Freak plays haunt Tigers' Game 4 loss
Defensive miscues give Cardinals too many chances
ST. LOUIS -- Detroit's magical October has suddenly turned into a Halloween nightmare.
The Tigers' usually strong defense is setting the wrong kind of defensive records, and the team's normally lights-out bullpen had its problems again Thursday night as the Tigers dropped Game 4 of the World Series, 5-4, at Busch Stadium.
"Right now I'm a little upset," Tigers right-hander Joel Zumaya said after the Cardinals pushed across the winning run in the eighth inning against him. "We played hard, things happened that we really didn't want to happen."
A lot of ugly things happened to the Tigers, some their own fault, some not. But the bottom line is the defense gave the Cardinals too many opportunities and, as a result, the Tigers were unable to hold a 3-0 lead.
Zumaya didn't help matters when, with one out and one on in the eighth, he uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Aaron Miles to move into scoring position. Diminutive David Eckstein, Detroit's biggest nemesis on the night, then followed with a drive to left-center that Tigers left fielder Craig Monroe laid out for, but the ball just nicked the web of Monroe's glove and fell in for an RBI double.
"I got a good break on it -- you never know that you have it -- but I got a good break on it, and it took off and I just missed it," Monroe said. "[It's] a game of inches. We were [playing] in a little bit, because you want to be able to have a chance to throw out the runner at the plate on a hit. I wouldn't want to change anything about the [way I was positioned before the] play. Like I said, a game of inches."
Without the wild pitch, Monroe wouldn't have been playing as far in on Eckstein and perhaps makes the catch. Without the wild pitch, Miles is still at first base.
"[The pitch] broke down too much. I wanted it away, but it was too low and bounced," Zumaya said.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, this wasn't the only misfortune they would have to overcome.
Fernando Rodney, whose strikeouts of Miles and pinch-hitter John Rodriguez in the sixth inning ended one Cardinals threat, found himself facing another scoring threat in the seventh.
Eckstein hit a drive to center to lead off the inning, but Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson fell down and Eckstein scampered into second base with a leadoff double.
"All of a sudden, I went to plant [my foot] and the ground gave away beneath me," Granderson said. "If I stay up, I catch it. It wasn't too wet out there. I felt like we had a pretty good field. It was just that one that got away for whatever reason. It wasn't a slip, the ground just gave away. I left a pretty good divot out there."
The play was reminiscent of one from Game 7 of the 1968 World Series between these two franchises. In that one, with no score and two outs in the Detroit seventh, Norm Cash and Willie Horton singled and Jim Northrup hit a long fly ball to center field that St. Louis center fielder Curt Flood misjudged. The result was a two-run triple, and Bill Freehan followed with an RBI double.
This time, the Cardinals would benefit with two runs.
Rodney exacerbated the problem when he fielded So Taguchi's bunt attempt and threw the ball down the right-field line for an error, allowing Eckstein to score. Preston Wilson's two-out single plated Taguchi.
"I wanted to throw it soft because I was so close to him, but it slipped out of my hand," Rodney said of his throwing error. "I've never done that before. This is the first time that's happened to me."
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said it was a freak inning.
"We thought we had a fly ball, one out, and it was a freak situation, and we just talked about making sure we get one out on the next play," Leyland said. "And you could kind of see that the ball is a little wet and Fernando was a little tentative, and that's usually when you don't throw it, that's usually when it can slip away from you. It's not the best situation in the world, but that's baseball."
Rodney's error was the fourth committed by a Tigers pitcher in this World Series. A Tigers pitcher has made one error in each game of the Series. The four errors are the most by a team's pitchers in a World Series of any length. The old mark of three had been accomplished six times, last by Florida in seven games in 1997.
"We haven't been making the plays we should make," Rodney said.
The Detroit bullpen has allowed six runs and seven walks in 5 2/3 innings the last two games after allowing one unearned run and no walks in five innings in the first two games of the Series.
The Tigers weren't blaming all the blunders on the wet grass or slippery baseballs. The rains that postponed the game 24 hours earlier had left the field wet, but not a quagmire.
"We're not going to make excuses about the grass," Monroe said. "They had to play on it like we did."
Said Leyland: "We've done a few things during the Series to either maybe give them a run or give them some extra chances, and they're obviously a good enough team to take advantage of those. Basically, right now, they've played good enough to be 3-1, and we've played good enough to be 1-3."
Now the Tigers must win Game 5 on Friday, or their magical season will be over.
"When you have a team on the ropes like that [3-0 lead], you should put them away," Tigers first baseman Sean Casey said. "They kind of stuck around and kept creeping back. We didn't put them away when we had the chance.
"Now we lose and we're out, it's that simple. We win, we still have life and we go back to Detroit."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.