Tigers drop series opener to Angels

Tigers drop series opener to Angels

DETROIT -- The Angels turned a hint of trouble from Tigers closer Fernando Rodney into the winning run without the benefit of a hit. Francisco Rodriguez turned the makings of a Tigers rally into his 54th save of the season.

The Angels churned out early runs out of two Tigers errors and a fly ball that fell in between three players. Eventually, they overcame three RBI hits from Miguel Cabrera, including a game-tying home run in the eighth.

It wasn't anywhere near the onslaught the Tigers faced on Monday, but it was still the same result.

"That's why they're going to the playoffs," manager Jim Leyland said after Tuesday's 5-4 loss, "and we're going home."

It wasn't a criticism, Leyland pointed out later. It was simply a statement of fact.

"They did just enough," he said, "and we didn't do quite enough. They're doing some of the little things. They made a couple of mistakes. We didn't really capitalize on them. We made a couple of mistakes, and they capitalized on them."

No team in the Major Leagues has won more one-run games than the Angels, who are 27-19 in that department. The Tigers, by comparison, are 15-21. The Angels have won 17 games in which they've been outhit by their opponent, 10 more than they've lost when outhitting the other team. Tuesday was the Tigers' 13th loss when outhitting their opponent, compared with 10 wins when being outhit.

At 41-25, the Angels own the best road record in the big leagues. Tuesday's loss dropped Detroit to 35-34 at Comerica Park, pulling it perilously close to joining the ranks of a half-dozen teams in the Majors this year with a losing record at home.

That's why, though the Angels' run differential on the season would suggest a 75-62 record, they're fighting for the Majors' best mark at 84-53. And the Tigers, even with no shortage of offensive displays and blowout wins this year, are now six games under .500 for the first time since June 14.

Detroit needs to go 15-9 over the home stretch to finish at .500 for the season. The Angels have a 17 1/2-game lead in the American League West and a magic number of seven to clinch a postseason berth.

Little things mean a lot. That's why one Rodney walk was enough for the Angels to pounce.

Rodney entered in the top of the ninth tasked with keeping the game tied going into the bottom of the inning. He had allowed just seven hits and four walks against 20 strikeouts over 13 innings in his previous 10 outings, but he missed on four of five fastballs to Chone Figgins for a leadoff walk.

"That was the kiss of death," Leyland said.

Leyland went to the mound to advise Rodney not to worry about a sacrifice bunt from Garret Anderson and instead worry about holding the runner, but Figgins didn't waste time taking off. His jump on a fastball earned him second base without much of a chance for Brandon Inge to throw him out.

Once Anderson's groundout to the right side moved Figgins to third, Rodney had to hope for a strikeout of the dangerous Mark Teixeira. He nearly got it.

Changing speeds, Rodney put Teixeira in an 0-2 hole on two bad swings. Rodney went to his new favorite strikeout pitch, a four-seam fastball that sometimes rises out of the strike zone. This one didn't rise out, but it came in at 97 mph.

"It was a good pitch," Rodney said. "He just extended and hit the ball."

The fly ball sailed into medium-range center field. Curtis Granderson got a couple of steps of a charge toward it in preparation for a throw home, but the speedy Figgins beat it easily.

For all the hitting talent the Angels have acquired, it's that kind of manufactured offense that they've executed well for years under manager Mike Scioscia. And for all the Tigers' offensive firepower, Rodriguez rarely relinquishes that kind of lead once he takes the ball in the ninth.

Cabrera's opposite-field shot in the previous inning was the first run surrendered by the Angels bullpen since Aug. 22, against the Twins. The relievers hadn't been charged with a score in 29 1/3 innings, and Rodriguez hadn't given up a run over his previous eight outings, so getting another one was asking a lot of the Tigers.

They still earned their chance. Renteria fouled off a Rodriguez breaking ball on an 0-2 count before hitting a fastball on a soft line drive into center field for a leadoff single and his third hit of the night. Inge did not move him over, fouling off two bunt attempts before striking out swinging. Jeff Larish, pinch-hitting for Mike Hessman, popped up for the second out.

With Granderson up as the Tigers' last chance, Leyland took a chance and sent Renteria, who stole second to move into scoring position. Granderson took a walk to extend the game for Placido Polanco.

Rodriguez responded by showing why he's threatening the Major League single-season saves record and will unquestionably garner a huge amount of interest around baseball in free agency this winter. Polanco fell into an 0-2 count, took two pitches to even the count, then grounded a changeup to third.

Whether Detroit pursues a closer like Rodriguez is a matter for the offseason. But the Tigers never had a lead to close in this game, and the more important concern for them this year is their inability to make the plays to take these sorts of contests.

"They did just enough to win the game," Leyland said, "and we did just enough to lose the game."

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