Tigers fall on 13th-inning balk to end wild slugfest
Avila homers in extras; Scherzer allows seven runs over seven
CLEVELAND -- Max Scherzer took the mound around lunchtime Wednesday with a dozen runs allowed all season. He gave up six runs in the first two innings, seven within his first 17 batters.
By dinnertime, it took a game-tying home run by David Murphy off Joe Nathan in the ninth inning to keep him from a win after seven innings of seven-run ball. And the Tigers and Indians were just getting started.
"That was just a great battle by both sides," Scherzer said when everything finally settled from the 11-10 loss. "We did things to get ourselves in position to give us a chance to win this game. We weren't able to get outs when we needed to, but that's just the way baseball goes."
It was indeed a battle, which is what made the ending so bizarre.
By the time Alex Avila homered with two outs in the 13th inning, the Tigers and Indians had combined to use 14 pitchers, including Josh Tomlin, Cleveland's scheduled starter for Friday's game. The 15th pitcher of the day, Al Alburquerque, was the last, but he didn't throw a pitch to lose it.
He was trying to throw it, anxious to throw it. That was problem.
After 13 innings, the game ended on a balk, the first walk-off balk in the big leagues in three years. Unlike so much in that game that was either debatable, such as the check-swing strike three on Ian Kinsler and the ejections of Brad Ausmus and Miguel Cabrera arguing afterwards, or unbelievable, such as two fly balls lost in the sun, the balk was indisputable on both sides.
"If he didn't call it, we were going to call it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He flinched coming up."
Everybody caught it, including catcher Alex Avila.
"The home-plate umpire and the second-base umpire both called it at the same time," Avila said. "He just went to come set and he stopped. It was pretty blatant. Wasn't any controversy about that one."
It was an odd way to end a crazy game, an odd game to end a three-game sweep and an odd series to end a road trip that had the Tigers rolling into town seemingly unbeatable.
They arrived in Cleveland with a six-game winning streak, having swept the Orioles in Baltimore and the Red Sox in Boston. They had won 11 straight road games since losing in Minnesota nearly a month ago. They hadn't lost back-to-back days three games in a row at any point all season, a huge reason behind their best start after 40 games since 1984.
They left town having been swept by an Indians team that had been outscored by Oakland, 30-6, last weekend.
"This game is crazy," Nathan said. "These guys get swept and absolutely boatraced by Oakland before we get here. We're playing as good as we've played all season before we get here. And who would've seen this happening? I don't think anybody. But it's a crazy game."
Few games get crazier than this one.
Scherzer, who had relievers warming up in the third inning to potentially replace him, instead lasted seven. He became the first Tigers pitcher to throw at least seven innings and give up at least seven runs since Jason Johnson gave up seven to the White Sox on Sept. 29, 2004.
If not for Murphy's homer, Scherzer would've been the first Major League pitcher since Josh Fogg in 2003 to win a game with seven or more innings of seven-inning ball and 12 hits allowed.
It was a striking similar roller coaster that Justin Verlander rode against the Indians Tuesday night. Cleveland's lineup combined to score 11 runs on 16 hits in the first two innings against the twin aces of Detroit's rotation.
Like Verlander, Scherzer couldn't locate his fastball. Also like Verlander, Scherzer felt like he threw some good pitches that were hit.
"They were ultra-aggressive today, trying to come at me. And when I left pitches in the zone and when I fell behind, they did a great job of capitalizing on it," Scherzer said. "There were pitches I left up that they hit. They also hit some good pitches as well."
From the third inning on, Scherzer looked like he was pitching angry, marching into the dugout at the end of each inning. He said he was pitching determined. If he couldn't give a decent start, he could at least give innings.
"Sometimes in those situations when you're getting pounded, you've given up seven, eight runs through a couple innings, there's a tendency to mentally let down and feel sorry for yourself," Scherzer said. "I did the opposite. I was determined to find a way to get through six."
Scherzer did one better. He also did enough to get the lead.
Instead of relievers mopping up, they were protecting. Nathan took the mound for the ninth with a 9-7 lead and the middle of the Indians' order coming up. After a one-out single by Michael Brantley, he had to face David Murphy, his old teammate from Texas.
"Murph just seemed like he sat on a 1-0 curveball," Nathan said. "It seemed like he was guessing that and got the pitch he was looking for, put the barrel on the baseball and got some backspin on it.
"Did I see that coming? No. That's why I give credit to those guys."
Nobody saw most of this coming. A near walk-off sac fly by Michael Bourn became Rajai Davis' fourth outfield assist of the year, easily retiring Lonnie Chisenhall at the plate. A day off for Avila became a chance at late-inning heroics. His home run in the 13th was the Tigers' first go-ahead shot that late in a game since Darrell Evans in 1985.
Phil Coke had overcome two walks to hold the Indians scoreless in the 12th, and he stayed on to start the 13th. After Aviles' leadoff infield single and a Bourn sacrifice bunt, Coke hit Asdrubal Cabrera in the knee, putting the go-ahead run on base.
"I think the hit batter kind of was the end of the line there," Ausmus said.
Brantley's ensuing single through the left side sent Aviles home, this time with no play for Davis. Murphy's groundout moved the winning run to third.
Acting manager Gene Lamont brought in Alburquerque to try to end the threat, but his first two pitches weren't close enough to get Yan Gomes to chase, prompting an intentional walk. It left the Tigers with a force play at every base against Raburn, who hit into a double play off Coke in the 12th. But it also left no room for error for Alburquerque.
The threat didn't get to ball two. After a first-pitch ball, Alburquerque stopped and started, at which point the game ended.
"When I saw him do it. I was about to say something," Raburn said. "And then looking right past him, I saw the second-base umpire starting to say something. Then I knew. Game over."
Just like that, after 13 innings, game over. Royals reliever Aaron Crow had the last balk-off against the White Sox on July 4, 2011. That, too, was with two outs, scoring A.J. Pierzynski while Adam Dunn stood at the plate.
"It was a tough loss," Ausmus said.