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Published: Friday, 7/11/2008

Tigers lose to Twins in 11 after lead melts

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Tigers manager Jim Leyland takes ball from an apparently 
disgusted Todd Jones after he lost 6-4 lead in ninth inning. Tigers manager Jim Leyland takes ball from an apparently disgusted Todd Jones after he lost 6-4 lead in ninth inning.
DUANE BURLESON / AP Enlarge

DETROIT - While the Tigers were busy squandering their many chances to win yesterday's 11-inning affair, Minnesota's Justin Morneau took full advantage of his.

Morneau's solo homer off Detroit reliever Freddy Dolsi in the 11th was the difference in the Tigers' 7-6 loss - their first in 40 games when leading after eight innings.

Not only did Detroit own a 6-2 lead through four innings, but it carried a two-run lead into the ninth. Obviously that lead evaporated, but the Tigers had a golden opportunity to win it in the bottom of the ninth and stumbled at that juncture as well.

How about this folks: Yesterday was marketed as "Christmas in July" day at Comerica Park. And that was before the Tigers gift-wrapped this one and placed it under the Twins' tree.

"We had our shot," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I've seen this [kind of] game 100 times in my career. You get your shot, and when you don't do it, it usually comes back to haunt you."

Putting aside for a moment that the Tigers scored five times in the fourth inning and not once after that, the game was there for the taking in the ninth. But closer Todd Jones opened the inning by allowing two singles, the second one evolving into something far worse, thanks to an error by right fielder Matt Joyce.

With Nick Punto on first, Denard Span sent a sharp grounder in Joyce's direction. Joyce misplayed the ball as it bounced to him, allowing Punto to score and Span to reach third with no outs.

"It was a big error in a big spot," Joyce said.

Joyce said he came up on the ball too early and was a little overaggressive in his approach.

"I have no problem with an error like that, as long as he was concentrating," Leyland said.

Up next was pinch-hitter and all-star catcher Joe Mauer, who lifted a sacrifice fly to left to tie the game.

Move ahead to the bottom of the inning, when Minnesota's all-star closer, Joe Nathan, opened the frame with two walks. Joyce, who homered earlier, was up next, and after failing twice to get the bunt down, popped up to shortstop.

Nathan did Joyce's job for him, however, by uncorking a wild pitch that advanced both runners. Clete Thomas was intentionally walked, and Nathan recovered to strike out Jeff Larish and Pudge Rodriguez.

Larish, called up from Toledo before the game and making his first big-league start at first base, had singled twice and doubled in his first four at-bats yesterday.

"He's very capable of hitting a fly ball there, but he was facing one of the better closers in baseball and he didn't do it. So what," Leyland said of Larish. "That's part of the game. You can't let leads get away that late, you just can't do it."

Leyland said Jones, 40, struggles in day games if he's also pitched the night before. It was Jones who worked a scoreless inning and recorded a win in Wednesday night's 8-6 win over Cleveland.

Jones, who has 16 saves in 18 chances this year, agreed that it is tough for him to bounce back on such short rest.

"But I've got to be ready when that phone rings, so that's certainly not an excuse," Jones said.

Perhaps the game could be boiled down to Detroit's inability to get Morneau, Span or Punto out. The three of them went 12-for-13 with two doubles, a triple, and six runs scored.

"That's not very good pitching," Leyland said. "It's good hitting."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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