Close Game 1 turns ugly for Tigers in eighth
Defense, bullpen falter in Orioles' eight-run uprising
BALTIMORE -- The look of angst on Max Scherzer's face seemed to sum up the Tigers' frustrations Thursday evening. As J.J. Hardy rounded the bases following his seventh-inning home run, a chance to steal their American League Division Series opener from the Orioles was flying into the night.
It was a 12-3 loss that the Tigers felt -- with fairly good reason -- like they could've stolen.
"In my mind, after the third inning, it was 3-2," Scherzer said, "and I just felt like if I go out there and keep throwing up zeros, I know our offense will come back. That's what really is frustrating for me is that I give up that home run to Hardy, and that extra run really made a big difference in the game and how everybody approaches the 'pen and everything.
"That run, that home run, is really frustrating for me."
For most of the night, it was a closer game. It was indiscernible by the time the Orioles were done with Detroit's bullpen. The latter was the kind of meltdown that left Tigers fans having to remind themselves it was only one game in a best-of-five set.
"Whether you lose by 100 or you lose by one, you still lose," said Joba Chamberlain, one of three relievers in the runaway eighth. "You know what? It's over with."
The former left Tigers players thinking one run could've been a difference.
"It's still tough, especially when you're facing a closer like they've got," said J.D. Martinez, who led off the ninth with a nine-run deficit rather than one. "We were just going to have to battle, put some runners on. You never know."
It's the latter, too, that gives the Tigers hope heading into Game 2 on Friday afternoon, a 12 p.m. ET start. A win could nullify the Game 1 damage quicker than the eighth-inning runs piled up.
"When they started scoring a bunch of runs, it just seemed like no matter what pitch we threw, even if it was a good pitch, they were still hitting it in places where we couldn't get somebody there," said shortstop Andrew Romine, whose fielding error on an Adam Jones ground ball loomed large in the eight-run eighth that was the largest in Baltimore's postseason history.
Detroit had overcome another clutch home run from Nelson Cruz, this one a two-run homer in the opening inning, with back-to-back homers from Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez moments later. Scherzer had overcome three runs in his first 10 batters to retire 12 in a row, having made an adjustment in his delivery.
Meanwhile, the Tigers worked away at Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who used up 105 pitches over five innings -- 30 to Ian Kinsler alone -- and escaped a bases-loaded jam to end his outing.
On a night when fly balls carried in abundance, it was an RBI bloop single from Nick Markakis that stood as the difference through the middle innings while the early damage held. Hardy's solo homer leading off the seventh loomed as a critical insurance run, and on a pitch Scherzer lamented soon after it left his hand.
He immediately asked for a new ball, stood on the rubber ready to pitch before the next hitter had stepped in from the on-deck circle, and proceeded to strike out the side in order. However, the damage had been done.
The add-on run loomed larger once Miguel Cabrera homered in the top of the eighth, as did the Torii Hunter line-out double play that preceded it.
Scherzer was equally flustered on his way out following an Alejandro De Aza double with one out in the eighth, pacing the dugout as he seemingly replayed the outing in his head.
"Just frustrated with how I pitched tonight," he said, "Walking off the mound, just felt like I didn't quite do my job to the fullest. You've got to bring your 'A' game here in these situations every single time you step on the mound in a playoff game. Even though I was fully prepared to face their lineup, I just didn't feel like I executed pitches at the highest level I could, and that's the frustrating part."
Scherzer, pitching the Tigers' postseason opener for the second consecutive year, was charged with five runs on seven hits with a walk and six strikeouts. He could return for a potential winner-take-all Game 5, or possibly in relief in Game 4. It's also now the time of year when Scherzer, a free agent this winter, could have pitched his final game as a Tiger.
Chamberlain, Joakim Soria and Phil Coke combined to allow seven runs, six earned, on five hits while retiring two batters, a microcosm of the relief struggles that helped shape the challenge of the Tigers' regular season.
"It's a team effort," manager Brad Ausmus said, "and in baseball, team effort is if someone makes an error, you hope the pitcher picks 'em up. If a pitcher struggles, you hope the lineup picks him up. Tonight, we just didn't get it done. It's as simple as that."