When your offense sputters, executing the little things becomes paramount.
Detroit got a little offense in its divisional championship playoff game Tuesday at Minnesota, but an inability to convert on some of the game's fundamentals combined to send the Tigers home after a 163-game season.
Left fielder Ryan Raburn tried to make a shoe-top catch on a hit by Michael Cuddyer leading off the 10th inning at a time when Detroit held a 5-4 lead. It went for a triple, and he scored the tying run on a single. Raburn did throw out the potential winning run at the plate to end the inning, but the game was prolonged.
Gerald Laird was unable to get a sacrifice bunt down -- he popped up his bunt to first base instead -- after Brandon Inge led off the seventh with a walk, and Curtis Granderson singled with two out in the inning. Laird also ended five of the six innings in which he batted.
Curtis Granderson was doubled off first when Magglio Ordonez hit a line drive to short with runners at first and third and one out in the ninth. Placido Polanco also failed to get the man in from third just before Ordonez batted, striking out for the second time in the game. Granderson was unable to get back to first on Ordonez's liner because he'd taken a step toward second, a no-no in that situation.
Brandon Inge lined to short on a 2-0 pitch with runners at first and third and one out in the second. He was unable to hit the ball to the right side or outfield, which that situation calls for.
Right-hander Rick Porcello made a pickoff throw to first with runners on first and third and two out in the third. The throw went off the runner for an error that allowed Minnesota's first run to score at a time Detroit held a 3-0 lead. No need to make that throw in that situation, even with Joe Mauer at bat. He walked Mauer anyway and struck out Jason Kubel to end the inning.
The Tigers did reverse a distressing trend they displayed too often this season by getting several hits with runners on. Ordonez had an RBI single and a game-tying home run. Miguel Cabrera had a two-run home run. Inge had a two-out RBI double to give the Tigers a 5-4 lead in the 10th.
"I guess it's fitting to say there was a loser in this game because we lost the game, but it's hard for me to believe there as a loser in this game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Both teams played their hearts out. You can't ask for anything more than that."
Detroit players will undoubtedly be replaying this season in their minds all winter, knowing all the little things that did not happen that cost them the division title.
It happened in 1967. The Tigers lost the pennant on the last game of the season. It was motivation that propelled them to the 1968 World Series win.
It happened in 1983, when Detroit felt it had the best team but came up just short. It won the World Series the next year.
The players who return will need to find enough fuel to fire them in 2010.
TWINS 6, TIGERS 5 (12 innings): Right-hander Fernando Rodney got the groundball he was looking for with one out and two on in the 12th inning, but it scooted into right field and the run scored that sent Minnesota on to the playoffs in New York and Detroit home to think of what might have been. Miguel Cabrera followed an RBI single by Magglio Ordonez in the third with a two-run home run to give Detroit a 3-0 lead, but Minnesota chipped away and took a 4-3 lead on Orlando Cabrera's two-run home run in the seventh. Ordonez tied the score with a home run leading off the eighth, and Brandon Inge's RBI double in the 10th gave Detroit a 5-4 lead. RHP Rick Porcello held the Twins to two runs, one unearned, in 5 2/3 innings. Detroit had held or shared first place in the AL Central since May 10 but stumbled to the finish line and blew a lead that was up to seven games in early September and was at three games with four to play.
Notes and Quotes
--1B Miguel Cabrera, who apologized to his teammates before the game for his indiscretions Saturday, tried his best Tuesday to power Detroit into the playoffs. Ordonez ripped a double to the wall in left-center to open the second and smacked a two-run home run, his 34th, in the third. The Twins kept the ball down and in on him, and he grounded out to third his next two times up before walking with one out in the 12th but was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to second. Cabrera went hitless in three weekend games with the Chicago White Sox, two of which Detroit lost, and he was 0 for his last 14 entering Tuesday's game. Before the game Cabrera told reporters he had apologized to his teammates. "I said I was sorry for what I did," Cabrera said. He was involved in a domestic altercation with his wife at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, and police said his blood alcohol level was .26, more than three times above the legal limit. No charges were filed, but the incident was an embarrassment for Cabrera, the Tigers and Detroit's fans.
--RF Magglio Ordonez completed a two-month turnaround that left Tigers fans feeling better about the $18 million he will earn next season. Ordonez had a slick RBI single to right in the third to break a scoreless tie in Detroit's playoff game with Minnesota and scored on 1B Miguel Cabrera's home run. Ordonez then hit a game-tying home run to lead off the eighth inning.
BY THE NUMBERS: 269 -- Batters struck out by RHP Justin Verlander this season to lead the major leagues in strikeouts. He was the first Tiger to lead the majors in strikeouts since LHP Mickey Lolich fanned 308 in 1971.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we can't win, shame on us. That's the way it is." -- Manager Jim Leyland prior to Saturday's game against Chicago, which Detroit lost to see a lead that had stood at three games on Thursday morning shrivel down to a tie.