Mariners lefty Erik Bedard, however, threw the Tigers a curve. Then he threw another one. And another one.
In the pitching duel of old lefty and younger lefty, Kenny Rogers arguably pitched the better game for seven-plus innings. Yet while Bedard never really seemed to have command on his pitches, he never lost control of the game. With that, all the Tigers had to show for Rogers' outing was a 4-1 loss Friday afternoon at Safeco Field.
The only fireworks on this Fourth of July for Detroit were Miguel Cabrera's second-inning solo homer and Ivan Rodriguez's ninth-inning ejection from home-plate umpire Brian Knight. Instead of grilling, there was second-guessing from Tigers manager Jim Leyland to himself for leaving Rogers in long enough to give up two eighth-inning runs to widen what had been a 2-1 duel.
The way Bedard and Seattle's bullpen kept Tigers bats quiet after Cabrera's homer, however, it wouldn't have mattered.
"As it turned out, it might not have made any difference," Leyland said, "because we wouldn't have scored, anyway."
In all the Majors, only the Red Sox have a higher average and OPS against left-handed pitching than the Tigers this season, a main reason why Detroit entered Saturday with a 16-5 record against lefty starters. Their victims have included reigning Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, American League wins leader Joe Saunders and Yankees southpaw Andy Pettitte.
Bedard, though, was a relatively new face for them, even though he has been in the Majors since 2004. The Tigers hadn't seen him since 2005, and his two career outings against Detroit was his lowest total against any American League opponent except Baltimore, the team that traded him to Seattle last winter.
Manager Jim Leyland had only seen Bedard pitch on television, but he saw enough to know before the game that Bedard could give them fits. Once Bedard took the mound, he was just wild enough to give the Tigers a chance at opportunities, and just commanding enough to take those chances back from Detroit hitters.
|"As it turned out, it might not have made any difference, because we wouldn't have scored, anyway."|
|-- Jim Leyland, on keeping Kenny Rogers in in the eighth|
The one mistake for which Bedard paid wasn't a pitch right over the heart of the plate, but the second of back-to-back fastballs down and in to Cabrera, who sent it deep down the left-field line and just inside the foul pole for his 12th home run of the year. Bedard actually struck out the side that inning, but back-to-back two-out singles created a chance for the Tigers to stretch their early lead before the lefty sent down Ryan Raburn swinging at a curveball to end the threat.
After Bedard retired the side in order in the third inning, he actually walked the bases loaded in the fourth, including a four-pitch, two-out pass to left-handed Clete Thomas. That brought up Raburn again, but Bedard mixed curveballs and fastballs before sending Raburn down swinging at high heat.
Curtis Granderson's leadoff double in the sixth put Bedard back into trouble immediately, but he kept Granderson there by retiring the heart of the Tigers lineup in order. His 99th and final pitch was a curveball in the dirt that sent Cabrera swinging for the inning-ending strikeout.
"The curveball was a weapon," Leyland said. "It was really good."
It should've been the sign of a long day for the Tigers, except that Rogers kept them in the game. Jamie Burke's leadoff double in the third set up Seattle's tying run on a Yuniesky Betancourt sacrifice fly, then Rogers lost a fastball to Raul Ibanez, who sent it 414 feet to right field and off the façade of the suitably-named Hit It Here Café to put the Mariners ahead for good in the fourth.
After an Adrian Beltre double and a Richie Sexson walk followed, however, Rogers settled down to retire the next 10 batters. He had 92 pitches through seven innings, and with a one-run game, Leyland left him for a chance to keep in line for a victory if the Tigers could come back.
A leadoff single by Burke and a Willie Bloomquist sacrifice bunt put Seattle in position for a chance at a two-run lead, but Betancourt popped up the first pitch behind the plate for the second out. One out away from getting through eight, Rogers made what he felt was his biggest mistake of the afternoon.
"I messed up and lost a pitch to Ichiro," Rogers said. "I know he's a great hitter, but I've got to get him out."
Instead, his 1-1 fastball went inside and simply got Ichiro, plunking him on base and extending the inning for Lopez. That prompted what Leyland felt was his own mistake.
"He was out of gas, and I knew it," Leyland said. "But I felt he pitched so well, and I tried to give him a shot to get out of it. I don't know if I made a bad decision, but I made a decision that didn't work out. But I knew before that I'm making a mistake here."
Jose Lopez took the first pitch he saw from Rogers and lined it to right-center, scoring both runners.
"I wasn't tired," Rogers said. "I missed two pitches in a row, and the one to Lopez, I don't think it was that bad of a pitch. It might've been a shade up higher than you'd like, but it was 5-6 inches off the plate. The mistake was the hit batter."
It was a mistake that probably wouldn't have mattered. After the Tigers couldn't get the one hit they needed off Bedard, Sean Green and Brandon Morrow got the final four innings of relief they needed to wrap it up.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.