigers get a really good night from their bullpen, and isn’t that a step in the right direction?
The Tigers won your basic seven-reliever, 14-inning, 4-hour, 27-minute victory Wednesday in Seattle, and who doesn’t enjoy one of those? I just hope they didn’t cut off sales of grilled salmon sandwiches in the seventh inning. Speaking of shutting something down, Detroit’s bullpen was outstanding, throwing zeroes on the board for the final six innings.
Remember that bullpen? It’s the one that had the Tigers so worried at the end of Spring Training and the one that has had a couple of uncomfortable moments in these opening weeks. The Tigers don’t know who is going to close games long-term, leaving Jim Leyland to mix and match the late innings.
That’s not the way they’d like doing business, but let’s face it, if you’re going to ask your manager to figure something out on the fly, there’s no one better than Leyland to do it. Having managed 3,351 games, he has seen pretty much everything. It’s not that the Tigers don’t have options. They have plenty of big league arms in the bullpen.
But they don’t have anyone who has ever had a lot of success pitching the ninth inning, and not everyone is cut out for that particular job. Early in his career with the Phillies, Billy Wagner blew a save. When the hardball writers entered the clubhouse, they found Wagner waiting at his locker.
He had blown a lead, and he was going to be accountable. When he finished talking that night, he said, “If the same thing happens tomorrow night, I’ll be right here again.” On the morning after Brad Lidge gave up a gut-wrenching home run to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, Wagner phoned Lidge.
“It’s not about what you did last night,” he said. “It’s how you recover and move on.”
Closers are out there without a safety net, and some relievers aren’t comfortable. Those that are really good with it simply put it out of their minds and move on. The Tigers aren’t sure they’ve got that guy.
However, they are sure they’ve got one of the best teams in baseball. They’ve got arguably the best rotation and best offense. They’ve got one of the best general managers (Dave Dombrowski) and one of the best managers (Leyland) ever. If there was a team that could figure something out, it’s the Tigers. At the moment, only the Astros have a higher ERA among American League bullpens.
Tigers starter Max Scherzer turned a 1-1 tie over to his bullpen in the bottom of the ninth inning. Leyland summoned Octavio Dotel, who faced two Mariners and failed to retire either of them. Phil Coke did a terrific job in getting Raul Ibanez to ground into a double play and then striking out Justin Smoak with the winning run on third.
Leyland used Brayan Villareal and Darin Downs to get through the 10th inning, then got two huge innings from Al Albuquerque and one apiece from Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit. Victor Martinez’s leadoff single in the 14th set up the winning rally, and Benoit, the projected eighth-inning guy before rookie Bruce Rondon had a tough spring and was sent back down, finished up for his first save of the season.
By finished up, I mean he got the save when Prince Fielder threw out Smoak at the plate to end it. C Brayan Pena absorbed a brutal hit from Smoak to hold onto the ball.