Tigers' playoff hopes not helped by Price's first inning

Starter allows four runs before settling down; Cabrera homers twice

Tigers' playoff hopes not helped by Price's first inning

DETROIT -- The pitching duel that was anticipated between David Price and Madison Bumgarner never materialized. However, the first-inning lead the Giants built on Price never vanished, though Victor Martinez came close.

And after Saturday's 5-4 Detroit defeat, the sense of urgency grew ever so slightly.

They still control their fate, still just two games out of the American League Central lead thanks to a Royals loss to the Yankees. With the Royals coming to town for three games starting Monday, nothing changed in the standings.

"You know what, we have 20-some games left. Out of those, we have six more left against the team that's ahead of us," Martinez said.

Still, for as close as the Tigers came to erasing what was a 4-0 deficit before they stepped to the plate in the first inning, it was a missed opportunity, and they realized it.

Three home runs combined from Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, including Cabrera's second two-homer game in six days, couldn't erase the damage of five straight first-inning hits -- none bigger than a double -- and a Buster Posey fifth-inning solo homer. The Tigers needed a fourth home run and nearly got it.

After Cabrera's second home run drew Detroit within a run leading off the eighth against former Giants closer Sergio Romo, Martinez hit a drive that Gregor Blanco ran down in front of the left-field fence. Martinez, who hit his 30th homer of the year in the third inning off Madison Bumgarner, thought it had a chance.

Instead, it was the first of six consecutive outs from Giants relievers to end the game. Cabrera's 20th homer of the year was the only hit Detroit produced off San Francisco's bullpen after six quality innings from Bumgarner (17-9), who allowed 10 hits but only had the home runs for damage.

"It was a tough, tough loss, trying to come back and just falling short by one run," Martinez said. "I always say a loss is a loss, but this one was really tough."

Detroit heads into Sunday night looking to avoid a three-game September series sweep with Kyle Lobstein on the mound for his third Major League start. And as the summer heat finally relented to the arrival of fall temperatures in Michigan on Saturday, the sense of a shortening season was clear.

With six games left against the Royals over the next 15 days, the Tigers still have plenty of opportunity. They could head into that stretch with anywhere from a one- to a three-game deficit.

A three-game separation would leave Detroit needing five wins against Kansas City to avoid requiring help the rest of the way. A one-game gap essentially would make it an even sprint.

Asked if there's danger in the gap, Ausmus noted the two sides of it.

"You see danger," Ausmus said. "We see opportunity."

Martinez sees opportunity, but also acknowledges a challenge that isn't getting easier. With Price on the mound, the Tigers didn't have the low-scoring duel so many expected, but couldn't pull out a win.

"It's not a secret, we are in a tough spot right now," Martinez said. "But you know what, turn the page, come back tomorrow and get a fresh start, just taking it day by day, game by game. Every pitch, every at-bat counts from here on."

On Saturday, a 13-pitch, five-batter stretch of the opening inning turned it.

"The old adage, you try to get a good pitch early," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Price attacked hitters with a quick opening inning in sight. The third out, however, continued to elude him. An aggressive-swinging Giants lineup ran into a pitcher whose approach is to seek outs in three pitches or fewer. Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval hit consecutive singles for an opening run before catching prospect Andrew Susac hit a two-run double to the right-field fence to open a three-run lead.

"With the exception of Susac, I was OK with the pitches that I was throwing," Price said. "Posey did a great job, Pence, Sandoval. They just put bat on the ball."

Once Joaquin Arias doubled in Susac, Price had gone from easy first inning to game-changing rally. He needed just 24 pitches, 19 of them strikes, for an eight-batter inning, yet allowed as many hits in five batters as he did in nine innings against the Giants last July when he was with the Rays.

"They're a very aggressive team," rookie catcher James McCann said. "We started moving the ball in and out and keeping the ball down in the zone and letting them make quick outs."

Price regrouped from there and lasted 8 2/3 innings, retiring 24 of the final 28 batters he faced. Posey's 20th home run of the year would've been manageable without the first inning.

"It stinks," Price summarized. "I don't care if it's April 1 [or September]. You don't want to go out there and pitch that way. It stinks."

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.