Wednesday night, the Detroit Tigers didn't do enough on the scoreboard to help their starting pitching or bullpen, leading to a late implosion. Thursday afternoon, that was a different story, as Victor Martinez came through adding to Detroit's lead in the seventh inning, helping the Tigers put away the Athletics 5-4.
On the heels of a nasty start last time out, Rick Porcello worked around plenty of trouble early, getting ground balls to extinguish a few Oakland threats on the bases. The Tigers, much like they had done the night before, got the first run in the third inning after a Miguel Cabrera RBI groundout which plated Ian Kinsler to make it 1-0.
As per their fighting mentality, the Athletics came back immediately. Nick Punto, a nemesis from the Minnesota Twins, smacked a two run home run to put Oakland up 2-1 in the fourth. Detroit, however, had the perfect response. A Kinsler double tied the game, and Cabrera scored Kinsler with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2 Tigers.
That score would hold strong through a few more Porcello near-disasters until the seventh. With two men on, Martinez, arguably the best hitter in baseball during the 2014 season, doubled down the right field line deep into foul territory allowing both runs to score, extending Detroit's lead to 5-2.
Even though Ian Krol, Al Alburquerque and Joba Chamberlain did their jobs, those runs would be dearly needed. Joe Nathan, fresh off his most recent implosion, threatened to blow things open again in the ninth inning, issuing a walk and three hits plating two Oakland runs, but he got the game ending groundout off the bad of Jed Lowrie to end the game. Detroit had secured their split.
Top Tiger: Victor Martinez. Another two hits for Martinez, and the biggest came in the seventh, when he cleared the bases with one swing and provided Detroit with larger than a one run spread. Against the tenacious Athletics, that's important, especially when they're playing in the spacious confines of the Colosseum. Give Martinez, a newly-minted .344 hitter, credit for being a clutch player once more.
Bungling Bengal: Joe Nathan. After the game, Nathan declined interview requests, telling reporters they could write what they wanted and imploring them to talk to the players who did their part. At least there's some self-realization at play. Nathan was bad again, allowing three hits and two runs to make the game unbearably close. He probably needs a day off considering he's pitched in three consecutive games, and needs to re-evaluate himself again.
The Turning Point: Martinez's double pads the score. Had the Tigers been the beneficiary of some additional runs on Wednesday night, Nathan's missteps could have been covered up much like they were on Thursday. Credit Martinez for his clutch hit, which allowed the Tigers to have some extra breathing room, and made the hill steeper than the Athletics were able to climb.
Play Of The Game: J.D. Martinez makes a shoestring catch, prevents runs. Though he is known for his bat and some surprise power, Martinez has flashed the leather a bit, and continued to do so on Thursday, making a beautiful catch on a sinking line drive by Yoenis Cespedes. The catch helped keep Oakland off the scoreboard, and kept Martinez in the good graces of Porcello and his manager.
Stat Of The Game: 4, the number of runs the final three games of the series were decided by. After Monday's travel-fueled 10-0 blowout, the games got intense and the baseball took on a playoff feel. Nobody would be surprised if the Tigers and Athletics see each other in the playoffs again, and even fewer would be shocked if the games are equally as competitive.
Quote To Note: "If he's on, you're gonna get quick outs. He just wasn't today." —Brad Ausmus. Joe Nathan had another bad day, and Ausmus admitted his closer didn't have his best stuff again for the second consecutive appearance. Clearly, he still has plenty of confidence in Nathan, but realizes things haven't been going well lately.
What's Next: The Tigers continue their road trip out west against the Seattle Mariners. Justin Verlander (5-4) tries to snap a losing streak against Hisashi Iwakuma (3-1). The game begins at 10:10 p.m. EST.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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