Tigers beat Sox, end five-game skid

Tigers beat Sox, end five-game skid

BOSTON -- As Jim Leyland said over the weekend, the Tigers' struggles are nothing a big home run or a well-pitched game can't solve.

The latter came on Monday night -- in Fenway Park, of all places, and against David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, of all people. By outpitching an old friend, Nate Robertson might well have pitched the Tigers back on track.

"It starts with pitching," Robertson said after Monday's 7-4 win over the Red Sox ended Detroit's season-high five-game losing streak. "Tonight started with pitching, both ends."

It's also how losing streaks end for this Tigers team. Every time they seemingly wander towards the long skid that would knock them off of their Cinderella season, they come back to strong pitching and stop the slide in its early stages. The day in June after the infamous eight-run eighth inning at Toronto sent Detroit to a fourth straight loss, Zach Miner pitched the Tigers back to life.

With seven weeks left in the season, Monday probably meant more.

"We had almost the perfect combination," Leyland said. "Nate pitched good, and we scored early."

Robertson (11-8) entered the night having held Ramirez and Ortiz to a combined 3-for-19 for his career. Though he walked Ramirez twice in three plate appearances Monday, one of them leading to a run, neither of Boston's sluggers came up with a base hit against the left-hander. He essentially left it up to the rest of Boston's lineup to try to beat him.

By stranding Ramirez and Mark Loretta on base with a Kevin Youkilis comebacker to end the first inning, Robertson started a stretch of 10 out of 11 batters retired through the fourth inning. In the process, Robertson worked Ortiz a different way each at-bat.

"There's so many hitters on their team," Robertson said, "you have to have an idea what you're going to do and you can't fall into patterns. Once you fall into a pattern with a guy like that, and he locks into something that he sees -- a pattern of pitches, pitch selection, pitch location -- they'll make you pay for it."

The first time up, Robertson set up Ortiz with three straight fastballs before sneaking a slider onto the inside corner for a called third strike. Come their next meeting in the third inning, Robertson flipped the pattern, starting him off with back-to-back sliders before going to a fastball that Ortiz popped up into left field, ending the inning with a runner stranded at third.

The common trait with each approach was aggressiveness, true to Robertson's nature. He claimed the inside part of the plate.

"You have to [pitch inside] on all of [their hitters]," Robertson said. "Especially in this park, you can't let them start diving [out over the plate] on you. With me, it takes away a lot of the advantage for a left-handed pitcher. The wall's short in left, and if I don't come inside or if they take away my inside, and they have the middle-away covered, then I'm done. It's just pitching. You've got to recognize what a hitter's doing."

Having a plan was one thing. To catcher Vance Wilson, the critical part was putting it into action.

"The biggest thing is [that] we executed," Wilson said. "When you execute against Manny and Ortiz like Nate did, that changes everything about the game. It's much easier to formulate a game plan and execute against their other guys when you neutralize them. That was everything. It was a huge win."

After Javy Lopez doubled in Wily Mo Pena in the fifth to open Boston's scoring, Robertson threw another twist by going outside. He struck out Ortiz again leading off the sixth, this time with a 3-2 fastball on the outside corner.

It ended up saving a run. Robertson's ensuing walk to Ramirez put a runner on for Youkilis, who launched a two-run homer off a billboard atop the Green Monster.

Thanks to the Ortiz strikeout and Detroit's early outburst off Josh Beckett (13-7), Robertson's former Marlins roommate, all Youkilis' homer did was draw the Red Sox within two. The Tigers' first three batters all scored in the first before Casey's line drive high off the wall in the third plated Craig Monroe and Dmitri Young for the second time in the game.

"We might've gotten Josh a little bit before he got settled in," Leyland said.

Wilson's two-run single off Rudy Seanez in the eighth provided much-needed insurance before the Red Sox threatened once more in the bottom of the inning.

Once Loretta led off the bottom of the eighth with a single, Ortiz was back up, this time against Joel Zumaya. Armed with a four-run lead, the rookie fireballer went after the slugger with fastballs before Ortiz flied out to right on a 99-mph offering.

Again, it might have prevented a run. Ramirez hit the first pitch he saw, a 98-mph heater, back up the middle for a single before Youkilis singled to left-center and brought the potential tying run to the plate.

By all rights, Lowell's single should've put that would-be run on base and sent Fenway into a frenzy. However, the decision to send Ramirez around third gave the Tigers their chance.

Granderson threw the ball into the infield to Guillen, seemingly guarding against Youkilis taking an extra base. Guillen turned around to see what Zumaya was watching.

"I see the third-base coach waving Manny. And I was like, 'Wait, Manny don't have wheels like that,'" Zumaya said. "Thank God Guillen turned in time to see the guy was running home and made a perfect throw."

Ramirez was easily out, and Zumaya was revived. He recovered to strike out Pena on a 102-mph fastball.

"I reared back and threw it as hard as I could to Wily Mo," he said.

Ortiz went 0-for-4 and fell to 1-for-14 lifetime against Robertson. Young, his Detroit counterpart, went 3-for-5 to pace the Tigers' attack.

"Today, I got him," Robertson said of Ortiz. "But in baseball, there may be a day when he gets me, I'm sure, as good as he is."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.