When the top team in the National League and all of baseball traveled to Motown for a three-game series against one of the American League’s best, I promised ALDLAND would be on site as the Tigers closed out April in the D. The following is my report from the weekend.
Awaiting our flight to Detroit, we made the strategic decision to eat dinner in the Atlanta airport’s new, Braves-themed restaurant, which afforded us the opportunity to take in game one of the series in a baseball-ish environment on a large, not-exactly-high-definition screen while eating ballpark-quality food at airport prices. It was worth it, though, to watch (most of– we eventually had to board the airplane) Anibal Sanchez’s seventeen-strikeout gem:
Barring a perfect game, this will likely go down as the best pitching performance of 2013. According to STATS, since 1921 only Sanchez and Randy Johnson have managed 17 strikeouts in just eight innings. Johnson, then with the Mariners, rang up 18 Texas Rangers in September of 1992. To put the feat in perspective, since that game there have been 47 no-hitters thrown, and only Johnson, Clemens, Wood and Ben Sheets have thrown more than 17 strikeouts.
Also, bizarrely, Johnson lost that game 21 years ago. He and the opposing starter, a spry 45-year-old named Nolan Ryan, both allowed two runs apiece (Ryan in seven innings, with five strikeouts).
But Sanchez on Friday surpassed Johnson in every meaningful way. Sanchez threw 39 fewer pitches, he shut the Braves out, he walked just one (to Johnson’s four) and he notched the win, his third of the season.
That’s a heck of a prelude for Saturday’s game– in my myopic eyes, the feature act of the weekend– especially against a team showing the absurd early season batting prowess of the Braves. On top of what Sanchez was doing, cementing himself in my mind as the top arm on the Detroit staff, at least for the early going, was the fact that the seemingly anemic Tiger offense scored ten runs for a 10-0 win that put the club one game above .500. My worry, of course, was that they’d scored all the runs for the whole weekend on the first night. The apparent Medlen-Porcello mismatch loomed ominously as we took off into the night.
On Saturday morning, we woke up, got out of beds, dragged our Tigers caps across our heads, and drove into the heart of the Motor City for what was already shaping up to be a gorgeous baseball day. Our first stop was a tavern that opened in 1996, but that looked as though it could have opened in 1906– in a good way. As one of us cleaned the bar out of champagne, we relaxed in the oddly classical reading room, assembling our wits, and planning our approach to the park.
Finding the Hockeytown Cafe overcrowded and potentially unwholesome, we wandered past the Fillmore and settled into a much more suitable vibe at the nearby State Bar & Grill. With Comerica Park directly in our sights, we did not dally long.
We found our seats, just on the third-base side of home plate, evicted some wayward children-squatters, and settled in amongst the sellout crowd for a sunny afternoon game.
I seem to have an unintentional habit of attending Tiger games on special occasions. (Back in 2011, I was at Comerica Park for an honoring of first responders and fallen heroes ten years after the September 11 attacks. Photo essay here.) On this day, they were honoring the history of baseball by recognizing former Negro League players before the game, and both sides suited up in the uniforms of Negro League teams associated with their cities, making the day’s matchup one between the Atlanta Black Crackers and the Detroit Stars.
Concerns about the ground-ball pitching style of Porcello vis-à-vis the hot bats of the Braves proved unfounded, as did my more recently formed fears that the Tigers had used up all of their own offense in the previous night’s gaudy display.
The teams kept it close in the early innings, with the Braves claiming a 3-2 lead in the third. It wouldn’t last, though, as the top of the Tigers order manufactured a run to tie it in the bottom of that same inning. A two-run homer from Omar Infante, who was on fire all weekend against his former team, put the Tigers ahead for good in the fourth inning. Justin Upton would get one back for Atlanta on a solo shot– the Braves love solo home runs— off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth, but it wouldn’t be enough. The Tigers added two insurance runs in the next frame, when an RBI double by Infante scored Don Kelly and a Miguel Cabrera single pushed across Infante.
All that was left was for prodigal closer Jose Valverde, in just his second appearance of the season, to preserve a three-run lead and save the win. Ordinarily, he might be expected to waste a run margin like that and fill up any available bases like the worst kind of liquid seeking out any and every available crevice of a container, but no such drama was on tap for the day. His entrance and celebrations were muted, but the crowd wasn’t. We all stood as Papa Grande took down the only three Atlanta batters he saw in the top of the ninth, securing a satisfying Detroit victory.
(A more thorough play-by-play report is available here.)
Very happy and slightly sunstroked, we made our way out to Ann Arbor to celebrate the win.
After a home-cooked breakfast, we were on our way back to the callings of the real world. A light April shower in the D hindered not our flight nor the night’s series-capping game, in which the Tigers completed the sweep with an 8-3 victory.
Since then, Detroit has climbed to a 19-11 record, which puts them a half game up on 19-12 Atlanta, for which 2013 already has been a tale of two seasons. It remains early, but both teams look primed to make long runs this year. Still, a dominant sweep of the Braves seems to be just what this Tiger club needed to jump start its sputtering season.
April in the D – 4/26
Jet Set (Sigh?) – 4/23
Run distribution, science, and the likelihood of a Detroit comeback – 4/15
WSJ throws a wet newspaper on the Tigers’ 2013 chances – 4/3
A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger – 3/29
The Departed – 3/14