Tigers go to town on Twins pitching
04/29/2006 12:15 AM ET
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Rondell White, the former Tiger turned .143-hitting Twin, said Friday afternoon that it seems like the other team has 14 players on the field when he's at the plate. He might be seeing half of them at third base.The Tigers beat up Brad Radke at the plate, handing him his first career loss at Comerica Park. Nate Robertson turned in his second straight outing of seven scoreless innings. Chris Shelton tied Cecil Fielder's record for most home runs in April. Yet for most of the Tigers, Friday's 9-0 win over the Twins centered around one ground ball.
"I thought Brandon Inge's play on Rondell White turned the game around," manager Jim Leyland said.
Considering Robertson's two losses this year came down to an unearned run in a one-run loss and a six-single inning in a quick exit, he wasn't going to argue.
"People want to talk about offense and pitching," Robertson said, "but you know what? It's the defense that makes the pitching everything that it is. If we make good plays and we're consistent defensively, we're going to win a lot of ballgames."
The Tigers rank around the middle of the pack in fielding percentage, errors and double plays, an improvement over past years but nothing spectacular. In terms of turning balls in play into outs, otherwise known as defensive efficiency, they're leading the American League. Their groundball-inducing pitchers are doing their job, and the fielders are generally making important plays.
In the case of Friday's third inning, it turned out to be critical. After racking up five strikeouts in a six-batter span of the first and second innings, Robertson allowed back-to-back singles leading off the third to bring up the middle of the Minnesota order. Mike Redmond's flyout put runners at the corners with one out and White at the plate.
The Tigers know White's productivity all too well. Though he entered Friday batting .150, he hit .364 with runners in scoring position last season, and .385 with a man on third and less than two outs. His low batting average came in part from plays like Inge made.
White hit a sharp bouncer that seemed headed down the left-field line. Instead, Inge darted to his right to backhand it, then fired to second base to start an inning-ending double play. Placido Polanco's relay throw barely beat White to first base.
"To me, that was the key to the game," Leyland said. "Obviously, there were a lot of heroes tonight. Everybody chipped in. Everybody made contributions. But that's a tremendous defensive play. Not only did we get one out, but we got two. Rondell hit that ball hard. If that ball gets down the line, who knows what would've happened? Those are the kind of plays that really pick a pitcher up."
Robertson suffered from the third-lowest offensive support among American League starters last year, but he'll take defensive support like that any time.
"[It was a] ball that could've gotten down the line, gone for a double, maybe gotten two in," Robertson said. "It was big. It was very big."
Robertson got the offensive support from there. The Tigers scored four runs in the bottom of the inning, three of them on a Carlos Guillen bases-clearing double and another on Shelton's 10th home run of the season. Robertson induced nine consecutive ground balls, all of them outs except for an Inge error with two outs in the fifth. And a Tigers club that had been winning low-scoring games ran away with one at home.
"We got a couple of key plays, a couple very good double plays when we needed it," said Ivan Rodriguez, one of three Tigers with three hits in the game.
Radke (2-3) started the game with a chance for his 20th career win against the Tigers, thanks in no small part to a 7-0 career record at Comerica Park. The Tigers have had their hits against him; Magglio Ordonez and Rodriguez were both .400 hitters against him entering the game. However, they've never had enough. A pregame hitters meeting seemed to set the tone.
Polanco, Rodriguez and Ordonez each singled with one out in the first inning, setting up Guillen's sacrifice fly. Marcus Thames stretched the lead in the second when he drove a fastball to left for a solo homer, ending an 0-for-19 skid in what ended up a 3-for-4 night.
Once the Tigers came off the field in the third, though, they came to life. Six consecutive batters reached base safely off Radke before he was pulled. The only out he earned came when Guillen was caught between second and third base on his double. Guillen finished with four RBIs.
Shelton hit Radke's next pitch, a fastball, deep to right for one of what is becoming his trademark opposite-field homers. Not only did he tie Fielder's franchise record for April homers, he moved back into a tie for the AL lead with Tampa Bay's Jonny Gomes.
"The best thing about it is the fact that it came in a win," Shelton said. "It's an honor to be mentioned with Cecil Fielder, to have my name next to him. ... Everybody kind of had their own game plan tonight, and they executed it, and it worked tonight."
So did Robertson's game plan of going for ground balls, though he finished with seven strikeouts in as many innings.
"Really, the season comes down to [the fact that] I had one bad inning against Cleveland," Robertson said. "That day, I didn't have much of a slider. My last few [outings], I've had a really good slider. To be able to have that pitch when I need it, especially for a strikeout pitch, it's good to go. I basically had three pitches that I was throwing for strikes, I got the ground balls."
One of them, amazingly, helped win a 9-0 game.