The Detroit Tigers’ Shane Greene pitches against the Seattle Mariners during first inning action on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at Comerica Park in Detroit.
After all the off-field news of the past 24 hours – will the Tigers buy or will they sell at the trade deadline – there was a game to play on the field.
And when it started, it exposed the biggest reasons why the team could choose to capitalize on their free agents-to-be on the trade market.
Early on, the starting pitcher struggled. Late, the bullpen blew the game.
This time, it was newcomer Neftali Feliz, who joined the team one day after its most memorable bullpen blowup this year on July 10, when the Tigers surrendered seven runs in the ninth inning to the Twins.
This time, it was Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez who did the damage, hitting a pinch-hit grand slam off Feliz with two outs in the top of the eighth inning.
This one, manager Brad Ausmus said, “It’s right up there with the loss to Minnesota.”
And this one – an 11-9 loss to the Mariners at Comerica Park on Tuesday night – will open the team and its manager up to another round of second-guessing as the organization continues to close in on a crossroads ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.
Ahead by two runs in the eighth inning, Feliz allowed three singles and a run on a wild pitch. There were two outs when Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon called on Gutierrez to pinch-hit against Feliz, who was approaching 30 pitches.
Neither closer Joakim Soria or reliable right-hander Alex Wilson warmed up in the Tigers’ bullpen.
“We were running short on pitching as it was,” Ausmus said. “We can get into the second-guessing based on results but the truth is, I would do nothing different at all in that game.
“You try and put the players in a position to succeed, you try and get through the game – we were running short on pitchers from early on in the game – but quite frankly, that’s how I would do it again.”
Wilson, explained Ausmus, was unavailable in the eighth and ninth in case the game went into extra innings.
“He’s the only guy I’ve got left that can throw multiple innings,” he said. “Feliz and Soria are one-inning guys. If, for some reason, they tie the game in the eighth or ninth off Feliz and Soria, I gotta have somebody else. Simple as that.”
And on Gutierrez’s opposite-field shot – the second pinch-hit grand slam in Mariners franchise history – they took the lead in the eighth inning.
Feliz was tagged with the loss, allowing five runs – all earned – on four hits. He struck two, walked one and uncorked a wild pitch to score a run.
“He’s pitched well since he’s gotten here,” Ausmus said. “He’s been a closer, he’s used to high-pressure situations. We’re trying to find someone to bridge us to Soria and we’re having a little trouble finding that.”
The bullpen was once again pressed into early action because of Shane Greene’s continued struggles. Greene put the Tigers into a four-run hole after the visitor’s first at-bats and failed to pitch out of the fifth inning in his fifth consecutive start.
“Got a couple of groundballs that went through then made a couple of mistakes and I paid for it,” Greene said. “I don’t feel like myself right now.”
Greene’s line looked like this: 4 2/3 innings, six hits, five runs – all earned – two walks and one strikeout.
The Tigers bats chipped away against Mariners starter Taijuan Walker, scoring a run in the second inning on an Alex Avila RBI single, two in the third inning on a J.D. Martinez moonshot to dead-centerfield – it landed on top of the camera well at an estimated distance of 466 feet, tying the Comerica Park record – and tied the game in the fifth inning on Yoenis Cespedes’ 14th home run of the season, a two-run shot.
They then scored twice with two outs, on an Andrew Romine soft dribbler and an Anthony Gose bases-loaded walk, to take the lead.
“The offense did a nice job of getting back in the game, for sure,” Ausmus said. “We had some good at-bats, we had some big hits and had the lead. We just have to maintain the lead.”
And once again, they couldn’t.
The Mariners pulled within one run on an Austin Jackson single in the sixth and after Nick Castellanos’ padded the team’s lead with a solo home run in the seventh, the wheels came off in the eighth, starting another Jackson single.
Kyle Seager then singled and Nelson Cruz popped out for the second out of the inning before Robinson Cano singled, Feliz uncorked a wild pitch that led to an intentional walk of Seth Smith to load the bases, and Gutierrez’s fateful four-bagger.
With the loss, the Tigers fall to 10 ½ games behind the Royals in the American League Central. They stand four games out of the second AL wild-card spot.
“I’m not going to make this out to be anything more than it is,” Romine said. “It’s just another ‘L’.”
Just another loss – maybe the worst loss – in a season in which the Tigers have had more of them than wins.