Game 13: Tigers thrive with two strikes … sort of
Only five times since 1916 have the Tigers won a game striking out more times than they did Tuesday night in Seattle, where the Mariners fanned them 16 times. From baseball-reference:
|3||1938-10-02 (1)||DET||CLE||W 4-1||42||33||4||7||2||0||0||4||7||0||18||11|
And yet, the Tigers pretty much beat the Mariners on two-strike damage. Austin Jackson battled out of an 0-2 count to lead off the game with a triple on a full count pitch from Aaron Harang. Miguel Cabrera drove him in with a single on an 0-2 pitch. Four innings later, Cabrera put the Tigers back in front by taking a 2-2 pitch several inches off the plate and sending it out to right-center field.
Then in the eighth, Jackson worked out of another 0-2 hole, fouling off three consecutive pitches before shrugging off four straight pitches out of the zone for a bases-loaded walk that arguably put the game out of reach, or at least turned a close game into a game the Tigers commanded.
Jackson was a .135 (19-for-141) hitter after an 0-2 count in 2011. He’s now 4-for-11 with a walk in those same situations.
Jhonny Peralta reached two-strike counts in all five of his plate appearances. He struck out three times, and singled and doubled in the other two.
All that two-strike hitting had an impact beyond the hits and baserunners it produced.
“A lot of times, it wears the pitcher out,” Jim Leyland said. “If he’s making a pretty nasty pitch and hitting it pretty good somewhere or fouling a pitch off to extend the at-bat, that takes its toll on pitchers after a point. I thought Harang was very good. I was impressed.”
The Tigers have a commanding lead in baseball with a .307 batting average, more than 20 points higher than the next-best club. With two strikes, that gap is even bigger. Detroit is batting .274 (68-for-248) with 16 extra-base hits. The next-best two-strike average in the Major Leagues is Minnesota’s .226 clip. They still have just 82 strikeouts, a pretty low total considering.
Moreover, no team has as many hits (12) off of 0-2 pitches.
Play of the game: Watch the replay closely on Miguel Cabrera’s go-ahead two-run homer, and read the reaction, and you can sense the exasperation. He took a pitch well off the plate and sent it out to right-center field, a tough place to hit a ball in a ballpark where it has historically been tough to hit many balls out.
“He did a great job hitting that pitch,” Harang said. “We went back and looked at it and it was four or five inches off the plate. It should have been a ball. So it proves why he’s as good as he is and the fact of … him winning MVP last year.”
Biggest out: By retiring Kelly Shoppach to end the top of the fourth inning, Fister stopped a Mariners rally before it could get out of control. He also got the Tigers offense back onto the field.
Strategy: Remember when not even Prince Fielder was a good enough hitter to keep opponents from walking Miguel Cabrera? He might be now, because after Austin Jackson’s steal of second base on Torii Hunter’s strikeout opened up first base with two outs and Cabrera up, the M’s pitched to Cabrera. He made them pay with an RBI single.
Line of the day: Cabrera went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and a run scored.
Print it: “Verlander told me it was a good pitch, but I tell him I like that pitch, because it’s down and away. If it’s down and inside, that’s a good pitch for me, but down and away, that’s where I like it to be. I can extend my arms. I’ve got more extension to the ball right there.” — Cabrera on the Aaron Harang pitch outside that he hit out