MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers enjoyed Joaquin Benoit's saves streak while it lasted. They're obviously hoping the pitching that helped build it goes on now that he has a blown save on his mark.
To figure out one of the biggest reasons behind that, look no further than the balls that have stayed in the park.
At this point in last year's schedule, Benoit gave up his 14th home run, highest among all American League relievers. Six of them either tied the game or put the Tigers behind, which is why his ability to keep opposing hitters down was a huge question heading into the postseason. He allowed a go-ahead homer to the A's in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, then settled down to not allow another run for the rest of October.
By contrast, Brian Dozier's game-tying homer Monday was the fifth home run Benoit has allowed all season. Four of them have come from right-handed hitters, though left-handed batters have had more plate appearances against him.
Benoit's 14 home runs last year were evenly split among right- and left-handed hitters. His ability to keep lefties from hitting for power is the biggest difference.
Coke headed back to Detroit for MRI
MINNEAPOLIS -- A day after Phil Coke threw off the bullpen mound at Target Field, seemingly feeling fine and ready to return to the Tigers relief corps, things aren't fine anymore. He's heading back to Detroit for an MRI on his left elbow, which tightened up on him again overnight.
"Today it was tight and sore," Coke said. "And before I threw yesterday, I didn't feel anything."
Coke will undergo an exam Wednesday afternoon. What happens there is anyone's guess, depending on the results. Even the best-case scenario, treatment and rest rather than surgery, seemingly leaves little to no time to get him ready for the postseason, which leaves the Tigers bullpen devoid of experienced lefties.
Coke is hoping for the best, but it's clear he's understandably nervous about what he's going to find out.
"I'm incredibly disappointed right now just because the way it's been going," Coke said. "I feel like I'm letting everybody down. I don't deal well with being in this current position.
"It's a whole what-if thing. I mean, what if I told them to shut me down sooner? Where would we be right now? I don't know. That's what makes it so difficult."
What Coke means is something he has said in recent days: He has been dealing with some degree of elbow discomfort for a while, as long as last October.
"I'm really apologetic to the fan base for the season having gone the way it has, because I've been fighting it all season, and I was fighting through soreness in the postseason last year too," he said. "That's what I was attributing it to, because I was able to go out and do my job and get it done and no major problems. That's what I felt like I was doing throughout the season this year, but it must be a little bit different than I thought."
He became a postseason hero last October when he stepped into save situations during the American League Championship Series to mow down a lefty-heavy Yankees lineup. With Tuesday's news, it's looking more and more like he'll miss his chance to repeat it and put a frustrating regular season behind him. At the very least, the Division Series seems tough to pull off if he needs any significant amount of rest.
"I was really, really hopefully that today was going to be the best day," he said. "This is the definitive time. If you're going to proceed forward, you need to be doing your job."
Offensive inconsistency nagging at Leyland
MINNEAPOLIS -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland had just taken a few questions in a row from reporters about his relief corps Tuesday afternoon in the wake of Minnesota's Monday night comeback, then about Torii Hunter's throw home, when he decided to change the conversation.
"We have to score runs, fellas. It's as simple as that," he interjected. "We keep talking about the pitching and the bullpen and everything, but we're not scoring runs. We have to score runs. We've had some blowouts once in a while when our numbers go up. We need to score runs, plain and simple. I'll make it that simple for you. We need to get on the board with some runs."
Entering play Tuesday, the Tigers led the Majors with a .285 batting average, 2,442 total bases and 163 go-ahead RBIs. They trailed only the Red Sox with 788 runs scored, 759 RBIs and a .787 OPS. However, Detroit also led baseball with 1,120 runners left on base, 45 more than the Red Sox, and 1,239 double plays grounded into.
Realistically, though, the Tigers' offensive questions are better seen in the game-to-game numbers. Detroit and Boston are the only teams in baseball averaging five runs a game. The Tigers have scored double-digit runs in 18 of their 91 wins entering Tuesday, though just twice in September. However, they've also been shut out 11 times, three times in September. They've been held to one run in nine other games, three of those in September; one of them was a 1-0 win over the White Sox in Chicago.
They're 11-8 in games in which they've scored four runs, with just two of them in September. With three runs or fewer, they're 11-47. With five runs or more, they're 69-11.
"You're talking about scoring 14 in one game, or 15 or 18, and then scoring two runs the next game. Well, that averages out," Leyland said. "That's one of those numbers things that you can read into it however you want to read into it."
Hunter shares history of celebration goggles
MINNEAPOLIS -- Somewhere stashed away in Torii Hunter's locker in the visiting clubhouse at Target Field is a pair of swim goggles waiting to get soaked. There's a history behind it. To hear Hunter talk about, there's more history about celebration goggles in Minnesota than people realize.
Though David Ortiz has received a lot of credit for incorporating goggles into clinching celebrations from the Red Sox's run through the 2004 playoffs, Hunter says that goes back to his first celebration in Minnesota.
"Me and David Ortiz started it in 2002 with the Twins," Hunter said. "He brought it to the Red Sox."
It was a lesson the two learned after the Twins clinched the American League Central in the final week of the season that year. Their eyes burned enough from the champagne that they still hurt the next day. When the Twins beat the A's in the AL Division Series, they were prepared.
It started with a small pair, but each year has seen players donning bigger and bigger goggles.
• Jose Iglesias took more ground balls at shortstop during pregame batting practice Tuesday. However, Leyland said Iglesias is still struggling to grip a bat with his bruised left hand. He'll have to do that before he's cleared to return to the lineup. Leyland mentioned nothing about potentially using him as a defensive substitute.
• Matt Tuiasosopo credited his work with Tigers coach Tom Brookens and his repetitions in left with his recent improvement in left field. The converted infielder made a leaping catch in the gap and a diving catch down the left-field line in the same game last weekend, and he tracked down a tricky drive to left that curved on him Monday night.