DETROIT -- Tigers bench coach Steve Liddle was on Ron Gardenhire's staff for years in Minnesota. As such, he knows a thing or two about Tigers history and heartbreak."That game in 2009, Game 163, today reminded me of that," Liddle said.That was the American League Central tiebreaker, a 12-inning marathon
DETROIT -- Tigers bench coach Steve Liddle was on Ron Gardenhire's staff for years in Minnesota. As such, he knows a thing or two about Tigers history and heartbreak.
"That game in 2009, Game 163, today reminded me of that," Liddle said.
That was the American League Central tiebreaker, a 12-inning marathon at the Metrodome that ended the Tigers' season and won the division title for the Twins. Friday's 13-10, 13-inning loss to the Pirates was Opening Day for both teams and the unofficial holiday of the home opener in Detroit. Liddle, and surely Gardenhire, are hoping the 5-hour, 27-minute marathon is a sign that the rebuilding Tigers don't see this season as done.
The Tigers have 161 more games scheduled this season. They could play a thousand more and not have another quite like this.
"I saw some people leaving at the top of the ninth," Liddle said. "I think with this team, you might want to stick around."
Liddle was talking after the game because Gardenhire had been ejected in the 10th inning after a replay review overturned the potential game-winning run on a play at the plate, a call that had Gardenhire and the Tigers still steaming afterward when Nicholas Castellanos was called out on a tag by Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli.
For a team that struggled to a 6-23 finish -- with 11 of those losses by six or more runs -- after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton at the end of August last year, that emotion, that competitiveness mean something.
What was a 4-2 Pirates lead at the seventh-inning stretch became a back-and-forth slugfest that didn't include a home run until Gregory Polanco's three-run homer off Alex Wilson in the 13th inning put Pittsburgh up for good. Detroit took the lead in the bottom of the seventh, fell behind by four runs in the top of the ninth, then tied the game with two-run doubles from James McCann and Dixon Machado in the bottom half. The Tigers felt like they won it in the 10th, only to have it overturned on review. The energy that had been focused on the dogpile around JaCoby Jones at second base suddenly had to return to more innings of baseball.
"That was one of the craziest, most emotional games I've ever been a part of," said Jones, whose two-out single into shallow left field set up the play at the plate.
Detroit's downfall featured some of the same issues that dogged the team last year, from early scoring opportunities squandered -- bases-loaded, no-out chances in the first and fifth innings resulted in no runs -- to a bullpen struggling late in games. Daniel Stumpf needed a line-drive double play to prevent further damage in the eighth after Drew VerHagen allowed both batters he faced to reach base safely, then closer Shane Greene fell victim to ground-ball singles and defensive miscues behind him in the ninth. Wilson (0-1) entered in the 10th and crossed the 60-pitch mark before finally tiring in the 13th.
Even after that, the Tigers brought the potential tying run to the plate in the bottom of the inning before Steven Brault struck out Michael Mahtook and Jose Iglesias.
"[Gardenhire] came in and briefly talked to us, saying, 'Good job, guys, loved watching you battle,'" Wilson said, "and left it at that. And you know what, that's about all you can say."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Cabrera leads Tigers back:Jose Cabrera struggled through back issues in 2017, but one seventh-inning swing on Friday looked much like his old form. Cabrera just missed a home run off Michael Feliz, sending a ball foul into the right-field seats, but lined the next pitch -- a fastball below his knees -- into the right-field corner for a two-run double to tie the game at 4.
Double-play combo caps rally: Gardenhire had backup catcher John Hicks warming in the batting cage as the Tigers' ninth-inning rally came together, but he stuck with eighth and ninth hitters Iglesias and Machado with two outs and the Tigers down two. Iglesias drew a walk from Pirates closer Felipe Rivero to bring up Machado, who saw back-to-back splitters and turned on the second one for a game-tying double to left.
Wilson wears down: Wilson stretched out his arm as a starter in Spring Training, trying to compete for a rotation spot before moving back to the bullpen for the second half of camp. That work helped him keep the Tigers going from the time he entered in the 10th until the 13th, when back-to-back two-out singles from Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison extended the inning for Polanco to jump a 3-0 fastball and send it over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center.
"I was just trying to sneak one in there," Wilson said. "It actually wasn't a terrible pitch, looking at the video. He was just diving, waiting on the heater. I finally threw him one and he deposited it."
Said Liddle: "I told Willie when he came off, 'Please do not judge that outing on that one pitch.' He picked us up big time, and he gave us opportunities to win, and that's what it's all about."
"It just shows the fight in this team. Guys never gave up, never gave in. If we play like that all year, it's going to be a fun season." -- McCann
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Tigers scored 10 runs and lost on Opening Day for the first time in franchise history. Just 13 other Major League teams have suffered that fate since 1908, the last being the Texas Rangers in a 14-10 loss to the Phillies to open the 2014 season.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Gardenhire's first replay challenge as Tigers manager resulted in a reversal and eventually spared them a fourth-inning run. First-base umpire Bill Welke initially ruled Marte safe at first, beating starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann to first base on a slow roller. A 47-second review showed that Zimmermann just caught the bag by his toes to beat out Marte and record an out. Cervelli's double two pitches later scored two runs to tie the game.
Six innings later, a longer review reversed what would've been a game-winning run from Castellanos on Jones' two-out single. After a 3-minute, 41-second review, the replay official definitively determined that Cervelli tagged Castellanos before he could touch the plate. The call was reversed, sending the game into the 11th inning and sending Gardenhire out of the dugout for his first ejection as Tigers manager. More >
Michael Fulmer (10-12, 3.83 in 2017) will make his season debut Saturday afternoon as the three-game series continues. It'll be Fulmer's first regular-season start since last August, when numbness bouts in his elbow led to season-ending surgery to shift the ulnar collateral nerve.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.