O's strike first but lose late in opener
Five-run first inning not enough to carry Baltimore
DETROIT -- The Orioles found themselves part of a strange paradox on Monday night, when they hit virtually everything they saw in the first inning and not much else for the rest of the game.
Baltimore blitzed Detroit starter Justin Verlander -- who had a 1.15 ERA at home before Monday night -- for six hits in the first inning and three more the rest of the game. Verlander pitched through the eighth and stabilized things for the Tigers before Clete Thomas homered in the ninth to give the home team a 6-5 win.
Afterwards, Baltimore manager Dave Trembley was asked if he thought his team had Verlander on the ropes in the first inning. And, true to form, Trembley took that boxing metaphor a little further.
"Had him on the ropes?" he asked. "I thought we almost knocked him out. He came back."
Indeed he did, and so much so that he looked like a different pitcher. Six of the first seven Orioles reached base on hits in the first inning, with Brian Roberts giving Baltimore a lead with a solo home run. Verlander went on to allow three singles and two doubles in that rally before ultimately turning himself and the game around.
The right-hander gave up a leadoff hit to Roberts in the second inning and was untouchable for the rest of the night. Verlander allowed only one more Oriole to reach scoring position and retired 20 of the final 23 batters he faced. As far as Trembley was concerned, though, that statistic had nothing to do with his offense.
"Our offensive approach didn't change," Trembley said. "We had some great at-bats. We got some hits, worked him, got his pitch-count way up. We didn't change anything. He was good. He didn't give us too much after the first. We had a couple chances, but that was it. We needed to put a zero up after we scored five."
Baltimore starter Chris Tillman inherited the lead and the responsibility of holding it, and the Tigers immediately clawed their way back into the game. Curtis Granderson hit a leadoff triple in the first inning, and Placido Polanco followed with a double. Two batters later, Miguel Cabrera made it 5-3 with another extra-base hit.
Tillman settled down from there and held the lead into the fourth. The rookie threw two wild pitches in that inning to help the Tigers (55-49) pull closer, and then he surrendered a game-tying homer to Cabrera in the fifth. Still, it was an improvement for Tillman, who was making just the second start of his big league career.
"I used all my pitches a little better," Tillman said. "I felt like I was a lot more comfortable out there. Having [catcher Matt] Wieters back there, a guy I was familiar with [helped]. I was a lot more prepared."
The Orioles (44-61) relieved Tillman after the sixth inning and covered the rest of the game with their beleaguered bullpen. Cla Meredith threw one scoreless inning and Danys Baez worked a scoreless eighth. Baez (4-5) also got two outs in the ninth before Thomas took him to straightaway center, the deepest park of the park.
Baltimore is now 4-13 since the All-Star break, and nine of those losses have come by two runs or less. First baseman Aubrey Huff, who had two hits, said this is an especially difficult part of the schedule.
"The rest of the year, we're going to be learning on the job," he said. "I've been through this before where you're going to have to take your lumps. You're going to have some younger guys go out there and struggle, but they're going to do well, too. ... This team's getting younger every day, and you've just got to be patient and let the young guys play every day. If we're going to lose, then you want to lose with guys who will be here in the future."
Trembley said that his pitching staff could've thrown as many as 15 innings if the game had broken right for them. Verlander, who had never allowed five runs in the first inning before, went on to strike out eight batters and retire the final 10 he faced. After he left, Fernando Rodney (2-2) worked the ninth and earned the win.
"I thought what he did after the first inning was quicken up his delivery," Trembley said of Verlander. "He picked up the pace of the game and put a couple notches on his fastball. He went from 91-92 [mph] to 94-95. ... He pitched with a little bit more aggressiveness. He really didn't show too many of his secondary pitches in the first inning and we kind of jumped on fastballs in hitting counts. After that, I think he was more 50-50 with his secondary pitches."
"He established his fastball after the first inning," added Huff. "In my first at-bat, he threw me two curveballs. After that, he pretty much came after me. For him, when you've got 97-98 [mph] in your back pocket, that's your bread and butter. I think he went to that a little more after the first inning. I think we [aggravated] him after the first inning."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.