Game 20: Two ways to attack a Moose
Jim Leyland took a chance on Wednesday when he brought in right-handed setup man Joaquin Benoit to face Mike Moustakas with the tying run on base, opting against left-hander Phil Coke. It went against the lefty-lefty matchup Leyland usually prefers, but the combination of Moustakas’ success against Coke (3-for-7 lifetime) and Benoit’s ability to retire left-handers (including Moustakas, who’s 1-for-7 against him) convinced him to do it.
The other problem Leyland cited was that the matchups became difficult if Coke couldn’t retire him, with right-handed hitter Jeff Francoeur following him. He would need different pitchers to get out of the inning. On Thursday, that difficulty became evident following a different decision and a walk that changed the complexion of the 10th and final inning.
This time, with Lorenzo Cain on second and one out, Leyland kept Phil Coke in the game to face Moustakas. It was a slightly different situation Thursday in that the go-ahead run was on base with less than two outs, and it was a speedster in Cain. Considering the Angels just stole three bases in as many tries off Benoit and Brayan Pena in the 10th inning on Sunday, running on Benoit and Alex Avila and producing a sacrifice fly, as they did off Bruce Rondon in the eighth inning to tie the game, could’ve been a bigger threat than hitting off Benoit.
Instead, Cain came around on Coke’s struggles. Five pitches later, Moustakas was on first with a walk. A first-pitch ball in the dirt to Francoeur for a wild pitch moved both runners up, and made Leyland’s decision simple to walk him and load the bases, trying to set up a force play at the plate or a double play to end the inning.
It wasn’t necessarily that Moustakas had beaten Coke. He didn’t get a chance. As Leyland put it afterwards, Coke lost the strike zone. He didn’t find it in the favorable matchup that followed, a bases-loaded showdown with left-handed hitting backup catcher George Kottaras that ended in a walk, driving in the go-ahead run.
Up came Alex Gordon, whose grand slam off Darin Downs’ 2-0 pitch put it away.
“We lost command of the strike one there late in the game,” Leyland said. “We had some left-handed hitters there and the conditions were a little rough and rain. Not making excuses, obviously, but we just didn’t throw the ball over the plate, and it killed us.”
Play of the game: Though the game turned on Detroit’s bullpen, the Tigers had a chance to break it open in the fifth after Torii Hunter had singled in Omar Infante to make it a 3-2 game. Cabrera had runners on first and second with one out and hit a sharp liner. Moustakas snared it, leaving Austin Jackson in no-man’s land between second and third for an easy inning-ending double play. Detroit didn’t get another hit the rest of the afternoon.
Line of the day: Coke was charged with four runs on one hit over 1 1/3 innings thanks to four walks, two of which were intentional.
Stats of the day: 37 — Walks allowed by Tigers relievers in 66 2/3 innings this season. That leads all Major League bullpens, as do the 80 strikeouts from Tigers relievers this season. All of that comes over 66 2/3 innings of relief, 13th among Major League clubs.