After a five-game homestand to open 2014, the Detroit Tigers embarked upon their first road trip of the new season. The first stop was Dodger Stadium for a pair of games against. Detroit would host Los Angeles in another pair of games in July.
Max Scherzer turned in a solid performance on April 8. He gave up only two runs in seven innings and struck out eight. The Tigers were only able to plate a single run for him, though. Detroit tied the game, 2-2, in the ninth, thanks to Victor Martinez’s RBI-single off Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers earned a 3-2 walk-off win in the 10th inning when Carl Crawford doubled off Phil Coke.
April 9, 2014
The pitching matchup for this Wednesday night contest featured a pair of right-handers who had been traded for each other back in 2005. The Detroit Tigers appeared to have the advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers. 2013’s AL earned run average leader Anibal Sanchez got the start for the Motor City squad. The team from the City of Angels countered with Josh Beckett, a former 20-game winner who suffered through an injury shortened 0-5 season the year before. This was his first start since the previous May. (2014 turned out to be Beckett’s farewell season.)
Each pitcher got into first inning jams. Ian Kinsler singled and stole two bases for the Tigers and scored on a Victor Martinez sacrifice fly. Dee Gordon (now known as Dee Strange-Gordon) singled for the Dodgers but was caught stealing on a pitchout. Carl Crawford hit a ground-rule double into the left-field corner and took third on a wild pitch. Sanchez then walked Hanley Ramirez, who was also part of the Sanchez-for-Beckett deal years earlier.
The Tigers’ hurler struck out Adrian Gonzalez looking, but that’s when Detroit experienced the pitfalls of being an American League team playing in a National League ballpark.
Victor Martinez, the Tigers’ regular designated hitter, was catching in this game. Victor hadn’t regularly donned the tools of ignorance since 2010. His playing time behind the dish started being phased out the following season. The universal DH was still eight years away from being fully implemented, though, and Detroit manager Brad Ausmus wanted V-Mart’s bat in the lineup. First base wasn’t an option with Miguel Cabrera playing, and so Martinez caught. After this game, he appeared as a catcher only once more in his career.
Before Sanchez threw the called third strike by Gonzalez, Ramirez bolted to second base. Once Martinez unleashed his throw, Crawford took off for home. The throw to second was on the wrong side of the bag and skipped into shallow left field. Both runners were credited with stolen bases, and Martinez was charged with an error that allowed Ramirez to take third. Ramirez scored on a single to give Los Angeles a 2-1 lead.
Each pitcher helped his own cause in the second inning. With two outs, the Tigers’ Alex Gonzalez reached on an error. Sanchez pounded a two-strike pitch into right-center. It was an RBI-double that tied the game at 2-2. The Dodgers’ Juan Uribe led off the bottom half with a single and took second on a passed ball charged to Martinez. A groundout moved him to third. Beckett’s sacrifice bunt brought Uribe home, and Los Angeles reclaimed the lead.
Slick Nick’s Quick Stick Trick
Detroit took command in the third. With two outs, Martinez singled, and Austin Jackson ripped a ground-rule double to left. That brought up rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos, who had debuted as a September callup the previous season. Batting against Beckett was a special moment for the youngster, who grew up in Florida rooting for Beckett during the pitcher’s days with the Marlins. The moment became even more special when Castellanos blasted a three-run home run to straightaway center. It was his first big-league roundtripper. The 22-year-old jubilantly said,
"“It didn’t really sink in that I hit my first homer off Beckett until I was sitting in the dugout, and I looked at him out on the mound. I was like, ‘Yes! I got him!’. It was just a cool feeling watching him mow down the Yankees in the (2003) World Series. To get him dead central for a big three-run homer was just storybook.”"
Armed with a new 5-3 lead, Sanchez pitched 1-2-3 innings in the third and fourth, notching three strikeouts along the way. A Crawford double in the fifth proved to be harmless when he was stranded at second base. Lefty reliever Drew Smyly took over in the sixth and threw a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Beckett and reliever Brandon League kept Detroit from adding to their lead. The Tigers finally added another run in the seventh on Jackson’s sacrifice fly. Smyly threw two more scoreless innings, and the Tigers took their 6-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
The Tigers signed 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan the previous December. The longtime Minnesota Twins relief ace pitched a scoreless ninth inning in his Detroit debut on Opening Day. His two outings since then had been shaky. In 1 2/3 innings, he was charged with two earned runs on three hits and two walks. Luckily, Nathan didn’t cost the team a victory in either game. Of course, Detroit Tigers fans had long since grown accustomed to closers taking them on rollercoaster rides. They were about to board another one.
Adrian Gonzalez tagged Nathan for a ninth-inning, leadoff home run to cut the Tigers’ lead to 6-4. After back-to-back walks to Ethier and Kemp, Uribe lined the first pitch he saw into right-center for a single. The bases were loaded, and there was nobody out. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called upon Yasiel Puig to pinch-hit. Nathan struck him out on three pitches, including a called strike three. Mattingly went back to his bench for pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke.
Van Slyke hit a grounder to Castellanos at third base, but Nick’s only play was a force at second base. Uribe was out, but Ethier scored the fifth Los Angeles run of the game. Gordon tied the game a 6-6 with a single to right. Crawford stepped up to the plate with a chance to deliver a big walk-off hit. Instead, he swung at Nathan’s first pitch and flew out to shallow left. The Tigers had made it through the inning but heavy damage had been done.
The Dodgers turned things over to hard-throwing closer Kenley Jansen for the 10th inning. Victor Martinez, the Tigers’ ersatz catcher, was still in the game. He was about to make up for his earlier defensive miscues. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Martinez homered to right field. Detroit took a narrow 7-6 lead. Alex Avila, the Tigers’ regular catcher, had been watching the entire game from the bench. V-Mart’s last trip to the plate impressed him. Avila remarked,
"“That is not an easy thing to do. When you’re catching a game like that, it’s exhausting. It’s easy to lose focus because of how tired you are.”"
The Tigers added a pair of singles off Jansen in the 10th before the Dodgers made a pitching change. Don Kelly pinch-hit for Nathan, but J.P. Howell struck him out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 10th, Detroit manager Jim Leyland reset the defense. Avila finally donned his catcher’s gear, and Martinez moved to first base. Cabrera slid over to third, replacing Castellanos. Burly right-hander Joba Chamberlain toed the rubber for the Tigers. After Ramirez singled, Leyland made a call to the ‘pen. Lefty Ian Krol was brought in to face a pair of left-handed hitters, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier. Krol struck them both out swinging. He only needed three pitches to put Ethier away. The southpaw had done his job well and turned the ball over to Al Alburquerque.
Alburquerque retired Kemp on a ground ball to third. After dropping an extra-innings game at Dodger Stadium the day before, the Tigers bounced back to win an extra-innings game there. The final score was Detroit 7, Los Angeles 6.
When the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers met for their next two games at Comerica Park later that July, the hometown boys triumphed in both. A few years later, in 2017, L.A. took two out of three in Detroit. The two storied franchises didn’t tangle again until the Tigers arrived at Dodger Stadium for a trio of games in late April 2022.