Tigers see big lead evaporate against O's

Tigers see big lead evaporate against O's

Tigers see big lead evaporate against O's
DETROIT -- None of the curveballs Doug Fister threw on Sunday, and he threw a lot of them, were as big as the one the Orioles had in store for the Tigers.

Unlike some curveballs, this one stung. Depending on the way the stretch run unfolds, it could leave a mark.

"You're thinking it's going to be a pretty good day, obviously," Gerald Laird said after the Tigers' early five-run lead turned into a 7-5 loss to the Orioles. "But that's why this game's so weird, I guess."

Wei-Yen Chen, the Orioles' starter who held it together after a rough beginning, had the opposite view, but the same reaction.

"This is baseball. You never know what's going to happen," he said.

As wild as the Tigers' season has been, though, this one seemed predictable. They hadn't lost a game they had led by more than three runs all season. When they've busted out against a starter, they've been more likely to build on it than watch it dwindle.

If any games feel automatic after an inning, this one did. Detroit had a five-run lead with its hottest starter taking the mound, armed with what looked like one of his best breaking balls of the season.

Omar Infante homered for his third time as a Tiger -- a deep shot to left field -- to put his team on the board. Miguel Cabrera walked and Prince Fielder singled to continue the one-out rally. Jhonny Peralta, who went 1-for-4 and left six runners on base on Saturday while batting fifth in the order, came through with a three-run blast to right-center. Jeff Baker tacked on an RBI double to make it 5-0.

An inning later, the Tigers were clinging to a one-run lead. Two innings after that, they were watching Fister walk into the dugout with a two-run deficit, and long reliever Luke Putkonen trying to keep it at that.

"He knows what to do with a lead," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Fister. "He just wasn't sharp."

Putkonen did his job, but so did the O's, who continued the aura about their season by overcoming a five-run deficit to win for the third time in their last 18 games. They won a series in Detroit for the first time since 2008, and the second time in Leyland's seven years on the job.

The Tigers, meanwhile, lost a series at Comerica Park for the first time since early June. In the process, they lost a chance to gain ground on the White Sox in the American League Central race for the second time in three days -- after the Royals completed a series sweep of Chicago.

While the Tigers are off on Monday, the White Sox return home to welcome the Yankees, owners of the AL's best record. The way Sunday broke down, though, the Tigers might prefer to move on.

It wasn't just the way the game unfolded, but who it unfolded behind. Fister came over from the Mariners a year ago with baseball's lowest run support. Opponents were hitting just .187 when he pitched with the lead, accounting for just 10 out of his 49 runs on the year. With more than a four-run margin, opponents were just 6-for-40 (.150) this year, with no walks and 10 strikeouts.

He gave up a 4-0 lead in Minnesota in his last start, but two infield errors left all of those runs unearned. None of those runs reached or advanced on a walk.

Between his effectiveness -- he was 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA in his previous seven starts -- and his pace, Fister can put up a shutdown inning as quickly as any pitcher in baseball. But then, on a day when the Tigers put up more runs and hits in one inning off Chen than they did in six innings against him last month, maybe it figured.

It wasn't any relapse of the side issues that put Fister on the disabled list twice this season, he said. His health is fine. His overall feel, though, clearly wasn't.

"It's plain and simple: I just didn't execute," Fister said.

Chris Davis put the Orioles on the scoreboard just three pitches into Fister's second inning, jumping a fastball for his second home run in 24 hours. The game-changing damage, though, came with two outs -- and often on offspeed stuff.

Fister used back-to-back curveballs to turn a 3-1 count into a strikeout of rookie Manny Machado, but couldn't get No.9 hitter Taylor Teagarden to chase one with a full count.

Teagarden, 3-for-31 (.097) entering the day, was responsible for Baltimore's lone win against Detroit last month with a walkoff homer. This time, his two-out walk set up the comeback.

"[Teagarden was] probably the hitter that killed him," Leyland said. "That inning, that was huge for him, because he doesn't really walk guys much at all."

After Nick Markakis' double made it a 5-2 game, J.J. Hardy fell into an 0-2 count before fouling off a curveball. He got another one, but over the plate, which he lined for a two-run double and a one-run game.

Fister (7-8) retired six of the next seven batters he faced, including called third strikes on Omar Quintanilla and Teagarden to begin the fourth inning. Just as he seemed regrouped, back-to-back walks to Markakis and Hardy extended the inning, the latter after a 1-2 count.

Again, it felt odd.

"Normally when I'm executing, I don't walk too many guys," Fister said, "and today, I obviously walked a few. They made me pay for each one of those. It's a gift that I shouldn't be giving them."

The hits that turned them into runs came with two strikes. Nate McLouth's go-ahead, two-run triple came on an 0-2 pitch, again on a curveball.

Once Adam Jones singled in McLouth, Fister was gone, having surrendered seven runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings. Chen, meanwhile, used a Fielder double-play ball to escape a second-inning jam and roll from there.

"The Tigers are somebody else's problem for a while," O's manager Buck Showalter said.

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.