8/10/2014 10:26 P.M. ET
Porcello offers Tigers much-needed relief
Starter enters game in 17th inning, but takes loss in 19th against Blue Jays
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
TORONTO -- Rick Porcello usually barely shows a reaction on his face coming off the mound after an inning, whether he gets a big out or retires the side in order in routine fashion. That's the mentality of a starting pitcher, especially the even-tempered Porcello.
So as Porcello pumped his fist and ran into the dugout Sunday, he looked like a high-adrenaline reliever rather than a 13-game winner. He stranded a runner on third, but it was his first inning of work.
It was the Tigers' 17th inning.
"It was a really weird feeling for me. I was like shaking out there," said Porcello, who threw the final 36 pitches of Sunday's 6-5, 19-inning loss to the Blue Jays. "I was pretty pumped up. I was just trying to bring some energy.
"I knew the guys were tired. They'd been grinding the whole day. Kins [Ian Kinsler] and Miggy [Miguel Cabrera] and those [guys], they were out there standing for 6 1/2 hours."
For most of Sunday's marathon, Porcello was simply watching them from the dugout. He wasn't scheduled to pitch in this series, and wasn't scheduled to start until Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. He threw 30-35 pitches off the mound in his regular between-starts workout on Saturday, so he wasn't even on call.
As Sunday's game reached the 15th inning, the Tigers' bullpen emptied and acting manager Gene Lamont looking over his options, Porcello's day changed dramatically.
"I mean, I've come out of the bullpen before," Porcello said, "[but] not really on a day where I'm sitting there watching the game not prepared to pitch at all. Obviously Geno told me to get down there and that Joe [Nathan]'s got one inning and then you're in the game, you're going to have to pitch."
Thus came the bizarre sight of cross-traffic bullpen. As Nathan, the last reliever available, ran in from the Tigers bullpen to pitch the 16th inning, Porcello jogged down the right-field line from the dugout to start warming up.
Porcello entered in the 17th inning without a scouting report nor a real game plan. He took the signs from catcher Bryan Holaday, who entered the game in the 11th, and took it from there.
"Pretty much just winging it at that point, trying to keep the ball down and get somebody out," Porcello said.
For two innings, it worked. He stranded the winning run at third base in the 17th with help from a deft play by right fielder Torii Hunter, turning a would-be single from Juan Francisco into a fielder's choice at second base for the second out. He needed just four pitches in the 18th to get three groundouts to second.
With each inning, he wasn't thinking about how long he could go, but how long he'd need to go.
"I was just thinking: Let's push a run across and I'm going to close this thing, and we're going to go and win this game," Porcello said. "At that point, if you play that many innings, it doesn't matter."
Much like his start last Thursday against the Yankees, Porcello did not get the run support. On he went to the 19th, when Munenori Kawasaki's leadoff single and Porcello's off-balance throw to first on a sacrifice bunt led to runners at the corners, nobody out and the middle of the order up.
He walked Melky Cabrera to set up a force play at every base. Jose Bautista's loft to right field on a hanging slider left the force moot.
As tough of a loss as it was, it's a game he'll remember for the rest of his career.
"My hat's off to both teams," Porcello said. "The way everybody battled today, it was an exceptional game, and everybody left it on the field. We lost and that obviously hurts, but I think everybody can be proud of the way they worked today. That was a grind."
The grind almost surely means he won't make his scheduled start Tuesday. Manager Brad Ausmus had no rotation plans to announce beyond Justin Verlander for Monday's series opener in Pittsburgh as scheduled.
Conceivably, the Tigers could push back Porcello by a day and start Robbie Ray, who was scheduled to join the Tigers rotation Wednesday, a day early. If not, they'll need a second starter to call up from Triple-A Toledo beyond Ray, who is filling in for injured Anibal Sanchez.