Mourning Game Four–My First Playoff Game
By Garret Craig
Wednesday afternoon, I made my way to Comerica Park with my dad and little brother to take in my first ever playoff game and only my second live baseball game of the year (I was also in attendance for the epic showdown between Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver). I hadn’t purchased tickets until the day before, when prices plummeted after the Tigers’ game two loss. Never did I expect to be able to afford tickets for a game this postseason, especially a crucial game four in the ALCS. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. My thoughts on the experience follow:
On the way to the game, I turned on 97.1 The Ticket for some background noise. In the very little I actually listened to, the very same fans who jumped off the bandwagon following game two, turning StubHub prices favorable to buyers, were going on about how great Detroit’s chances were now; if the Tigers could just win today, they said, they could very possibly be on their way to the World Series. Confidence was soaring considering the hometown club was still down a game in the series.
A long rain delay of more than two hours had the crowd of 42,234 restless, but the majority seemed optimistic that they would eventually see something worth waiting for. A game that was scheduled for 4:19p finally saw the first pitch more than two hours late at 6:32p. Even after waiting the worst of it out, the weather was uncomfortable at times. However, it provided an eery, cool backdrop that seemed perfect for October baseball. After the light drizzle finally ceased, dense fog rolled in over the lights on the left field side. At times, low, dark clouds hid the tallest tower of the Renaissance Center, which was illuminated by an LED color band, turned pink for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Rick Porcello looked like an ace for five innings; good enough, it seemed for a while, to bail out yet another anemic offensive performance. The Tigers staked Porcello to a 2-0 lead in the third inning thanks to a bit hit by Miguel Cabrera. Everything, at that point, seemed to be going according to plan.
However, the Tigers’ offense, after putting up their first three hits in the third frame, was inept through the sixth inning. The cruising Porcello hit a roadblock himself in the sixth, an inning in which he yielded three runs to the Texas Rangers, enough to see his team fall behind by a run; a huge deficit considering the Rangers’ deep, talented bullpen.
The next few half innings, with the Tigers trailing, seemed to take hours. Tiger killer Alexi Ogando retired five straight, and Detroit’s hopes to salvage the game and even up the series appeared to be in critical condition. The Tigers weren’t done though. With two outs in the seventh, Brandon Inge stepped to the plate. He fell behind 0-2 quickly, then proceeded to belt a pitch into the Rangers’ bullpen to tie the score in heroic fashion. It was an incredible moment, made even more special because it was produced by such a polarizing player; everyone’s favorite Tiger to love and hate. Half of the crowd, including one especially boisterous fan in the row behind me, called vehemently for a pinch hitter (Don Kelly was his choice). He cheered as loud as anyone when the pitch landed beyond the outfield wall, and will probably never question the longest-tenured Tiger again. Well, maybe he’ll give the hate a rest for at least a day or two.
It really seemed like the Tigers’ night. In the next inning, the eighth, Cabrera was walked intentionally and moved over to third by a one-out Victor Martinez single. All we needed was a fly ball, or so we thought. Delmon Young did get us a fly ball, but Nelson Cruz threw a rocket to home plate to gun down Cabrera, who tumbled over the catcher to no avail. The crowd turned from deafening to silent. That’s not hyperbole; as the ninth inning started, I literally felt like I had to whisper.
Still, everyone was just waiting for the walk-off. There was a nervous energy in the stands, but at the same time, a sense of belief. The ninth and tenth innings passed scoreless and still we believed. Finally, our hearts were broken as Mike Napoli, booed fiercely for his obvious gamesmanship in a previous at bat, singled to center to give the Rangers the lead once again. There was still a chance at that point, but a pitch later, before anyone could properly mourn the first run, Cruz blasted a Jose Valverde fastball out for a three-run home run. The crowd was deflated, dejected, and many headed for the exits. Those who faithfully remained were subjected to a seven-pitch, one-two-three inning to end the ball game.
The popular adjective used to describe the team over the last day or two was ‘resilient’, and sure, they were that. But resiliency by itself doesn’t do it for you in the playoffs, at least not for long. Detroit has even been aided by strong starting pitching, but even pitching by itself doesn’t win championships. At some point, you have to score runs. Texas features a well-balanced roster, and they are being rewarded for it.
In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the game and the experience of a playoff atmosphere, but I left hurting, knowing that my team is on the brink of elimination which, at this point, seems inevitable.