A quiet May series in Baltimore has led to drama and determination for Detroit.
Detroit entered the Orioles’ Camden Yards after playing 13 consecutive days. A rain delay halted the series by over a half-hour for its inaugural game. With Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello as the men on the mound, the Tigers were not expecting fireworks to end their road trip.
However, the unexpected is what makes every game in the 162-spread season one to watch.On Monday, Rick Porcello stepped up huge for Detroit again. He pitched six innings and gave up only one run and five hits. The 25-year-old is looking to have his breakout year, and Porcello earned his fifth quality start in seven opportunities, but he left the game after six innings with tightness in his side. Although listed as day-to-day, he is not expected to miss any starts.
Porcello’s pitching was not the story during Monday’s game, however. And surprisingly, neither was the batting. The Tigers put up four runs courtesy of Cabrera, Martinez, and Kinsler, but the action began after the score would be set.
After a two-run slam by Kinsler in the eighth inning, Orioles starter Bud Norris drilled the next batter, Torii Hunter, with a fastball to the ribcage. Hunter slowly made his way to first, exchanging less-than-pleasantries with Norris on the long 90-foot walk. Expletives were shouted, benches cleared, and Norris was ejected. After order was restored on the field and Norris learned of his ejection, he continued to jaw with Hunter on his way to the dugout.
Norris showered early and took the 4-1 loss with him. Detroit’s bullpen gave up one hit over three innings, and Nathan earned his eighth save of the year.
Tuesday was a different ballgame. The temperament of the teams changed from friendly to determined. Both clubs sent their new starters to the mound, and the results on two power teams was unexpected, at least for eight innings.
Drew Smyly and Ubaldo Jimenez were locked in a pitchers duel for eight great innings on Tuesday. Smyly surrendered just one run on a solo shot by Orioles center fielder Adam Jones in the first. He then relaxed and pitched six solid innings for the Tigers.
The men in orange and white were equal to the task. Jimenez pitched seven scoreless innings, and Darren O’Day got Baltimore to within three outs of shutting out the dangerous Tigers lineup.
Tumultuous closer Tommy Hunter entered the ninth, having to put away the 8-9-1 hitters for Detroit. After Alex Avila singled, Rajai Davis entered the game as a pinch runner which immediately giving hope to Tigers faithful. Davis attempted to steal second and was initially called out, but the call was overturned on an incredibly close decision by the umpires. Kinsler and Kelly were retired without a hitch, and Torii Hunter forced a walk on eight pitches.
With men on first and second, entering the hitter’s box was the man loved by the Lakes loves and hated by the Atlantic: Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera’s been, for a two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner, moderately average throughout 2014. Many have been waiting for that moment to see the big man do something special — and boy, he did.
Cabrera smacked the second pitch he saw 401 feet into the Orioles’ bullpen, and the Tigers proved they still have the power hitting in the clutch. Cabrera needed a spark to start another special streak. The three-run blast may prove to be the turning point.
As Cabrera rounded the bases to the stunned crowd, only one phrase came to mind: simply the best. It was the 13th time in Cabrera’s career he hit a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later.
Not to be outdone, Victor Martinez made his mark on the game as well. Martinez clocked the first pitch he saw by Hunter to Eutaw street, and Detroit went from 0-1 to 4-1 in two pitches. A half-inning later, Nathan earned his ninth-straight save and Detroit went to 23-12 on the season.
The Baltimore series may have started slow, but it quickly proved what makes Detroit such a dangerous team in 2014. A little bit of speed, a little more power, and a whole lot of determination to win every game, every day are the ingredients.
Detroit is far from proving itself as world champions, but 11 games over .500 and a 5 ½ game division lead is a good place to start.
Richie Cozzolino is the host of Tiger Talk for Impact Sports.