The Detroit Tigers won their 91st game of the season last night and did so in walk-off fashion over the Baltimore Orioles. While Victor Martinez will be hailed as the hero for delivering his game-winning hit in the bottom of the 11th, it was the work of the bullpen that made VMart’s drive possible. More specifically, it was Ryan Perry‘s ability to make a mid-inning adjustment that preserved a tie ballgame in the top half of that inning.
Perry followed Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, and Phil Coke in the march out of the Tigers bullpen last night; each of them tossed a scoreless inning after Rick Porcello left the game at the end of the seventh. Perry was working on back-to back nights, having tossed a pair of perfect frames on Thursday. Early in his appearance Friday, it looked like the Tigers were in trouble.
Nick Markakis greeted him with a double to lead off the frame. Perry followed that up with a four-pitch walk to Vladimir Guerrero, not an easy thing to do against the free-swinger. Then he fell behind 2-0 on Matt Wieters and things were going from bad to worse for the Tigers right hander.
Not long ago, this situation would have probably ended differently for the Tigers. Perry, who was demoted to the minor leagues after posting a 12.19 ERA through his first 13 outings of the season, has had trouble making adjustments when he’s not on his game.
Since coming back from his minor league assignment, however, Perry has been good more often than not. “I threw six bad pitches in a row,” Perry (1-0) told MLB.com, “and was able to know what I was doing and come back and make some good ones.”
Perry got Wieters to roll over a ground ball to the right side. Miguel Cabrera made a stab and good throw over the runner headed to second base and Perry scrambled over to cover the bag in time to complete the double play. Just like that, he was one out away from getting out of his jam. A routine groundball ended the threat and set the stage for Martinez’s heroics.
Perry’s fall from grace this year was as quick as it was decisive. He began the season in role he was familiar with, asked to hold down the seventh inning duties for his club. An eye infection knocked him out of action in April, and seemingly, his season never got on track. The Tigers finally pulled the plug on him by sending him to Toledo on May 26, at the conclusion of a nine game span that saw him allow an alarming 15 hits, eight walks, and 13 earned runs over the course of just 7.1 innings. His ERA in that stretch was 15.95.
Perry didn’t sulk when he arrived in Toledo. Instead, he and pitching coach A.J. Sager went to work. “I just saw how much my mechanics have changed over the years and just really focused on getting back to how I was in college and kind of my first year or year-in-a-half of pro ball, really.”
Perry told MLive in June that he felt his mechanics had become “too mechanical” so he began throwing again from the windup while with the Mud Hens. That change, he said, “helped me stay on top of the ball a lot better.” While with the Mud Hens for approximately three weeks, Perry held International League opponents to nine hit and only three walks over 16 innings. He also struck out 16.
Since coming back from his minor league exile, Perry has seen much better results. He has walked ten batter over his last 25 innings (21 games) while allowing 21 hits and striking out 14. His ERA since being recalled is a solid 2.52. While it has taken a long time to lower his ERA from its peak down to the current 5.35, it has taken even longer to regain the trust of his manager.
Phil Coke has long since claimed Perry’s seventh inning role and when he’s been healthy, Al Alburquerque has moved past Perry on the food chain as well. Instead of protecting leads, as had been expected, Perry has joined David Pauley in getting his work in while the Tigers are behind. Over the past six weeks, that hasn’t happened all too often.
Last night, Tigers manager Jim Leyland went to Perry in a spot with the game very much on the line. Though it happened in the 11th inning, this wasn’t a case where Leyland was short on pitchers. With the left handed hitting Markakis due to lead off the inning and a switch hitter in Wieters due up third, Leyland could have opted to bring in Daniel Schlereth to work the frame. instead, he went with a right hander who had tossed two innings the previous night. This was a vote of confidence in Perry, and a way to test the still young reliever in advance of October baseball.
Perry, for his part, was able to work through his initial struggles and make the pitches he needed to escape the inning. That won’t be lost on his manager.
There will be a lot of talk about players and pitchers that are “locks” to make the post-season roster and those that are “on the bubble.” With only 11 pitchers making the October staff, there will be some that are left at home. Perry, it appears, is moving closer and closer to “lock” status.