Timely offense elusive in Tigers' quick exit

AL-leading offense generates 10 runs in three-game sweep

Timely offense elusive in Tigers' quick exit

DETROIT -- This wasn't the Division Series the Tigers envisioned for a number of reasons. Their Cy Young Award-winning trio of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price wasn't supposed to go down in order. Their American League-leading offense wasn't supposed to be starved for runs.

The Tigers didn't give themselves many chances to score Sunday, and until the ninth inning, the few chances they did have evaporated almost as quickly as they appeared thanks to a combination of baserunning mistakes, a few unique calls, a lack of production from the middle of the order and a disarmingly thin bench. Add it all together, and it amounted to a season-ending 2-1 loss to the Orioles at Comerica Park.

Price gave the Tigers a chance to win Sunday, allowing only two runs over eight innings. Unlike the first two games, closer Joe Nathan held up the bullpen's end of the bargain with a scoreless ninth inning. But Detroit's offense came up empty, managing only two hits before the ninth inning.

"We just couldn't get any hits today," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "[Orioles starter Bud] Norris had all the pitches working."

Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Nick Castellanos went a combined 0-for-13 in Game 3. As a team, the Tigers hit just .218 for the series; The middle-of-the-order trio of Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez were the only players with more than two hits over the three-game sweep, and they were responsible for eight of the Tigers' 10 extra-base hits.

  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

The offseason will be full of questions about the bullpen, which will understandably shoulder its share of the blame. But what went wrong for Detroit against Baltimore?

"Just the timely hits, at least in this series, and the pitching at the right time," catcher Alex Avila said. "It was a tough series, and basically we were fighting these last three games. Just couldn't find a way to get it done, whether it was offensively or on the mound. It's disappointing."

In the ninth inning, after J.D. Martinez doubled home Victor Martinez to cut the Orioles' lead in half, the Orioles exposed the Tigers' other weakness. With a man on second, Bryan Holaday, batting for Avila after he was forced to exit in the sixth inning because of a concussion, struck out swinging. Baltimore decided to intentionally walk Castellanos, and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus countered with Hernan Perez, pinch-hitting for Andrew Romine.

The Tigers' options weren't plentiful at that point, with Eugenio Suarez the only other option. As a team this season, the Tigers hit just .189/.231/.297 with two homers and eight RBIs in 74 pinch-hit at-bats.

"It wasn't difficult to manage the bench, because generally the lineup is the lineup," Ausmus said. "We have a pretty solid core of guys who are kind of everyday players, so there is not a lot of maneuvering that goes on."

Desperately looking for any way to put up runs behind Price, the Tigers challenged an out call at first base that ended the second inning. With Avila at third base and two outs on the board, Romine dropped a bunt toward Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

As Romine raced toward first, Schoop made a nice scoop and flung the ball to first baseman Steve Pearce in one motion. Pearce caught the ball almost right as Romine's outstretched right foot landed on first base while Avila was scoring from third.

First-base umpire Jim Wolf ruled Romine out, drawing Ausmus out of the dugout to challenge the call. After a two-minute and 28-second review, the call on the field stood.

"The play at first was pretty straightforward. We challenged and the umpire or umpires in New York said that the play stood," Ausmus said. "I don't know that even I agree with that even now having seen the replay."

As a result, Ausmus lost his challenge for the rest of the game, which remained scoreless.

The Tigers had another shot in the third, but Schoop and Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy made Tigers center fielder Don Kelly pay for a baserunning mistake.

Kelly led off the inning with a bloop single to left field and stole second base. Hunter then knocked a grounder to Hardy, who caught Kelly too far off second on the play. Kelly scrambled back toward the bag as Hardy made the throw to Schoop, who tagged Kelly as he put himself between the runner and second base.

Television reviews made it clear that Schoop dropped the ball on the play, so there was a split-second where Schoop was obstructing Kelly on the basepaths without having the ball in his possession. Obstruction is defined in Major League Baseball's official rules as "the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."

Ausmus came out to discuss the play with the umpires, but nothing came of the conversation. Ausmus said after the game that the play was not reviewable, and he didn't think it was obstruction.

"I thought the throw brought the fielder into Donny. I don't think he was intentionally trying to block him," Ausmus said. "I think that's just where he was. And the throw came off his glove, and he tried to reach for it. ... I've seen the replay. I don't know if anything could have been done differently. I don't know if the umpires could have seen it any differently."

Hardy's throwing error on Miguel Cabrera's ensuing ground ball put runners on second and third with two outs, but Victor Martinez flied out to center to end the inning and keep the game scoreless.

The Tigers would remain scoreless until the ninth, at which point it was too little, too late to keep their season alive.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.