As the innings wore on this afternoon, the hours left of competitive regular season baseball turned to minutes, the eulogy of this year’s Detroit Tigers team was written.
On one hand, it’s surprising it ended this way, their bats gone silent, their inconsistent offensive ways paralyzing them at the most inopportune of times. On the other hand, it wasn’t surprising at all.
“When we go cold, we go cold,” one Tigers coach said late last month.
And here they were, against a last-place Atlanta Braves team injected with energy in the final game at Turner Field, needing a win and help to keep their postseason hopes alive, cold again.
The Tigers couldn’t take care of business this weekend, couldn’t even give themselves a chance to receive help from their two American League wild-card competitors. Justin Verlander couldn’t keep the Braves scoreless and his offense – as has happened too often this season – couldn’t get anything going. The Tigers lost, 1-0, and were eliminated from postseason contention.
It is the second consecutive year they have missed the postseason. And while they battled big injuries this season and showed spurts of being a championship contender, the cold, hard reality on this 80-degree October day was this: The Tigers were not good enough, certainly not consistent enough, to earn a chance at the World Series this season.
They carried that chance into the penultimate game of the season, in which they brought their ace right-hander to the mound, Verlander, a pitcher whom has thrived in big games for the better part of a decade.
Verlander appeared out of sync in the opening inning, erratic with his command, and allowed back-to-back singles before Freddie Freeman hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield for the game’s only run.
It did not take long for Verlander to find his groove. He spun six scoreless innings the rest of the way and struck out eight batters in total, surpassing the 250-strikeout mark for the first time since 2011. He leads the AL with 254 and walked off the mound after the seventh inning with a 3.05 ERA as an AL Cy Young Award contender.
Coupling electric stuff with the energy of a sold-out crowd, Braves right-hander Julio Teheran out-dueled Verlander, throwing seven scoreless innings. Teheran tied a career-high by striking out 12 batters. Against him, the Tigers reached second base just once.
They looked to get some late life when Jose Iglesias led off the top of the eighth inning with a double. Moments before, Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez tied the Blue Jays with a solo home run at Fenway Park. But pinch-hitter Victor Martinez struck out swinging and Ian Kinsler lined into an inning-ending double play at shortstop and for the second consecutive night, their will was broken by a double play on a hard hit ball.
They went down the next inning, Justin Upton striking out looking with a man on, another lost year for an aging veteran core and a first taste of pennant race baseball for a number of youngsters, but nothing more.