Both the Detroit Tigers and the Angels have added key arms to their bullpens. And when Sunday’s game reached the late innings tied at 1-1, it was clear this one would be decided by the relievers.
In the battle of retooled bullpens, Detroit cracked first. David Freese blasted a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning, and the Angels hung on for a 2-1 victory.
The homer came on a hanging slider from Joba Chamberlain, the setup man the Tigers signed in December, who has enjoyed an impressive season so far.
Meanwhile, Joe Smith, signed by the Angels in November, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning to get the win. And Huston Street, the closer they acquired in a July 18 trade with San Diego, pitched a perfect ninth for his third save with his new team.
The Angels won three times in the four-game series and also took the season series between the teams, four games to three. That head-to-head record would be the tiebreaker if the teams finished the season with identical records and met in the playoffs as division winners or wild-card teams.
The Angels bullpen sealed the game, but they also got another sparkling performance from a starting pitcher. On Saturday, Matt Shoemaker needed just 78 pitches to complete seven scoreless innings. Sunday, Hector Santiago held Detroit to one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings.
After winning the series opener behind ace Max Scherzer, the Tigers scored only two runs, total, in losing the last three games.
Shoemaker or Santiago is likely to lose his rotation spot when C.J. Wilson returns from the disabled list. But both of them successfully shut down one of the most formidable lineups in the American League.
The Tigers have one of the best hitters alive in Miguel Cabrera, a dangerous cleanup man in Victor Martinez, a highly productive second baseman in Ian Kinsler, a rejuvenated Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot and an ageless Torii Hunter, who at 39 is on pace to drive in more runs than when he was 10 years younger.
Yet the Angels' arms limited Detroit to just eight runs over four games. That allowed them to stay competitive despite less run production than they had been accustomed to. Cabrera, who leads the major leagues in runs batted in, was held to three hits in 17 at-bats, though he did hit a solo home run.
Entering the bottom of the fifth inning Sunday, the Angels trailed 1-0 and couldn’t get off the ground. Right-hander Rick Porcello, a ground-ball pitcher, had forced the Angels to pound the ball into the infield grass.
But Erick Aybar capitalized on an errant pickoff attempt at second base and a lethargic retrieval of the ball in center field. Aybar took third on Porcello's throwing error and scampered home with the tying run when Jackson dawdled in center.
Then the bullpen took control. Mike Morin pitched 1 2/3 innings without allowing a hit, and Smith and Street took it from there, giving the Tigers no chance to mount a comeback.