Game 4: The day Fielder went with the splits
The biggest reason behind Prince Fielder’s first .300 season last year was his success against left-handed pitching. He didn’t hit very many home runs, just six in 248 plate appearances, but he raised his singles and doubles rates against lefties. As a result, he hit .289 off lefties. 26 points above his career rate and just three points below his career best from 2009.
So when the Twins went with a lefty reliever Tyler Robertson against Fielder on Thursday, it didn’t seem like it should have much effect. Instead, Robertson spotted a fastball on Fielder, then threw him sliders he couldn’t quite resist. In the process, Robertson got the big second out that set up a Casey Fien showdown with Victor Martinez, which again went in the Twins’ favor and kept the Tigers down for good.
Given that result, it made sense that the Yankees turned to Boone Logan against Fielder, who was just 1-for-6 against him. The way Nova was looking wild, it made incredible sense to pull him regardless, but the matchup Joe Girardi created with it made sense. Fielder couldn’t lay off Robertson’s slider on Thursday, but he shrugged off Logan’s slider on Friday, which left Logan to try to even the count with a fastball.
Fielder didn’t just get a base hit. He got the go-ahead three-run homer. Even that seemed to go against Fielder’s recent lefty splits. Maybe he knew what to expect from Logan after a half-dozen previous meetings, but he wasn’t letting on.
“I wish I could say I did [sit on a pitch],” Fielder said, “but I just try to see and hit it, and it worked out today.”
At some point in the middle of Spring Training, I asked Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon what could be the biggest benefit for Fielder with another year in the league, knowing the pitching, and he believed it was batting average. His home runs and RBIs could be tempered by walks, even with Martinez behind him. His hitting rate doesn’t have those limits.
He might be good enough to win a batting title. In two big at-bats against lefty relievers, though, he was famine one day, feast the next.
Play of the game: If you’re talking highlight play, it had to be Brennan Boesch’s crash into the right-field fence to retire Fielder. If you’re talking about a pure highlight, the attempt by a fan to catch Fielder’s first home run ended up becoming viral on the internet. If you’re just plain talking about a highlight, Alex Avila jumping a Shawn Kelley fastball and sending it more than halfway up the right-field seats was something Tigers fans have been waiting to see.
Biggest out: Had Miguel Cabrera not snared Jayson Nix’s line drive to end the fifth inning, the game could have ended up spiraling out of control for the Tigers before they had a chance to come back. Yes, three runs were already in, and the bottom third of an injury-depleted Yankees lineup was due up. But Fister was already at 96 pitches, and another hit would have meant two runners for Ichiro and Fister nearing the 100-pitch mark. If they had to go to Smyly in the fourth, especially with runners already on base, it would have changed the bullpen usage drastically.
What worked for Smyly: Fastball command. As catcher Alex Avila said, “His fastball command was as good as it can get. Hit both corners of the plate with his fastball, mixed in his cutter when he needed to. He just got on a roll and it was a lot of fun to catch. When a pitcher’s going like that, when he’s hitting his spots, it makes it easy to call a game.”
Strategy: It would be difficult to blame Girardi for playing the percentages with Logan against Fielder, given the numbers. Nova was reeling, and Logan had a track record against Fielder. In this case, it didn’t work.
Line of the day: Drew Smyly with four innings, no hits, no runs, no walks and five strikeouts. It was the longest save by a Tiger since Esteban Yan did it twice in 2004.
Stat of the day: The Yankees didn’t have a fly ball out to the outfield until Chris Stewart flew out to left for the final out of the sixth inning.
Another stat of the day: Austin Jackson had led off the Tigers’ effort in all four games with a base hit. Three times, the Tigers have brought him around to score, each time on a groundout.
Print it: “I’m looking around like, ‘This is great. This is like a college football game. It was like a college football game. It was crazy. It was like tailgating everywhere, people having fun, walking around. It was definitely very impressive. … It was way different. It got me excited. I’m walking in ready to go. It was awesome. It was probably my best [Opening Day] in all my years.” — Torii Hunter on Tigers home opener experience