DETROIT - Tigers closer Todd Jones dished up his best stuff to Texas' Randy Vellarde with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the ninth yesterday. Jones, like 25,000 others at Comerica Park, knew full well that slumping Ranger star Alex Rodriguez was waiting in the on-deck circle.
But Vellarde, despite shattering his bat, singled to center and brought Rodriguez to the plate as the go-ahead run.
“You're playing with fire when he comes up in that situation,” Jones said. “He's such a special player. I don't care what he's done lately, you still really have to battle.”
The battle went the distance before Rodriguez failed to check his swing on a high fastball for a game-ending strikeout.
“He's a low-ball hitter so I was trying to throw it up a little,” said Jones, who notched his seventh save. “I got away with one there because he went after a high one. You hate to keep pushing the envelope going against that guy with the game on the line. I may never get him out again, but I've had some success the last couple weeks.”
Rodriguez, who signed a $250 million-plus contract before the start of the season, has batted .222 in the last 13 games and his season average has dropped from .333 to .295.
“In a way, I feel for him,” Jones said. “People used to marvel at the things he did. But not since the contract. Now he's expected to hit a home run every time up or he's a failure. That's a tough way to have to live.”
INSTANT REPLAY: Tiger reliever C.J. Nitkowski surrendered a home run to Ranger first baseman Rafael Palmeiro for the second time in as many games. Yesterday, Palmeiro picked on Nitkowski's first pitch after the lefty entered the game with a runner on first and no outs in the top of the eighth. The two-run blast tied the score 5-5.
“He's a good hitter and he makes my job hard because he goes after the first strike,” Nitkowski said. “He doesn't give you time to work your pitches. I'm confident I can get out most any left-handed hitter if I can go deep in the count and work pitches.
“It's hard to handle when I do my job so poorly two days in a row. But it makes my life a little easier that we won both games.”
BENCHES CLEAR: Both benches and bullpens emptied briefly in the bottom of the first inning when Rangers starter Ryan Glynn, covering first base, shouted something at Detroit's Bobby Higginson after a groundout. What Higginson claimed was said can't be repeated here. The incident may have been in response to something Higginson reportedly said recently about Texas pitching or, perhaps, Glynn may have felt Higginson overreacted to an inside pitch prior to grounding out.
“Nobody knows what prompted it,” said Detroit manager Phil Garner. “But I really don't think the guy wants to mess with Bobby.”
The umpires issued a no-retaliation warning to both pitchers and both benches, which did not please Garner.
“I told the umpires that they'd seen the whole series and that we haven't been headhunting, but we sure have been working the inside half of the plate on Texas,” Garner said. “I didn't want our pitchers to feel they couldn't work the inside.”
THREE-DOT DATA: Higginson's RBI single in the third inning stretched his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Tiger third baseman Dean Palmer saw his hitting streak snapped at 10 games. ... Reliever Danny Patterson retired both Texas batters he faced to end the eighth and was credited with the win, his third in four decisions. ... Detroit's homestand continues tonight with the first of a three-game set against Anaheim. Knuckleballer Steve Sparks (1-2, 3.12 ERA) is slated to pitch for the Tigers against Ramon Ortiz (3-3, 4.54).