The Detroit Tigers are headed back home for the holidays, and they will do so feeling a little surge of confidence. A stout pitching performance by Drew Smyly and his friends in the bullpen along with timely hitting helped Detroit sew up a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Desmond Jennings showed why the Rays are a frustrating opponent. He walked, stole second base and got to third on a wild pitch. B.J. Upton flew out to deep center, giving Tampa a fast, manufactured 1-0 lead without a hit. The Tigers got runners on in the second and a leadoff double in the third by Ramon Santiago, but didn’t manage to do any damage. Smyly held the fort nicely, stunningly continuing to not allow a baserunner. The Tigers loaded the bases in the fourth, and finally tied the game with a Ryan Raburn single. However, as has happened so much this year, the promising inning ended pathetically with Don Kelly grounding out, Santiago striking out and Austin Jackson pounding out to shortstop. Interestingly enough, though, the very next inning the Tigers loaded the bases again with nobody out and broke through. Delmon Young gave Detroit 2-1 lead with a sacrifice fly, and Alex Avila extended the margin with another deep fly ball. Smyly finally had some run support, and gave it up right away. He allowed his first hit of the ballgame, a double to Ben Zobrist, in the bottom of the fifth. Zobrist would come around to score, and the Rays tied the game 3-3 on a single by Jose Molina. Things continued to go back and forth in the sixth, as Jackson scored Don Kelly with a single. Prince Fielder made the margin two once again with an RBI single of his own to center field, giving Detroit the 5-3 advantage.
After Smyly exited in the sixth, Detroit’s bullpen simply took over. Brayan Villarreal motored through, quickly striking out the side. In the seventh, Phil Coke got into trouble, allowing two hits, but got out of the jam by virtue of a heads up throw to third base by Alex Avila and a fly ball to center. Joaquin Benoit pitched the eighth, striking out two batters, and Jose Valverde worked an efficiant, 1-2-3 ninth to put the win in the books. The Tigers wouldn’t add any runs late, but with a pitching performance like this across the board, they didn’t exactly need extra support today.
Big Cat: Tigers’ pitching: Drew Smyly and the bullpen. We’ll give the rookie a bit of justified praise here. He held the Rays hitless for the first five innings of the game and was only scored on early by virtue of a manufactured run. Though he gave up the lead, he generally pitched well against a solid team. After Smyly was done, the relievers each did fantastic jobs nailing the game down. They only allowed two hits, didn’t allow a run and struck out six. Just another solid day at the office for a group rounding into form at just the right time. Pitching is the biggest reason the Tigers are hanging around in the tight race for the A.L. Central.
Stray Kitty: Don Kelly. Another terrible performance from the Tigers’ super sub. Though he scored a run with a big double, he never has impressive at bats with the bases loaded, and constantly leaves people wondering exactly why he’s on the team. All in all, a good day for Detroit as the team pulls to one game under .500, which makes it supremely easy to pick on Kelly for another below average performance.
Best Play Of The Game: Alex Avila throwing out Ben Zobrist in the seventh inning. With Phil Coke in a bit of trouble, Zobrist tried to get creative on a wild pitch and steal third. Avila threw him out, giving the Tigers the second out of the inning and ending a major threat. The Tigers haven’t been fantastic in those situations this year, so it was a bit surprising to see Avila make a heads up throw to peg a runner trying to steal on a wild pitch. That play was very, very important in the outcome of this win.
Worst Play Of The Game: The fourth inning. The Tigers loaded the bases with nobody out, but instead of busting the game open and supporing their young pitcher a ton, the inning ended quickly and quietly following the tying run scoring. The Tigers did win, but the win could have been much more comfortable for everyone had they came through with the bases loaded just a bit more. The inability to tack on insurance runs has been a haunting problem at times this year for the Tigers, and remains so even in spite of victories.
Central Focus: The White Sox lost to the Yankees, meaning the Tigers’ deficit in the division race is down to 3 games once more. Cleveland has also sliced their divisional deficit to 1.5 games by taking a weekend series from Baltimore.
On Deck: The Tigers embark on a seven game homestand prior to next week’s all star break. First up is a visit from the Minnesota Twins, who will throw Liam Hendricks to the mound on Monday night. He’ll be opposed by Doug Fister. The game begins at 7:05 p.m.