It took them a while, but when it counted, they were better at it than the Tigers. And with Tuesday's eighth-inning double from Gary Matthews Jr., the Tigers took a 4-3 loss.
"Teams like that aren't fun to pitch against," reliever Zach Miner said afterward, "because you know if you get somebody on, you have to worry about the baserunner more than usual. They put pressure on teams all the time, and you're bound to make mistakes once in a while against them."
It wasn't the battle of small ball versus slugging that last year's Tigers might've encountered. These Tigers have been running more and taking advantage more on defense lately, and they needed all of it tonight. Carlos Guillen ran his way into a run by scoring from second on an infield single between Curtis Granderson's two homers. Two big outs on the basepaths, including an acrobatic throw to the plate from Brandon Inge, helped Armando Galarraga survive for five innings, though not with the lead.
In the end, though, the Angels turned their leadoff walk into the go-ahead run in the eighth. The Tigers, partly through fate, couldn't turn their leadoff single into the tying run in the ninth. They had their bullpen lined up to try to outlast the Angels, but couldn't get it to that point.
"We had a chance to win the game," manager Jim Leyland said. "We didn't get it done."
Their chance to break open the game came early. Granderson's solo homers had given the Tigers a 3-1 lead in the third inning, and they had a chance to add more, but Angels starter Jered Weaver stranded two runners to escape the third. Those missed runs loomed large once Torii Hunter's fifth-inning homer tied it.
In his next at-bat, Hunter fouled off back-to-back full-count pitches to earn his walk leading off Brandon Lyon's second inning of work. Hunter then deftly took second base when Kendry Morales' fly took Guillen into the left-field corner.
Lyon retired Mike Napoli for the second out to bring up Matthews, whose average had dipped below .200. On deck stood Erick Aybar, who had two singles and an RBI already on the night.
"They're both capable of getting the hit to put themselves ahead, obviously," Leyland said. "Matthews is a freer swinger, very dangerous. The other guy's a little peskier, can lay the bat on the ball a little bit better and do some damage. Matthews had struggled."
Lyon moved ahead on Matthews with a solid first-pitch strike, but Matthews centered Lyon's fastball on his next pitch and drove it off the fence to put the Angels ahead for the first time all night.
Once Aybar was retired for the third out, in came lefty Brian Fuentes to try to close it down. Guillen welcomed him with a first-pitch bloop single, then gave way to pinch-runner Josh Anderson.
In any other circumstance, Anderson would've been poised to score on an extra-base hit. And had Marcus Thames been available, he certainly would've been aiming for it. What no one besides the Tigers knew at that point, however, was that Thames had strained a rib cage muscle on his left side during early batting practice and wasn't available. The Tigers waited until after the game to put him on the disabled list because they obviously couldn't get anyone to the game in time to replace him.
Without Thames, Adam Everett stepped to the plate looking to advanced the runner. After Fuentes induced Everett to foul back his first bunt attempt and pull back on the other for a called second strike, the Tigers were in a hole.
Anderson had the green light to run, but got off to an early start. Fuentes fooled Anderson and made the throw over for the out.
"He kept faking [to steal]," Leyland said, "and I think he caused [Fuentes] to throw over. But I don't have any problem with that. Like I say, you live by the sword, you die by the sword."
Once Fuentes struck out Everett, the Tigers were down to their last out. Gerald Laird was hit by a pitch and Inge walked, which gave the Tigers a runner in scoring position, but Fuentes retired red-hot Ramon Santiago on a called third strike.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less