Tigers left searching for bullpen answers
Chamberlain, Soria unable to protect lead; club facing 0-2 deficit
BALTIMORE -- Through 7 1/2 innings Friday afternoon, things had gone just about as well as the Tigers could have hoped. Justin Verlander gave up three runs in five innings and left with a lead, then Anibal Sanchez breezed through two perfect innings out of the bullpen.
But six outs stood between the Tigers and a Division Series split and getting those outs has become an agonizing process for Detroit. The eighth inning in Game 2 was no different. Relievers Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria allowed four runs in another disastrous eighth inning as the Orioles came back to win, 7-6, and push the Tigers to the brink of elimination.
"It's certainly a little tough to swallow," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "When you have a three-run lead going into the last couple of innings, you feel like you should get the job done, but we didn't."
Friday's meltdown came less than 24 hours after a similar collapse Thursday in Game 1, but this one was even more devastating. This time, Chamberlain and Soria had been handed a three-run lead. And this time, they had a real shot at stealing Baltimore's momentum with the ALDS heading to Comerica Park for Sunday's Game 3.
Is there a sense in the Tigers' clubhouse, like there was in the Camden Yards stands and beyond on Friday, that no lead is safe?
"No. Obviously, it's been a tough couple games, but we have an opportunity to come out and get after it on Sunday," Chamberlain said. "That's all we've got to look at. We can't look at these last two games."
If they did, they'd find 13 runs allowed in the seventh inning or later -- the most through the first two games of a Division Series and only four short of the all-time record set by the 1995 Yankees. Those 13 runs are already tied for the fifth most in an entire Division Series.
They'd also see that the 11 runs allowed by Detroit's bullpen rank fourth in Division Series history, seven short of a record set by the 2011 Tigers -- in five games. This year's team has played two.
Since 1974, only one team's relievers have allowed four or more runs in consecutive games: the 2012 Nationals, who did it in Games 2 and 3 of the National League Division Series, then did it again in a Game 5 collapse against the Cardinals.
"The only thing we can do as teammates is have each other's back and show them confidence. Let him know it's all right to not be perfect every time you go out," closer Joe Nathan said. "We're human beings also. Let Soria know, let Joba know that we're still confident. We want them to take the ball the next time that opportunity comes up."
Chamberlain retired the leadoff man in the eighth, then hit Adam Jones as he tried to establish his fastball inside. Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce hit back-to-back singles, the latter driving in Jones and chasing Chamberlain.
"I went back and looked. They weren't bad pitches, but those guys are good. This one's on me," Chamberlain said. "If I don't put us in that situation, Soria doesn't have to come in in that situation. Obviously, this one's on me and I'll wear it."
Soria immediately walked J.J. Hardy to load the bases before pinch-hitter Delmon Young delivered the decisive blow, a three-run double to left.
"He's a fastball hitter. He swings at the first pitch. I threw a slider, and he was on it," Soria said. "It was not that bad a pitch. It was a low pitch and he hit it well.
"It's tough. We're still alive. We can go back and fight. That's the only thing we can do."
But with the Tigers' season on the line, does Ausmus have any reason to feel confident putting the game in the hands of his bullpen?
"I don't know that I necessarily have an answer for that," Ausmus said. "But if we have a lead in the eighth inning on Sunday, we're going to have to find somebody."