Missed third-inning opportunity haunts Tigers

Missed third-inning opportunity haunts Tigers

Missed third-inning opportunity haunts Tigers
BOSTON -- As manager Jim Leyland made his way back into the dugout following the Tigers' final pitching change Monday night, the Fenway Park sound system blared the Beatles' hit "Can't Buy Me Love." It's not the tune this place is known for during the eighth inning, but it seemed subtly appropriate for the situation the club is in as Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.

The Tigers have dropped four of five, including Monday's 7-3 loss to the Red Sox, with an offense that has been sporadic for the entire road trip, now spanning a week. And for most of the evening, Delmon Young's double play against Clay Buchholz with the bases loaded in the third inning loomed as the potential difference in the game.

"We had a chance right off the bat, and we loaded the bases later, and they got the double-play ball," Leyland said. "That's pretty much why they won the game and we lost the game. They got a big pitch, bases loaded, and got themselves out of a potential big inning."

By the time starter Max Scherzer was done with one out in the seventh, however, he had given up five runs for the first time since June 6, all but sealing his first loss since his June 23 outing in Pittsburgh. Scherzer (10-6) had gone 4-0 in his five starts since that performance, three of them outings of seven innings with two runs or less.

He gave up a pair of two-run rallies on two big hits -- Carl Crawford's RBI triple setting up two runs in the first, then Dustin Pedroia's go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth -- that left him with five runs on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings, despite his Major League-best eighth start with nine or more strikeouts this season.

"Anytime you're facing a good hitting team like this, you have to be on your 'A' game. You can't afford to make mistakes like that," said Scherzer, now 1-3 with a 9.21 ERA in six career starts against Boston. "There was just a handful, enough times when I missed my location, and they did a good job of making me pay for it."

In short, there were multiple reasons for this chapter in the Tigers' struggles, and enough reasons why one move can't completely fix it, or one player can be to blame. Whether help is coming or not before Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET Deadline for non-waiver trades, or even after, Leyland is looking squarely in his clubhouse as it is for the fate of their season as they sit 1 1/2 games behind the first-place White Sox, who lost to the Twins on Monday night.

"Reality's reality. You've got your guys out there," Leyland said. "They're the guys that are the same guys when you're doing good, so I'm not going to get down on guys when they're struggling a little bit. I've been the same all year. ...

"The one thing that people have to understand is when a team is not hitting, you have to remember: Those are your players. Those are the guys you've got."

Whether they add another bat or not -- and if they do that at this point, it appears more likely to be a role player than a regular -- the heart of the turnaround is going to have to come from the guys there. That almost surely includes Young, who has 13 July RBIs but stranded a runner on third base in each of his first two at-bats.

The first was a two out at-bat in the opening inning, as Buchholz recovered to retire the heart of the Tigers' lineup in order without another ball out of the infield after Austin Jackson's leadoff homer and Quintin Berry's ensuing double. Miguel Cabrera had a hard-hit comebacker, but Buchholz snared it to start an out.

"He made a heck of a play on it. I don't know how he made it," Leyland said. "I thought the ball was through the middle for sure, and the next thing I know, he was throwing it to first."

The third-inning opportunity was with one out after Buchholz walked Prince Fielder and loaded the bases. Buchholz fired back-to-back cutters, getting Young to swing and miss at the first before grounding the second one to shortstop to start an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Young, a .286 batter with runners in scoring position this year, fell to 0-for-8 this year with the bases loaded and is 1-for-10 in those situations as a Tiger dating back to last year.

From there, Buchholz (9-3) rolled, retiring 10 in a row before an errant throw from Kelly Shoppach allowed Brennan Boesch to reach base in the seventh.

The only other hit Buchholz allowed was a two-strike pitch Alex Avila drilled to the fence in right-center field to send Boesch around to score.

"I think he has a good selection of pitches he uses at any time," Jackson said. "He's good at making you chase."

Scherzer did his best to keep pace, fanning six Red Sox batters in a 12-batter span from the fourth inning through the sixth. He nearly had two others that ended up being pitches he'd gladly trade. Crawford arguably impacted them both.

Crawford's first-inning triple came on a Scherzer fastball, and it might well have been on his mind when Crawford worked the count full in the sixth. Scherzer had retired Crawford in the third on a changeup, and he went back to it as his payoff pitch.

"I just didn't want to give in to the fastball," Scherzer said. "I know he's a great fastball hitter. I thought if I stayed offspeed and was able to execute in the zone, whether he swings and misses or rolls it over ... I felt confident in that pitch. I just missed it six inches outside."

With the speedy Crawford on base as a leadoff runner, Leyland wondered aloud if Scherzer might have been rushing on his pitches to Pedroia, including the 1-2 fastball he left up that Pedroia jumped for his ninth home run of the season.

"It was more of a bad pitch," Scherzer said. "I was comfortable being quick. It wasn't bothering me that he was on first."

The result bothered him, both the pitch and the game.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.