Missed opportunities lead to loss
Unusual non-home run call may have turned tide on Tigers
ST. PETERSBURG -- When the first inning of Friday's game transpired into a walk-a-thon, courtesy of Rays starter Scott Kazmir's four free passes, the Tigers looked poised to get an old demon off their backs.
After all, Detroit's own arms have been plagued by walks all season, and entered Friday's game with a combined 442 -- one of the highest totals in the Majors.
The Tigers know firsthand just how quickly a game can derail with a free pass -- as Thursday's loss was a direct result of the eight Indians who reached base without putting the ball in play.
But on Friday night, Detroit was unable to flip the tables on Tampa Bay, as the Tigers stranded 12 batters in a 5-2 loss to the Rays, in front of a crowd of 26,403 at Tropicana Field.
"We did a good job of laying off the high fastball and some pitches and got [Kazmir] in a jam, but we couldn't get the hit to knock him out," manager Jim Leyland said. "That was pretty much the story. We had a couple of other opportunities, but we just couldn't get the big hit."
Or could they?
Miguel Cabrera launched a high-flying triple in the third inning that was played awkwardly by Rays center fielder B.J. Upton supporting Leyland's initial reaction, that the ball hit the dome's catwalk.
Under Tropicana Field's rules, if the ball did hit the back of the catwalk in fair play, it would have been ruled a home run.
"No doubt in my mind," said Leyland, who went onto the field to voice his stance.
"It's a little bit of a unique place and those things can happen," he said. "I thought [the umpires] were very honest about it. I thought they handled it very well. They said that they weren't sure and they really couldn't change it unless they were sure.
"I was a little upset, but then you realize how difficult it is to tell -- it's fair enough. But there's no doubt you could tell the way it came down the way Upton reacted. It was a home run."
While Tigers starter Zach Miner only heard about the play from teammates -- as he was just walking out of the tunnel when the ball was hit -- many of the Tigers got a look at the questionable call and were equally stumped.
"I don't think anybody got a really good look at it," Matt Joyce said.
Detroit scarcely got a moment to consider if the momentum would have shifted had it plated that third run, and the play been called a home run.
In the bottom of the same frame, the Rays No. 9 batter, Jason Bartlett, tripled and was followed by a double from Akinori Iwamura, as Tampa Bay answered with two runs to tie the game.
The Rays added another pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth -- three of which were charged to Miner -- to cruise toward their 64th win, and maintain their top spot in the AL East race.
"It's not an easy lineup to face," Miner said of the Rays, who had their leadoff man on board in five of the game's first six innings. "I obviously could have done some things better, but I'm not too disappointed with how I pitched."
Leyland agreed with the right-hander's assessment, as Miner scattered eight hits through 5 1/3 innings and helped keep the Tigers within striking distance.
But the usually roaring bats went down with a soft whimper, as Kazmir matched a career-high six walks, but limited the Tigers to just three hits.
"We let some early chances get away, obviously," Leyland said. "Plus [Kazmir is] a strikeout guy, so sometimes when he gets himself in trouble he gets out of trouble without putting the ball in play."
The Rays' staff combined to issue nine walks, which would usually gift wrap opponents' run production. But Friday night, Tampa Bay's erratic arms did nothing more than fuel the Tigers to go 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"No doubt about it," Leyland said of the assumed victory that usually follows nine walks. "Unless you issue seven, eight, nine walks yourself you [feel as if] you're going to win."
It was a sense the Tigers never could quite master on Friday night, as two bases-loaded scenarios and the Rays' quirky confines eluded them all night.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.