The Detroit Tigers turned the tables on their opponents last night, slugging three home runs en route to a 7-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. After being out-homered 10-5 in the first four games of the season, Justin Verlander held the Orioles to three runs over eight innings while striking out nine.
The offense stepped up in a big way with most of the punch provided by the much-maligned catcher, Alex Avila. Avila’s big night included a two-run double, a two-run homer, and an RBI single. The rest of the offense came by way of back-to-back solo homers by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
In each one of the three Tigers home runs, the hitter took advantage of a mistake by the Orioles hurler. Avila, in fact, did so twice. Avila’s double careened high off the towering right field scoreboard/wall. In that at bat, Orioles starter Brad Bergesen tried to hit the outside corner, but his fastball ran back over the inner-third of the plate and Avila jumped on it. The exact same thing happened in his next at bat, resulting in the home run that traveled over 400 feet.
With Bergesen out of the game in the fourth, reliever Josh Rupe began running two-seamers in on the hands of the Tigers right handed hitters. This is the same attack that had held Cabrera hitless in his first six at bats of the series. But Rupe missed location to Cabrera and while his fastball was down in the zone, it drifted over the heart of the plate and Cabrera drove it over the centerfield wall.
The next hitter, Martinez, took advantage of another mistake when Matt Wieters was again set up on the outside corner, only to see Rupe’s offering run inside to the left handed hitting Martinez. VMart did what good hitters do and crushed the mistake into the night.
There are very few pitchers that can survive in the big leagues when missing location by as much as those four pitches missed. In a given game, there are probably no more than a few chances for a hitter to pounce on a mistake. On occasion, a pitcher will get away with one, such as when Magglio Ordonez missed a chance to do some damage when he checked his swing on a hanging slider from Bergesen, and Martinez just missed a second home run when he got under a mistake offering from Mike Gonzalez later in the game. But by and large, the Tigers were able to capitalize on their chances.
Frequently, the difference between winning and losing comes down to how often a team makes the opposing pitcher pay for his mistakes, and how much damage is done when that happens.
The Tigers won last night because their pitcher made fewer mistakes than Baltimore’s, but also because the Tigers were able to take advantage when opportunities presented themselves.