Tigers hold on to beat Mariners in 14 innings

Scott Johnson, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


SEATTLE -- In a game that saw 40 strikeouts, it was a different kind of putout at home plate that ended the 14-inning, 4 1/2-hour contest late Wednesday night.
After ending six consecutive innings of scoreless baseball with a groundout RBI in the top of the 14th inning, Detroit Tigers catcher Brayan Pena finished off the Seattle Mariners by making a painful tag at the plate. His tag of Justin Smoak, which left the catcher facedown in the dirt for more than a minute, helped the Tigers extend their winning streak to four games with a 2-1 win.
"These are the kind that it's a great game whether you win or lose," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "It's just greater if you win."
On a night when starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer were both at the top of their games, things weren't decided until well after their outings were over. Both starters had 12 strikeouts while allowing one run in eight innings before 12 relievers came on to throw the final six innings.
When all was said and done, the two teams combined for 40 strikeouts -- three short of the major-league record set by Oakland and California in 1971. Hernandez and Scherzer became the first two pitchers in Safeco Field history to have double-digit strikeouts in the same game.
Pena drove in the game-winner with a bases-loaded groundout in the top of the 14th, but it was his play at the plate that provided Wednesday's most dramatic moment.
Smoak tried to score from first base on Dustin Ackley's two-out double into the right-field corner, even though Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter was up and throwing the ball before Smoak rounded third base.
Mariners third base coach Jeff Datz never wavered, sending Smoak while Hunter hit relay man Prince Fielder, who then threw to Pena at the plate.
Pena turned and blocked the plate from Smoak, who was still two steps away and ended up barreling into Pena and driving Pena to the dirt.
Pena was facedown when he held the ball up to show the home plate umpire that he had held on, then the catcher stayed in the dirt for more than a minute before being helped to his feet.
"I hope he's all right," Smoak said, "but it's part of the game."
While Smoak never appeared to have a chance to score on the play, managers and players from both clubhouses were backing Datz's decision to send him.
"I thought their third-base coach made a great call," Leyland said. "He made a hell of a call sending (Smoak). We just happened to execute (the throw).
"That's one where we've got to make the play, and (Datz) made us make it."
Smoak said he knew he was trying to score from the moment the ball came off Ackley's bat.
"I knew once I hit third it was going to be close," he said. "I was thinking about sliding, but I really didn't have anywhere to go. So I just lowered my shoulder."
Most of the action at home plate had to do with a lack of contact. The two teams combined for 40 strikeouts, including 16 thrown by relief pitchers.
Seattle pitchers matched a team record by striking out 21.
Fielder had five strikeouts on his own, giving him a two-game total of nine in this series. Fielder had inning-ending strikeouts in the first, fourth, sixth and 13th innings. He had strikeouts in each of his first four at-bats, giving him a string of seven consecutive strikeouts over two games, before he flew out in the 11th inning.
Detroit's Austin Jackson and Seattle's Franklin Gutierrez each struck out four times, while two other players had three strikeouts.
Hernandez and Scherzer kept the bats quiet through the eighth inning before a dozen relievers went the rest of the way in the longest game for both teams this season.
Hernandez, who was making his third attempt at career win No. 100, was good enough to get it -- but not lucky enough. He allowed just four hits and an unearned run over eight innings, finally leaving after 106 pitches.
The only run Detroit scored off him came on a fifth-inning groundout, which scored Victor Martinez from third base after Martinez had reached on an error.
"I was just trying to do my job, to be aggressive," Hernandez said. "I need to be in attack mode, and that's what I did."
Detroit's Scherzer mowed down Seattle's lineup the first time through, retiring nine consecutive batters with five strikeouts before Gutierrez singled to lead off the fourth. Seattle didn't score a run until the seventh, when Michael Morse doubled and scored on Raul Ibanez's single to right, tying the score 1-1.
Neither team could get much going until Detroit's Martinez led off the 14th with a single. Pinch hitter Matt Tuiasosopo drew a walk, and then the Tigers loaded the bases with no outs on Jhonny Peralta's bunt when a throw to third was late. Pena then grounded to shortstop Robert Andino, who looked home before throwing to first as pinch runner Don Kelly came across the plate with the go-ahead run.
The Tigers used seven relievers after Scherzer's eight-inning gem, while Seattle followed Hernandez's start with five relief pitchers. The Tigers' Al Albuquerque and the Mariners' Blake Beavan and Charlie Furbush pitched for the second night in a row.
Joaquin Benoit -- the eighth pitcher used by the Tigers -- earned his first save of the season despite allowing two hits in his only inning.
"It was a great ballgame," Leyland said. "Two really good teams with really good pitching going all night long."
NOTES: Entering Wednesday, the top three hitters in Detroit's lineup had a combined batting average of .388. Only two teams have had a better average from their top three hitters over the first 13 games, according to Elias Sports Bureau: the 1976 Cincinnati Reds (.398) and the 2006 Toronto Blue Jays (.391). ... Location was not a problem for the Hernandez on Wednesday, when he struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches and ended up throwing 13 of his 16 first-inning pitches for strikes.