Ball lost in roof helps narrow Tigers' lead
Detroit misses early chances; Twins get within two games
MINNEAPOLIS -- Sometimes, teams make their own breaks. Other times, they drive in the runs to ensure that bad breaks don't become critical ones.
When Tigers left fielder Don Kelly lost Orlando Cabrera's eighth-inning fly ball, the ensuing five-run rally became another chapter in the story of the Tigers' troubles here, and another reason why Justin Verlander and some others might like to personally help the Twins move to Target Field this winter.
But the gray roof of the Metrodome can't hide the fact that Detroit turned 12 hits into just two runs in its 6-2 loss to Minnesota. The Tigers had almost twice the Twins' hit total heading into that fateful eighth, but a one-run lead held up to that point almost entirely because of Justin Verlander. Eleven hits came off Carl Pavano, who finally didn't beat Detroit but put his team in a position to do so once he left, reducing the Tigers' lead to two games in the American League Central.
"That's just tough to swallow," catcher Gerald Laird said. "Verlander pitched a Verlander-type game."
Sometimes, teams make their own breaks. And sometimes, teams set themselves up for bad ones.
"That happens," manager Jim Leyland said. "But that had nothing to do with the fact that we didn't score more runs. We should've scored a bunch of runs. We didn't do it."
Joe Mauer's first-inning home run was Minnesota's lone tally for the first seven innings off Verlander, who allowed four leadoff singles but ensured none of them scored. Two of them were stranded, while Laird threw out the other two, including pinch-running speedster Carlos Gomez in the seventh.
Like in so many other outings, Verlander's fastball kept picking up speed as the game went on. He used 97-mph heaters to fan Brian Buscher in the second inning and Delmon Young in the fourth, then hit 99 repeatedly to get a groundout from Mauer in the sixth.
In the eighth, with Denard Span on first base, Verlander fell behind on Cabrera, but recovered to bring the count full before Cabrera hit a high fly ball to left. Kelly looked like he had camped under the ball but lost the path. In reality, he never quite had it.
"It went up, it went through the lights and I lost it," said Kelly, who started two games in left field here in July, including a day game.
By the time he found it, it was too late. He made enough of a diving attempt that the ball nicked off his glove.
Cabrera ended up on second base and Span on third. After Verlander (16-9) intentionally walked Mauer, both Cabrera and Span scored when Jason Kubel fought off a 100-mph fastball on Verlander's 127th and final pitch for a broken-bat blooper just out of Kelly's reach in shallow left field.
Michael Cuddyer greeted Brandon Lyon with a drive to left-center for his 28th homer of 2009 and his second in as many games this series.
Add one key hit from the Tigers earlier -- replacing Laird's bases-loaded double play to end the fifth inning, or Curtis Granderson's fly out with two runners in scoring position in the second, or Carlos Guillen's strikeout to strand runners at the corners in the fourth -- and Cabrera's ball puts the potential tying run at bat instead of the winning run on second.
That, as much as Kelly's miss of the Cabrera drive, is what haunted Detroit afterward. Of all the Tigers' struggles against Pavano this year, this might've been the most frustrating.
"I had 11 baserunners in the first five innings," Pavano pointed out. "Bases loaded, double play [in the fifth]. I mean, I don't think I've been particularly dominant against them. I've just made pitches when I needed to, and that's the name of our job as a starting pitcher."
None of the 11 hits against Pavano went for extra bases. Placido Polanco and Miguel Cabrera had six of them, with Polanco scoring both Detroit runs.
"I'm not sure exactly what it is," Granderson said. "He's pitched well. He throws strikes. When he gets himself into jams, he gets himself out of [them]."
Pavano's no-decision leaves former Twins pitcher Joe Mays as the last hurler to pick up five wins against Detroit in a season, and one of just three starters to do so since 1954, according to baseball-reference.com. Still, Pavano -- 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA against the Tigers this year -- will likely have one chance to join that company. He's on track to face them again when Minnesota visit Comerica Park in the final week of the regular season.
The Tigers won't have to deal with a roof there, but they'll still have to produce some runs. Sometimes, teams make their own breaks.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.