Porcello sharp for six, but can't escape seventh
Leyland takes blame for not pulling Tigers righty before O's rally
BALTIMORE -- Rick Porcello took the mound for the seventh inning Sunday at Camden Yards with a two-run lead and 16 consecutive scoreless innings, the last six of them against an Orioles lineup among the most dangerous in the league.
If Tigers manager Jim Leyland could do it over, that would've been it for his young sinkerballer. He wouldn't have taken the mound for the seventh.
"I put this one on me, solely on me," Leyland after watching the Orioles rally for the second time in three games to send Detroit to a 4-2 loss.
"He was pitching terrific, I understand that. If it was different, the way the lineup was setting up, it would've been OK. But the way it set up, I botched it. It was my fault, nobody's fault but me."
He doesn't say it often, no matter what critics suggest on a given day. It seems, at most, a once-a-season occurrence for Leyland to suggest he botched a game with a decision. If a move doesn't work out, but was the right move to make, that's different.
Leyland felt he made a mistake, and he said it no fewer than nine times in a postgame media session that lasted just under six minutes. The Tigers lost for the fifth time in six games, ending a 1-4 road trip. But this one, Leyland said repeatedly, was on him.
"I should've made the move," Leyland said. "I don't know if we would've won the game or not, but I should've made the move in the seventh, and I didn't make it.
"He was pitching so well and was keeping the ball on the ground. That's kind of one of those when you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. But the way the lineup was set up, totally on me."
That wasn't really much solace to Porcello. If anything, the way he was pitching, he might have taken it the other way.
"I don't think I would've been very happy if he brought a lefty in," Porcello said. "I felt like I was going pretty strong."
Leyland has usually been conservative with Porcello in the late innings since putting him in the rotation at age 20 in 2009. He has topped 110 pitches just eight times in his career, and has averaged 91-93 pitches per start since 2011.
This season has been Porcello's chance to rise to the level of the Tigers' top four. His last start, in particular, looked like that of a front-line starting pitcher, eight shutout innings with 11 strikeouts against the Pirates in a scoreless duel that lasted into the 11th inning. He didn't get a decision, but received a ton of respect.
For six innings Sunday, Porcello looked just as good, mixing his curveball in all counts to rack up seven strikeouts -- three against All-Star Adam Jones -- and retire nine in a row from the third inning into the sixth. He had the combination of strikeouts and groundouts, eight of the latter, of a shutdown pitcher.
"He was terrific," Leyland said. "He kept the ball on the ground. He mixed his pitches. He got some strikeouts. He did a great job against Adam Jones. He did a good job against everybody, really, all day long."
He entered the seventh with a 2-0 lead, having retired 10 of 11 batters, and had thrown just 87 pitches. It was nothing about Porcello's pitching that gave Leyland pause. It was the O's lineup, starting with back-to-back left-handed hitters in Major League home run leader Chris Davis and Chris Dickerson.
Neither of them had a hit off Porcello their first two times up. Porcello had sent down Davis swinging at a curveball in the dirt in the second. Yet the lefty-righty matchups that had troubled Porcello in past years worried Leyland here, having to retire them for a third time.
"In my gut, I knew," Leyland said. "I just had that feeling when I sent him out there that I should've made the move. And your gut usually tells you the right thing."
One hanging changeup later, Davis had his 20th homer of the season, and Porcello had a 2-1 lead.
"He had pretty much been dominating us the whole game," Davis said. "He threw me some good pitches to hit earlier in the game and I wasn't able to get to them and I just thought I'd be a little more aggressive that at-bat. And he threw a hanging changeup and I hit it out and we started rolling after that."
Porcello got a ground ball from Dickerson, but through the right side for a single. Leyland stuck with Porcello against right-handed hitter J.J. Hardy, hoping Porcello could get a sinker for a double play, but Hardy's liner to center put runners at the corners and nobody out.
It also put Porcello (2-3) in line for a potential loss.
That's where Porcello wanted it, not on Leyland.
"I don't think the loss is on him at all," Porcello said. "We didn't execute in the seventh inning. That's the bottom line. Skip doesn't play the game. We do. It's on us."
Phil Coke put pinch-hitter Danny Valencia in an 0-2 count, then watched him slice a line drive to right field to plate Dickerson with the tying tally. After a fielder's choice from Chris Snyder, Nate McLouth's broken-bat line drive went directly up the middle and bounced around second base as pinch-runner Alexi Casilla came in with the go-ahead run.
"This is one I put on myself," Leyland said again. "The way the lineup set up with Davis and Dickerson, he was really pitching good, so you give the starter the benefit of the doubt. But it was not a good move on my part."