Missed chances haunt Tigers, who split with Yanks

Missed chances haunt Tigers, who split with Yanks

Missed chances haunt Tigers, who split with Yanks
DETROIT -- The drop of Andy Dirks' blooper right on the left-field line was almost as sudden and startling as the fifth-inning rally that set it up to be the go-ahead double. The back-to-back Yankees home runs that took the lead back were even more abrupt.

Six batters in the fifth inning turned a shutdown performance from Hiroki Kuroda into a Tigers lead. Two pitches in the eighth turned it back. Yet even after Mark Teixiera's game-tying homer and Eric Chavez's go-ahead loft, the Tigers' threat to tie or win it seemed to take the longest of all.

It still didn't get them a run. And as the Tigers packed up for their upcoming trip to Texas, forced to settle for a four-game series split with New York after a 4-3 loss, they had a lot to think about.

It was an odd feeling for a 5-2 homestand that vaulted them back to the thick of the American League Central race. Even with Thursday's loss, they head to Texas a game back of the White Sox for the division lead. But it was an odd kind of game.

"We just didn't get it done," manager Jim Leyland said. "We had two shots. We had one to close it out and we could get it done. And then we had a chance to get back in it for sure and we couldn't get it done."

Leyland had to think about Joaquin Benoit, who had a case for All-Star consideration at midseason as one of the AL's best setup men. He has given up nine hits over 11 1/3 innings in 12 games since July 7, but seven of those hits have been homers. Four of those homers have come in his last two outings, five days apart.

"I haven't located my pitches," Benoit told a local radio reporter. "They're hitting the ball good and it's going out of the park."

That was pretty much his manager's assessment as well.

"It's a matter of getting the ball where you're trying to throw it," Leyland said. "He's usually got pinpoint control. He's really one of our best pitchers in knowing how to set hitters up and getting the ball where he wants to, but lately he hasn't gotten the ball there. He's left too many hittable pitches, obviously, and they haven't gone for [smaller] base hits unfortunately."

Benoit hadn't pitched since giving up back-to-back home runs Sunday against Cleveland, part of a back-and-forth game that ended with a Miguel Cabrera walk-off homer. Leyland rested him for a couple days, citing soreness in his throwing shoulder. However, Leyland and Benoit have both said he's healthy now, and the 96-mph radar reading Thursday seemed to reinforce it.

The 96-mph fastball, however, was the pitch that Teixeira lined down the right-field line and just over the fence for his 21st home run of the year. In that case, Benoit's downfall was more about the 2-0 count, having missed the outside corner on his previous two fastballs.

"I was trying to hit a home run there," Teixeira admitted. "I don't do it all the time, but I know against a guy like Benoit, he's not going to give up a lot of hits. So you just try to click him. You try to get a good pitch to hit and I got a 2-0 pitch to hit."

The buzz had barely quieted among the sellout crowd of 40,940 when Chavez jumped Benoit's first-pitch changeup, the pitch that usually gets Benoit swings and misses when he needs them. It was meant to be down and away, sticking with the game plan to deny Chavez a chance to pull the ball, but was just a little bit up.

"I was looking for a heater," Chavez said, "and I believe he left a changeup kind of up and away and I just saw it out of his hand."

Just like that, it was out, and the Tigers were down. Chavez's second home run of the series completed a 9-for-16, six-run, five-RBI set as he continues to fill in for injured Alex Rodriguez.

"To be honest, I was surprised Chavez' two home runs this series were opposite field. He's more of a pull guy," catcher Alex Avila said. "Give him credit for going that way. We went according to the game plan on how to get him out. We were able to get him out sometimes, but he was able to adjust on others."

What made this homestand so strong for the Tigers was their ability to answer rallies, usually in the same inning. Jhonny Peralta came within feet of doing that in the bottom of the eighth. As pinch-runner Gerald Laird stood on third base with nobody out in the ninth, they were 90 feet away with Ramon Santiago, Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks due up.

Manager Jim Leyland had called for a bunt, but not for a squeeze, after Santiago took a first-pitch strike. He wanted Santiago to bunt Omar Infante, the potential winning run at first base, over to second.

"We had a miscommunication with the signs, which was my fault," Leyland said.

Asked if he had considered a squeeze bunt, Leyland said they were trying to win, not tie.

"Our bullpen was short at that point," said Leyland, citing Darin Downs and Phil Coke as their only remaining relievers available.

Santiago, having not gotten the sign, was trying for a hit. The fact that he couldn't get it, lining out to second, lingered with him afterwards.

"There's no excuse," he said. "I've got to get it done."

Yankees closer Rafael Soriano made sure no one, getting a Berry popout and Dirks fly out to wrap up the save.

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.