Wild 10th inning spells doom for Tigers
Lyon's wildness opens door for Minnesota's winning rally
DETROIT -- Like Brandon Lyon's 10th-inning pitches in the dirt, the Tigers were left fighting the possibility that the American League Central title is bouncing away from their grasp.
Even after the Tigers held off the Twins in Tuesday's nightcap, they'll have to take a long look at their offense as they try to figure how they got to this position.
Though Lyon's back-to-back wild pitches set up Denard Span to score on Orlando Cabrera's RBI single, part of a two-run 10th inning that sent Minnesota to a 3-2 win, manager Jim Leyland pointed to the Tigers runners stranded in the first few innings that helped the game get that far.
"We let them off the hook early," Leyland said. "We didn't take advantage of our opportunities. We should've had three or four runs early, and we didn't do it. And when you don't do that, it usually comes back to haunt you."
Detroit had five hits out of its first 13 batters, eight baserunners from their first 17, and got a lone run out of it. They didn't get another hit after Brandon Inge's fourth-inning leadoff single until Curtis Granderson led off the bottom of the 10th with his 29th home run of the year.
By then, the Twins had their lead and closer Joe Nathan on the mound. Thanks to Delmon Young's sacrifice fly after Cabrera's single, all Granderson's homer did was bring the potential tying run to the plate.
Rick Porcello, whose 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball kept the Tigers in the game, was long since out with a no-decision. So was Twins starter Nick Blackburn, who escaped the early trouble and retired the final 12 Tigers he faced.
Lyon (6-5), who entered the day with one wild pitch all season, was on the hook. But so was the offense.
"You don't like to see the game get sloppy with the wild pitches to get the go-ahead run," Leyland said, "but that's part of it. I don't have any problem with that. Like I said, the whole key to this game was early innings. Blackburn had not gotten settled in where he was real sharp yet, and we let him off the hook. That's my opinion."
Blackburn wouldn't argue about the early innings being a struggle. He fell behind four of the five batters he faced in the opening inning, and the one time he got ahead came when he was pitching around Miguel Cabrera. Granderson hit a 2-0 pitch for a leadoff double, but Placido Polanco's ensuing groundout to short left him there. Clete Thomas' groundout advanced him, but Aubrey Huff's grounder to second ended the threat.
It also set a tone. Detroit's lone run out of the early threats came when Ramon Santiago's liner to first hit off the glove of the lunging Michael Cuddyer for a second-inning infield single. Another leadoff double from Thomas in the third went for naught when he was thrown out at home on Huff's grounder to first.
"First couple innings were a struggle," Blackburn said. "[Pitching coach Rick Anderson] came out and told me he saw a few mechanical things I was doing different. Once we got those lined out, hitters started battling themselves in a way, kind of getting themselves out, taking defensive swings and not sure what was coming. For the most part, they kept hitting the ball at people."
Porcello kept pace. His lone run, ironically, came when Nick Punto's sacrifice bunt and Span's sac fly turned Matt Tolbert's fifth-inning leadoff double into a score.
With a stiff breeze blowing out to left, Porcello went early and often to his sinker and used it for one out after another, though he didn't have a 1-2-3 inning after the first.
"That's my game plan from the get-go," Porcello said, "whether the wind's blowing in, out, sideways."
It was an important enough game that Leyland left Porcello in well past the 100-pitch mark to 111, seven more than his previous high. It was also important enough that each leadoff hit after that seemed to put Minnesota's manufacturing offense in motion. Tolbert's sacrifice bunts in the seventh and ninth moved Alexi Casilla into position.
It finally backfired in the ninth, when Lyon's high fastball nearly knocked over Punto as he squared around for a squeeze bunt with Castilla darting home. His popout set off an inning-ending double play that sent the crowd roaring, but Span's running catch in the right-field corner to rob Santiago of a walk-off hit sent the park silent.
It also made the Tigers 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Once Span's ground ball skirted up the middle for a leadoff single in the 10th, Lyon's wild pitches sent the crowd into dismay. The first was a fastball he put too low and skipped off catcher Gerald Laird's right side, the second a slider that spiked the dirt to Laird's left.
"I just went out there and didn't make the pitches today," Lyon said. "I don't know, I usually have better control than I did today. I didn't really take control out there. ...
"Obviously, you don't want to do it, especially in that situation, but it happened. Once it happens, you just try to pitch out of that situation. My focus is the same."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.