Most days, a six run lead is plenty for any baseball team, much less the Detroit Tigers, who employ a solid starting staff and a serviceable bullpen. However, that theory was nearly proven wrong on Saturday during Detroit's tense 7-6 win against the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite getting off to their second straight bad start in the early innings and facing a 1-0 deficit, Detroit's bats struck back to support Rick Porcello in the third. Torii Hunter doubled, clearing the bases to score Alex Gonzalez, Ian Kinsler and Don Kelly to provide the Tigers with a solid 3-1 advantage.
Porcello, managing his sinker well and getting plenty of ground balls, was strong through six innings pitched. He only allowed the three early hits and one run while walking two and striking out three. Just before he departed, the Tigers busted the game open in the fifth inning with a loud two-run home run from Hunter. Then in the sixth, Detroit added more via a Kelly triple and a Rajai Davis sacrifice fly, helping the 7-1 rout appear on.
Nobody could have known at the time how vital those runs would prove. Evan Reed got the Tigers through an inning and a half with a solid performance, leaving the door open for Detroit to get Phil Coke some stress free work in the ninth inning. Coke, however, imploded, allowing two hits, two runs and a walk while barely recording an out. Al Alburquerque relieved him and allowed a hard luck single loading the bases, setting the stage for Joe Nathan.
Nathan, though, looked as hitable as he had when he blew his first save. Between Steve Lombardozzi's single, Steve Clevinger's ground rule double and David Lough's hot shot to shortstop, not a single ball was hit slowly. With the lead sliced to one and the margin of error smaller, Nathan struck out Nelson Cruz and induced a fly out from Davis to finally put the game away.
Top Tiger: Torii Hunter. Friday, Hunter's big 3-4 day was lost amongst Miguel Cabrera's moment, but quietly, he's found his form after a slow series against Kansas City. For the second day in a row, Hunter homered, and his five RBI's were the only reason Detroit was able to win. A one day overdue bit of credit goes out to Hunter.
Bungling Bengal: Phil Coke. For the 2014 Tigers, Coke has one job: don't get embarrassed when called upon. Unfortunately for the lefty, that's exactly what happened on Saturday, as Coke through worse batting practice than Joba Chamberlain had the previous day. It's going to be tough for the Tigers to justify using Coke if he continues to turn in terrible outings.
The Turning Point: Detroit's quick three run outburst in the third inning. A nice trend is developing for the Tigers. Despite getting down early and often this season, Detroit refuses to give up, and often responds with runs of their own immediately in the early innings. That happened again on Saturday, as Detroit dismissed an early Baltimore lead with plenty of runs quickly. That put the Orioles in another hole they couldn't find their way out of.
Stat Of The Game: 2, the number of steals for the Tigers, one from Austin Jackson and the other from the speedy Davis, who got his first in a Detroit uniform on Saturday. Though the Tigers have made speed and base aggression a priority, they hadn't turned loose two of their fastest players until the weekend.
Quote To Note: "A win's a win." –Don Kelly. Saturday, Kelly was inserted into the lineup and did his part, going 3-4 with an RBI. After the game, Kelly didn't seem to care about style points while providing his sound bytes. Few Detroit games have been easy early on, but the bottom line is a 4-0 record.
What's Next: Detroit goes for the sweep against the Orioles, who are proving to be just as road challenged in 2014 as they were in 2013. First pitch tomorrow is scheduled for 1:08 p.m. with Justin Verlander going against Chris Tillman.Austin Jackson, Baseball, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, Don Kelly, Joe Nathan, MLB, Phil Coke, Rajai Davis, Rick Porcello, Torii Hunter