Bullpen, defense falter in eighth-inning meltdown
Orioles break through with eight-run frame marred by two Detroit errors
BALTIMORE -- If you were looking for a turning point in the Tigers' 12-3 loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, you didn't have to look hard to find it -- and it was exactly where you thought it would be.
Trailing by just a run after eight innings, what hope the Tigers had of pulling off a comeback against Orioles closer Zach Britton evaporated during an eight-run meltdown in the bottom half of the inning in which everything went wrong as their bullpen -- their most glaring weakness in this series -- was exposed.
The turning point?
"When they started scoring a bunch of runs," Tigers shortstop Andrew Romine said.
After Miguel Cabrera's solo shot to right-center in the top of the eighth cut the lead to 4-3, Max Scherzer came to the mound to face the top of the Orioles order. Scherzer got Nick Markakis to line out, but then served up a double to Alejandro De Aza.
That prompted Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to remove Scherzer and bring in reliever Joba Chamberlain, at which point Detroit's other disadvantage in this series -- its defense -- came to light.
Romine booted a grounder by Adam Jones, allowing De Aza to score. Jones promptly stole second base and scored on a single to center by Nelson Cruz that made it 6-3, Orioles. Chamberlain left the game having not recorded an out. He was charged with two runs, one of them unearned.
"It's a team effort, and in baseball, team effort is, if someone makes an error, you hope the pitcher picks 'em up," Ausmus said. "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."
Romine had committed only eight errors all season, and none since Aug. 6.
"I can't remember the last time he made an error," Ausmus said. "You never like to see errors, and unfortunately, there was one tonight -- an untimely one, but it doesn't change my impression about this guy as a shortstop."
Tigers reliever Joakim Soria came in, hoping to clean up the mess before the game truly got out of hand. Instead, Steve Pearce lined Soria's first pitch to center field. Cruz wheeled around to third base, and Pearce advanced to second on Rajai Davis' errant throw.
Soria intentionally walked J.J. Hardy to load the bases with one out, and the Orioles kept piling on. One run scored on Ryan Flaherty's single, another on a groundout by Nick Hundley and two more came home as Jonathan Schoop ripped a double down the right-field line.
The Tigers entered this series confident that Soria, acquired before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, would help shore up their leaky bullpen. He was charged with four runs on three hits and a walk while recording one out, but Ausmus said one bad outing won't affect how the Tigers plan to use Soria the rest of the series.
"He's one of our back-end relievers. That doesn't change," Ausmus said. "I know his outing today wasn't what we had hoped, but it's also over."
Ausmus once again turned to his bullpen, which ended the regular season with a 4.29 ERA -- fourth-worst in the Majors -- as the Tigers allowed the most hits in baseball from the seventh inning on. But it didn't get any better from there.
In relief of Soria, Phil Coke uncorked a wild pitch, walked Markakis and gave up a two-run double to De Aza, his second of the inning.
Finally, 34 minutes, 45 seconds and 12 batters into a disastrous inning, Romine fielded a grounder from Jones and threw it to Cabrera for the third out.
"It was a good game up until the eighth, then they blew it open," Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "That's pretty much the story. There's no secrets to what happened. It was a hard-fought game until the eighth, then their bats came alive."