Doug Fister turned in another rather belabored start (88 pitches in 4.2 and not a great strike ratio) but avoided getting hammered, and Tigers hitters – the A-team regular season lineup – were able to solve the Mets’s talented young righty Matt Harvey just enough to keep Fister ahead. The Tigers jumped all over Brandon Lyon in the 7th, to the tune of 5 runs, putting the game out of reach. There was a constant strong wind blowing out to right at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie that had some effect on the game, but not in terms of home runs, surprisingly enough, with Don Kelly’s shot off Lyon the one and only. Some games elsewhere in central Florida were stopped on account of even stronger winds. The Tigers improved to 17-11 in the Grapefruit League with the 9-4 victory, their third straight win, while the Mets fell to 12-12.
1ST INNING: The much-ballyhooed Harvey (10.6 K/9 in his 2012 rookie season) humbled the top of Detroit’s order right away, with 3 consecutive punch-outs, including a called third strike on Miguel Cabrera. Fister issued a leadoff walk to New York’s weak-hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who made it as far as third base but no further. Cabrera made a nifty play on the good sacrifice bunt by Justin Turner, and Prince Fielder made a nice recovery on a bad hop grounder that he bobbled but stayed in front of.
2ND INNING: The Tigers began to make contact – hard contact – and Harvey struggled with his control, issuing two consecutive walks and handing Omar Infante a bases-loaded RBI on one of them. Mets CF Matt den Dekker limited the inning’s damage considerably by running down Victor Martinez’s shot to deep right-center in Quintin Berry-esque fashion (so said because AJax makes it look easier). Detroit was forced to settle for one run when Austin Jackson popped out to the catcher with the bases still loaded. Fister sandwiched alternating walks – another leadoff one – and strikeouts to get into trouble for the first time, and then two wild pitches followed to first advance the runners and then score the tying run. The first WP was really a case of Alex Avila phoning it in as catcher, while the second appeared to be a matter of signals getting crossed, though again Avila’s effort was questionable (and Fister didn’t even attempt to cover home plate for some reason).
3RD INNING: Torii Hunter reached second on 2B Turner’s throwing error, and a weak but productive at bat by Cabrera advanced him to 3B. Fielder’s broken-bat single plated Hunter to make it 2-1, but Martinez grounded into a DP to kill what was shaping up to be a nice “make them pay” inning. Fister was touched with a couple hard liners by Turner and Ike Davis that tied the score at 2, but bailed himself out by inducing a Marlon Byrd 6-4-3 DP.
4TH INNING: Detroit came up with a pair of two-out runs to recapture the lead, staying out of the DP nicely with a stolen base from Jhonny Peralta. Infante’s gap shot into right-center was misjudged by a diving and missing den Dekker into an RBI triple. Harvey had gotten away with a mistake pitch in Jackson’s first AB, but not this time, as Jackson scorched a 2-0 fastball to left for a double and the 4-2 lead. Fister gave up a hard single and then erased the Mets with a couple grounders.
5TH INNING: Cabrera, not having much of a day at the plate, reached nonetheless on SS Omar Quintanilla’s error. Martinez ended the inning with another GIDP. One might ask whether the Tigers, with pinch runner (for Cabrera) Danny Worth on 1B, couldn’t have tried harder to stay out of the DP here. After two quick outs, Fister began to hurry his pace. Never a good sign, whether it’s between pitches or in the delivery itself. A walk and a single followed, and Fister’s day was done. Darin Downs came in with men on first and third. Skating on thin ice, as is his wont, Downs ran the count to 3-1 on LHB Davis before getting a hard hit ball straight at Jackson in CF for the out.
6TH INNING: Peralta drew a walk from Bobby Parnell after falling behind 0-2, but Avila followed with an inning-ending GIDP. Al Alburquerque, after getting burned by a first-pitch double by Byrd, struck out the side. Sub RF Berry’s fleet pursuit to the RF line on the Byrd double probably saved a base.
7TH (KEY) INNING: The new Mets battery of Lyon and Landon Powell came on, and the Tigers proceeded to rock Lyon without delay. Infante hit a liner that went untouched past 3B Brandon Hicks – a bad-effort error that wasn’t scored that way – and hustled it into a double. Jackson followed with a wind-blown drive to deep CF, and CF den Dekker must have misjudged where the wall was, leaping for the ball, gloving and dropping it, before coming down in a heap upon his wrist (he had to leave the game). Jackson, meanwhile, stood on 3B with an RBI triple. Berry slapped an RBI single to right-center. Sub 3B Worth slammed a pitch into the left-center gap that was cut off nicely by LF Andrew Brown, and basepath hesitation by Berry would have had him thrown out at home but for C Powell’s mishandled catch of the relay throw. As it was, Worth was on second with a double, and the score was 7-2 Tigers. Kelly followed on the very next pitch from Lyon with a two-run homer to right-center. The wind might have helped a bit, but it was a very well-hit ball and something of a reminder to the Kelly naysayers (like me). It took a bang-bang (or more accurately, bang-bloop, with expert timing on the latter) 1B Davis-P Lyon play to get Martinez for the first out of the inning (hard to see the Tigers turning that one). Sub LF Matt Tuiasosopo finished Lyon’s day with a near-homer CF double off the wall. Sub SS Ramon Santiago greeted Scott Atchison with a single, but the Tigers threat ended with runners at the corners on weak outs by sub C Brayan Pena and Infante (10th batter of the inning). Jose Alvarez pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom half.
8TH INNING: Atchison, also rather tough on the Tigers while with the Red Sox, retired the side on strikes. In the bottom half, Alvarez’s fastball started looking flat and the Mets began to hit him hard. Turner, Tigers ST nemesis, whacked a double after falling behind 0-2. Sub RF Cory Vaughan singled in Turner, and sub SS Matt Reynolds doubled to left to narrow the Tigers lead to 9-4 before Luis Marte came in to strike out Hicks for the third out. Tuiasosopo booted the LF double, but no damage done – it was an RBI double one way or the other.
9TH INNING: The Mets sent out minor league southpaw Jack Leathersich, who struggled with his control and possibly his nerves as well but who also recovered nicely. The Tigers loaded the bases on two walks and a Santiago single, but for the second time in two innings two weak outs by Pena and Infante ended the threat. Marte pitched what could be a called a Jose Valverde (of old) 9th, three well-hit but harmless outs, all to RF Berry, who seemed a bit shallow and out of position on the first one, considering the strength of the wind out to right. Berry did make a fun show out of his backpedaling, as he seems to do with most of his putouts.