06/03/2006 12:31 AM ET
DETROIT — Every comeback victory has a flip side. Friday was the Tigers’ reminder.”Sometimes you’re the windshield,” closer Todd Jones said, “and sometimes you’re the bug.”
The anticipated matchup between Kenny Rogers and Curt Schilling, not to mention the showdown between the best pitching staff in baseball this season and the feared duo of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, came down to Kevin Youkilis. His two-run homer off Jones with two outs in the top of the ninth sent the Tigers to a 3-2 defeat to the Red Sox at Comerica Park.
It was Detroit’s fifth loss in six games, including two final-inning losses and two shutouts, but this one was more about the timing. One day after a five-run comeback earned them a ninth-inning victory over the Yankees, the Tigers lost a game when leading after eight innings for just the second time this year.
“This is all a part of the process,” manager Jim Leyland said. “This is all a part of baseball. Twenty-four hours ago, we were one of the happiest teams in the game.”
Twenty-four hours later, they were trying to brush it off and move on.
Jones entered the ninth protecting a 2-1 lead assembled in large part because of the Tigers’ success against Ramirez and Ortiz, who went a combined 1-for-7 with a walk and two Ramirez strikeouts. The one hit resulted in Boston’s lone run to that point, a fourth-inning Ramirez single that scored Coco Crisp. Aside from that, Ramirez took two called third strikes and grounded out in the ninth. Ortiz went 0-for-3 with a walk, a strikeout and a double play.
“I like our pitching staff executing against those guys,” catcher Vance Wilson said. “That’s not taking anything away from them. We executed tonight. Unfortunately, one pitch cost us the game.”
For a few seconds, it seemed like that pitch was in the eighth, not the ninth. Ortiz stepped to the plate with one on and two outs against flamethrowing Joel Zumaya, fresh off escaping a jam against the Yankees on Thursday. Ortiz blasted a 98 mph fastball from Zumaya deep to left-center field, seemingly heading out of the park.
“When Ortiz first hit it,” Leyland admitted, “I thought it was gone.”
So did nearly everyone watching other than Curtis Granderson, who was camping under the ball as it fell towards the warning track in one of the deepest areas of the park. Zumaya pumped his fist as Granderson trotted in with the ball, the threat having ended.
Leyland admitted to a sigh of relief, but he knew the hard outs weren’t finished.
Jones (0-3) induced a Ramirez groundout to short, then Jason Varitek popped out behind third base.
Mike Lowell’s single up the middle extended the inning for Youkilis, who took a fastball and drove it. Craig Monroe went back to the fence trying to line up a leaping attempt, but the ball landed on top of the enclosure between the bullpens beyond the left-field fence.
“Actually, when he hit it, I didn’t think he got it,” Wilson said. “It kind of jammed him a little bit. You tip your cap.”
The fastball was supposed to be over the inside part of the plate, Wilson said, but it wandered out just enough. Combined with Tuesday’s extra-inning defeat to the Yankees, it marked Jones’ second loss this week.
“Two outs and a guy on first, it’s a tough one to blow,” Jones said. “But this job is not for the faint of heart. Obviously, I’ve been here before. I just wish it hadn’t been back-to-back [outings]. You try to make pitches. You make most of your pitches all inning, and then Youkilis hits a fastball out. And I’ve got to live with it.”
Other than a much stronger fastball from Schilling, he and Rogers aren’t separated by much — three wins, a couple years in age and a handful of career starts. They weren’t far apart on Friday, either.
Rogers scattered five hits over seven innings with a season-best seven strikeouts. His lone run allowed came from the lone hit he allowed to Ramirez on an 89 mph fastball.
The comeback denied Rogers what would’ve been his first win in three starts, but his renewed effectiveness was a minor victory in itself.
“I’ve worked with [pitching coach] Chuck [Hernandez] to find my sinker a little bit,” said Rogers. “I was really comfortable going in and out, sinker was pretty good, four-seamer in was good. I just had good stuff, good location, and for me that’s always the big thing. Today was a lot better in a lot of respects. I’m kind of happy with it, without a doubt, because it’s something to build on.”
Ramirez’s hit tied the game after Marcus Thames’ first-inning double had scored Placido Polanco to open the scoring. Schilling retired the next 10 hitters he faced, five by strikeout, and 11 of 12 before Monroe lined a single in front of Ramirez in left field leading off the bottom of the fifth. Wilson’s one-out single advanced Monroe to second before Schilling fanned Granderson.
Polanco, who entered the game in an 0-for-9 slump, fell into a similar 0-2 count, but he ended up poking a 1-2 pitch into right field for what had been the go-ahead run.
Schilling allowed seven hits over six innings, needing 109 pitches to last that long, but he fanned eight Tigers in the process.
“What gets missed in this is that we did nothing offensively,” Leyland said.
That wasn’t going to make Jones feel any better.
“Any time this late in my career, it hurts a lot more than it feels good when I pitch good,” Jones said. “Each time that I don’t do my job, it’s really frustrating. When you lose games like this, you want to get right back out there, because it’s important for your team. These are just things that I have to go through.”