Tuesday, August 22, 2006

First Innings Can Be Key, Too

Jim Leyland says sometimes the biggest outs of a game can occur in the first inning, or the third, or the fifth.

He said it in direct relation to last night's 7-1 Tigers victory, but it would have rang just as true if he had said it any other time, because baseball games are full of key moments -- and they don't always happen in the late innings.

The key moment last night may have, indeed, occurred in the very first inning.

Jim Thome was sitting on a 3-0 count, with a runner on first base and one out. He thought he had taken ball four. But third base umpire Dale Scott ruled that Thome had swung at the pitch. Back into the batter's box, Jim. He fouled off the 3-1 pitch, then struck out swinging. After the strikeout, baserunner Tadahito Iguchi was caught stealing. End of inning, just like that.

So why was that so crucial?

Had Thome walked, runners would have been on first and second with one out. And starter Justin Verlander, who's struggled mightily against the White Sox, might have had some thoughts creep into his head. The last thing the Tigers needed last night was a slow start.

It was the first inning, but it was an important part of the game.

And what's up with Sean Casey?

This guy has been nothing less than an RBI machine since being acquired from the Pirates at the trading deadline. Casey doesn't try to do too much -- he just swings at strikes and drives the ball. And it's been working. He's getting an RBI for every four at-bats, roughly, for the Tigers. And Casey had another big hit last night -- a two-run double that erased a 1-0 deficit. Suddenly, with a healthy and productive Dmitri Young, Casey, newly-acquired Neifi Perez (a switch-hitter), plus Carlos Guillen and Curtis Granderson, the Tigers don't have to shrink anymore against righthanded pitchers.

The glass is always half full with the Kool-Aid after a win.

And a 6 1/2 game lead looks so much better than 4 1/2, doesn't it?


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