DETROIT -- On another day, manager Brad Ausmus admits, he might not have made the call for Francisco Rodriguez to try a four-out save. He said earlier this week that he didn't want to use him that way this early in the season.On Friday, with a home opener crowd at
DETROIT -- On another day, manager Brad Ausmus admits, he might not have made the call for Francisco Rodriguez to try a four-out save. He said earlier this week that he didn't want to use him that way this early in the season.
On Friday, with a home opener crowd at Comerica Park watching the Tigers trying to hold on to what was a four-run lead, he felt like he had to.
"You want to send the fans home happy every night," Ausmus said, "but the fanfare around Opening Day makes it a little more special.
"I really just felt like we had to win that game because we had the lead. And as much as I didn't want to go to him for four outs, I almost felt I didn't have a choice. To me, we had to go to our best reliever."
One Pablo Sandoval home run later, the lead was gone. And Ausmus could hear the energy of that Opening Day crowd turn.
"I heard a few people yelling," Ausmus said. "I could tell they weren't happy. It's a buzz, but there's a few close by you can make out."
The Tigers still had energy, Ausmus pointed out, and they came back. Rodriguez, who said he was praying for a chance to go back out for the ninth inning with a lead to finish, got the win for his trouble. And Tigers fans got a reminder that the bullpen remains a long-running saga.
"It feels important to win every single game, especially when you have the lead in the eighth at home, up four runs," Rodriguez said. "I think we should be able to stop the bleeding in that situation and get the job done. It's hard to describe how difficult it is to give up five runs with two outs after our guys gave us an extra two runs in the bottom of the seventh. We need a shutdown inning."
The Tigers opened the eighth inning with a 4-0 lead for setup man Bruce Rondon, who had an up-and-down spring with velocity and results. He retired Dustin Pedroia, but walked Andrew Benintendi ahead of a Mitch Moreland single and Chris Young RBI double. Rondon fell behind all four batters, but got each back to a two-strike count.
Ausmus had Rodriguez warming alongside Alex Wilson but couldn't turn to his closer for five outs. Thus, with the tying run at the plate, Ausmus went to Wilson, who yielded a Jackie Bradley Jr. RBI single through the right side for a 4-2 game but struck out Sandy Leon.
Up came Sandoval with the potential go-ahead run. Ausmus had a lefty option with Blaine Hardy, but didn't want to mess around with matchups. He turned to his closer.
Sandoval took a changeup, then swung through a fastball for an 0-2 count. Rodriguez tried to set up Sandoval for a 1-2 pitch, but missed on the setup.
"Should've made a better pitch than that," Rodriguez said. "I was trying to go up and away, waste a pitch, and then maybe go down the barrel, middle-in, to try to get him to chase. It was a setup pitch that got too much of the plate, and he didn't miss it."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.