Nothing’s coming easy for the Detroit Tigers right now, not even on a night like Tuesday when they staked their ace, Justin Verlander, to an early 5-0 lead. Despite that strong start, the Tigers and closer Jose Valverde had to weather another heart-stopping ninth inning.
Valverde walked the first two batters he faced — the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters in Seattle’s batting order — and then had to overcome a dropped throw by Prince Fielder at first that would have completed a double play and ended the game. Valverde only managed to seal the deal when, with two outs and the bases loaded, defensive replacement Don Kelly leaped into the stands to make a catch off the bat of Jesus Montero, giving Detroit a 6-4 win.
The victory was the Tigers’ first in five tries against Seattle this season.
Andy Dirks got Detroit on the board in the first inning, singling home Austin Jackson after Jackson led off the game with a double. Dirks then plated two more runners in the third when he doubled to the right-field corner off Seattle starter Kevin Millwood. Delmon Young added a two-run double of his own that same inning to make it 5-0.
But things started to get dicey for Detroit in the third inning. Seattle used four singles to score three times off Verlander, but not before Jim Leyland was ejected by home-plate umpire Brian Knight for arguing a call. Verlander nearly followed his manager out of the game early — and he may have been run too, if Gerald Laird had not stepped between Verlander and Knight during a heated discussion.
Verlander settled down after that and gutted out six innings, allowing seven hits, three runs and striking out six.
Prince Fielder added a much needed insurance run in the seventh by belting his fifth homer of the season. That run turned out to be huge when Seattle immediately answered with a run of its own off Phil Coke in the bottom of the seventh.
Valverde then needed all the cushion he could get in the ninth before closing out his sixth save.
Tigers’ MVP: Dirks. Since claiming the everyday left fielder job and moving up to the two-spot in Detroit’s order, Dirks has helped to jump start a struggling offense. He came up big Tuesday, even as the Tigers left another eight men on base and stranded the bases loaded on two separate occasions.
Tigers’ Goat: Miguel Cabrera. It’s been a rough series for Cabrera, who went 0-for-5 on Tuesday and is now 0-for-9 in Seattle. To make matters worse, he hasn’t homered since April 28 and has just two RBI in May.
What’s Next: The Tigers will send Drew Smyly to the mound on Wednesday night in search of a series win. Smyly is 1-0 on the year but could have a much better record, given his 1.61 ERA. He’ll be opposed by Jason Vargas. The Seattle southpaw has a 3-2 record with a 3.09 ERA.