Mora, Castro hurt Tigers in tough loss
Robertson struggles against O's as Detroit drops opener
DETROIT -- Melvin Mora's damage against the Tigers couldn't be a surprise on Friday. Juan Castro's damage was.
Mora was a .307 career hitter against Detroit going into this weekend after his 6-for-15, three-homer, seven-RBI series last month at Baltimore. He fell a double shy of the cycle while driving in four runs, but it was Castro's two doubles and three runs scored that seemingly encapsulated the frustrations of a Tigers team whose 11-2 loss to the Orioles continued what has become a lost homestand.
Not until a six-run ninth inning did the O's turn this game into a runaway. Yet with four runs in the first three innings and an add-on tally once Detroit rallied for its two runs, the Orioles kept the Tigers trailing from the start and compounded their woes from there.
"It started ugly and got worse at the end," manager Jim Leyland summarized. "We had a lot of hits, no runs. We actually swung the bats better than the score showed, but you have to pitch obviously better than we did."
Whether it's the position in the standings or simply trying for a winning season, there's little room for error these days in Detroit. In that sense, three errors that led to six unearned runs were fatal. Just as dooming, though, were the hits when they could least afford them -- many of them early, and one key pitch late.
It was a bad night for starter Nate Robertson to be out of sync mechanically from the outset.
"If I missed a pitch," Robertson said, "they didn't let me get away with it."
Mora was just 3-for-18 for his career against Robertson entering the game, but two of those hits came in their last meeting on July 19 at Camden Yards -- a two-run homer and an RBI single on the night the Tigers saw a six-run, first-inning lead vanish by the end of the third.
This time, Robertson was an out away from retiring the side in order in the opening inning when he fell behind on Mora and gave up a two-out triple. He had a 3-1 count when Aubrey Huff singled through the right side to open the scoring.
Another Tigers killer from last month, Luke Scott, doubled an inning later, but a strikeout of Lou Montanez left him with two outs and ninth hitter Castro, 1-for-11 lifetime against Robertson, at the plate. Robertson put Castro in a 1-2 count with back-to-back foul balls, but missed with three straight fastballs inside. The walk extended the inning for Brian Roberts' two-out single and a Magglio Ordonez throwing error allowing Castro to score when the ball hit Scott and bounced away from catcher Brandon Inge.
Robertson had made a mechanical adjustment a couple starts ago, a tweak he said was meant to free up his hands. It helped him to 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball against Oakland last time out, but his woes returned.
"I felt pretty good about it over the last couple starts," Robertson said. "Tonight I just had a couple innings there, where my release point was off a little bit. I was yanking some pitches. I was a little bit more left-to-right instead of having my direction toward the plate. It cost me getting behind in the count a couple times and missing my pitch."
Mora's next at-bat was another time. Leading off the third, he tried to go with a 1-1 slider and watched it go flat. Mora turned on it and took it out to left for his 18th home run on the season and a 4-0 O's lead.
That provided a working margin for Baltimore starter Chris Waters, who stranded Curtis Granderson at third following his one-out double in the third with a Placido Polanco groundout and a called third strike on Miguel Cabrera. Not until Polanco's two-run homer in the fifth did Detroit plate a run, and while it halved the deficit, it was quickly nullified.
Again, Castro provided the key blow. He lined Robertson's first pitch of the sixth inning off the left-field fence for a leadoff double.
"The No. 9 hitter gets a double there, and then you have to try to work around it," Robertson said. "That would've been a good time to get a zero on the board and you never know what would've happened. They get an add-on run in the sixth, and I think that was probably the turning point."
The add-on tally didn't come until Robertson was out, having walked Nick Markakis on four pitches after tweaking his knee on Roberts' sacrifice bunt. Mora, fittingly, provided the RBI with a sac fly off Aquilino Lopez.
That finished the line on Robertson, whose four earned runs on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings added to his season damage. His 5.87 ERA is the second-highest among American League starters with enough innings to qualify for a title behind Carlos Silva. Only Silva and Livan Hernandez, recently released by the Twins, have allowed more hits among AL starters.
"To sum it up to this point, he's just made too many bad pitches," Leyland said. "That's just the way it is. For whatever reason, he's just made too many bad pitches -- sometimes when you've got the count in your favor, sometimes when he's behind."
Two fielding errors -- though the Tigers believed one was actually an interference play when Montanez deflected Polanco's double play with his outstretched hand -- helped make for an ugly ninth inning in which Baltimore put up five unearned runs on Todd Jones. Fittingly, the disputed play allowed Castro on base with a fielder's choice. Mora's two-run single drove him in.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.