Victory slips away as Tigers fall on walk-off double
Cabrera tallies two RBI singles; Sanchez throws five shutout innings
MINNEAPOLIS -- The setup looked like a copy of Opening Day: Tigers starter throws five scoreless innings but nears pitch count, middle relief bends but doesn't break, strikeout specialist strands tying run in scoring position in the seventh and Joaquin Benoit carries the lead into the ninth for Phil Coke to close out.
Then, with two fastballs and two hits, the ending got sideways. Or, like Eduardo Escobar's two-run double to left, it got carried away. And after Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Twins at Target Field, the Tigers' bullpen by committee faced the scrutiny manager Jim Leyland predicted he would have the first time Detroit blew a save.
Coke, however, was putting the blame on himself. He's the same guy who was being praised for his two saves in place of Jose Valverde during last October's American League Championship Series. This was the flip side.
He wasn't crestfallen, and he wasn't livid. In that sense, Coke looked and sounded like a closer after a blown save, even if he's just on the committee. He sat in front of his locker, took questions calmly, then reflected.
"I'm annoyed," Coke said. "I'm annoyed with myself, because I'm better than that."
Coke isn't annoyed with the results. He's annoyed with his execution on the final two pitches -- one a fastball that Brian Dozier fought off to line to right field and put tying run at third base with one out, the next a first-pitch fastball over the plate to Escobar.
"Instead of making the adjustment and correcting the mistake from the pitch before, I did the same stupid thing," Coke said. "I'm annoyed with myself, because that can't happen."
The one key difference up until that point was the lack of an insurance run late. Instead of a two-run lead like the one Benoit and Coke carried Monday, a pair of two-out RBI singles from Miguel Cabrera comprised all of Detroit's offense. Both came off starter Kevin Correia, who thwarted other chances to leave with seven quality innings on six hits, none of them for extra bases.
"Any time it's one or two runs, it's just a matter of a base hit and a double, or a triple and a sacrifice fly, and it's a tie game," Leyland said. "So it can happen fast, which it did."
The way starter Anibal Sanchez pitched, it was going to happen off the bullpen. He wasn't efficient, but he was effective, getting three called third strikes among his five strikeouts, two of them with a runner in scoring position.
Like Justin Verlander on Monday, Sanchez's pitch limit was firm at 100. After 95 pitches over five innings, he was out.
Again, the Twins came close to tying it well before the ninth. Darin Downs, who set down the middle of Minnesota's order in the sixth, paid for walking the leadoff man in the seventh when pinch-hitter Wilkin Ramirez doubled him home with two outs off Brayan Villarreal.
Like Al Alburquerque on Monday, Villarreal stranded the tying run with a strikeout, getting Aaron Hicks to chase a 95 mph fastball out of the zone.
Again, Benoit overcame a walk in the eighth and came back out to start the ninth. Unlike Monday, though, he walked the leadoff man, missing on three straight pitches after a 1-2 count to Trevor Plouffe.
Instead of needing two outs with the tying run on deck like Monday, Coke entered needing three outs with the tying run on base. After Chris Parmelee flew out on his first pitch, it took just two pitches to turn.
Like Leyland said, it happened fast.
Coke's history of struggles against right-handed hitters is well-known, including a .396 average (40-for-101) to them last year. This, however, was the bottom of the Twins order. At no point was right-handed specialist Octavio Dotel warming up.
"Once we got Parmelee out, we put ourselves in a pretty good situation," Leyland said. "The next two hitters, Cokey got fastballs up and out over the plate both of them."
Coke didn't try to finesse them. He wanted to jam Dozier on a 1-2 pitch and missed.
"The ball was supposed to be inside to Dozier and it was high-middle, giving him a chance to get the bat on the ball," Coke said.
Coke didn't have much of a chance to debate whether to go for the strikeout on Escobar or to try to get a ground ball. It just happened too fast.
"I got it right down the middle on the first pitch," Escobar said. "I thought I did my job because I hit it in the air and hit it far enough, but I didn't even think it was going to go that far and bring the other run in."
It might be as close as Escobar has come to a home run in 155 career plate appearances in the big leagues. He has just 15 home runs in 614 career Minor League games.
"I kept running," center fielder Austin Jackson said, "and it seemed like it just kept carrying."
The ball fell between him and left fielder Andy Dirks, bouncing at the fence.
"You're both going after it hard," Jackson said. "I think once you start to get closer, you see each other out of the corner of your eye. A lot of people yelling, it's tough for him to hear me or me to hear him. It's just a tough play right there."
It's not a play Coke is going to debate. He'll take it.
"I mean, if a guy still takes a good swing on a fastball and does the same thing and I finish my pitch, then he just beats me," Coke said. "I'm irritated with the result, but I didn't locate. That's on me. I lost the game for us today, and I'm not happy about it."