Tigers end up on short end of bullpen battle
Pierzynski's RBI single off Valverde in 10th is difference
DETROIT -- Edwin Jackson and Max Scherzer, the two frontline starters traded for each other last winter, dueled to a statistical draw Monday afternoon. That made sense for the Tigers, who swapped the two.
The Tigers and White Sox bullpens, on the other hand, proved to be the difference in a 5-4 Detroit loss. Considering the Tigers had their second-year setup man and closer going opposite Chicago's just-drafted lefty, manager Jim Leyland and Co. couldn't have figured on that.
Detroit won many of those battles early in the season, which helped make it such a dangerous comeback team. The Tigers aren't winning as many of them now.
"It was a real good ballgame," Leyland said. "We just didn't execute on a couple pitches and got burned."
One of them was a hanging slider from Ryan Perry, who understandably went to his bread-and-butter pitch on a full count with two outs in the eighth. He simply couldn't spot it where he wanted, which allowed Alexei Ramirez to loft an easy line drive into left field and score Brent Lillibridge from second to tie the game at 3.
The other was a 1-2 fastball over the plate from closer Jose Valverde that A.J. Pierzynski turned into a single, which continued Valverde's second-half struggles and marked the third single of the inning -- plating the go-ahead run.
Chris Sale, meanwhile, retired all eight Tigers he faced and struck out three for his first Major League victory. In so doing, the lanky left-hander continued to make the immediate impact the White Sox hoped to have when they called up the Lakeland, Fla., native last month after just 11 Minor League outings.
Like former Tiger Andrew Miller, Sale is making a big league impact just months after he was a first-round pick. Like Miller, Sale is a tall southpaw whose gangly frame and sidearming angle make him tough for batters to face from either side of the plate.
"He's pretty deceptive, and then he has pretty good stuff," Will Rhymes said. "He's tough on lefties and tough on righties, too, because he kind of hides [the ball]."
Unlike Miller, Sale can pitch into the upper-90s with a tailing fastball that breaks away from right-handed hitters and inside on left-handers. The Tigers, whose four runs all came within the first three innings, couldn't solve it.
For a brief moment, they wondered if they had, until replay showed Brandon Inge's go-ahead two-run home run was actually a full-count foul ball.
In hindsight, the eighth-inning shot wasn't really close, instead foul by several feet. Inge actually stopped and was ready to head back to home plate until third-base umpire Tony Randazzo ruled the ball was fair. He didn't get to second base before White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was out at home plate to ask for a review.
Once replay overturned the ruling, Inge came out of the dugout and back into the batter's box for another full-count pitch. Sale dropped a full-count breaking ball on the outside corner for a called third strike and an end to Detroit's last -- and best -- threat of the afternoon.
Sale (1-1) entered at almost the same point that Perry did a half-inning earlier. Both Scherzer and Jackson allowed four runs on nine hits over 7 1/3 innings, overcoming early mistakes to salvage deep start. The only difference in their pitching lines was an extra walk by Scherzer.
Scherzer left after a one-out single from Andruw Jones to give way to Phil Coke, who retired left-handed hitter Pierzynski. Once Guillen brought in Alexei Ramirez to pinch-hit, Leyland turned to Perry, who had turned in two perfect innings to earn a win Friday night at Kansas City, over Coke, whom right-handed batters have hit for a .318 average since the All-Star break.
Once Perry fell behind Ramirez and pinch-runner Lillibridge stole second base, Perry came back at Ramirez with fastballs to run the count full. Ramirez fouled back a 3-1 fastball high and over the plate. He did not miss the 3-2 slider.
"He hung a slider," Leyland said. "He left it right up there for him, and he couldn't miss it. Up here, you have to make big pitches at the right time, big situations, and he just left it up."
Perry retired the White Sox in order in the ninth to send the game into extra innings, but it's the eighth-inning offering that haunted him. He unquestionably understood the urgency there.
"If I located where I wanted to, I would have got the results I wanted," Perry said. "I left it up and he was able to get a piece of it."
Perry has two blown saves, a win and a loss in his past four outings. Before that, he had seven holds in seven chances and a win over his previous three months since returning from the disabled list. By contrast, Valverde's second-half search for consistency has been running longer.
Manny Ramirez's third single of the game, Ryan Raburn's error on the ball in left field and back-to-back one-out singles from pinch-hitter Alex Rios and Pierzynski led to Chicago's go-ahead run in the 10th. Valverde (2-4) avoided further damage with a Gordon Beckham double play, but still allowed a run for the fourth time in five outings and the 10th time in his past 14 appearances.
"I'm not worried about Valverde at all," Leyland said. "He's our closer."
Scherzer ended up with as many earned runs (four) over 7 1/3 innings as he did over 37 innings in his previous five starts combined, yet still retired 10 of his final 12 hitters to give the Tigers a shot. Half of his damage came in a second-inning rally that Don Kelly helped halt with a sliding catch in short left field.
Kelly also plated three of the four Tigers runs with his first-inning RBI single and two-run homer in the fourth inning.
"It was a tough game," Kelly said. "The whole second half we've played in some tough games. We just continue to battle. As far as myself, I've got to go out there and try to help the team any way I can."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.