Porcello comes of age vs. Twins
Tigers' rookie right-hander finishes season on high-note
MINNEAPOLIS -- The potential one-liners from Rick Porcello's outing in Tuesday's American League tiebreaker are numerous.
The Tigers and Twins played for so long, the stubble on the 20-year-old rookie's chin became a full-grown beard by game's end.
The game went so long, he was a veteran by the time he came back off the field.
The Tigers and Twins played so late into the night, the Rookie of the Year Award went out while he was still in the dugout.
Porcello's age was an endless source of humor for his Tigers teammates all season long. His performance Tuesday, however, was no joke.
"He was tremendous," manager Jim Leyland said following his club's 6-5 loss.
Not until November will we know how much Porcello's outing Tuesday affected his chances at the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Ballots from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America aren't due until the point when the postseason begins. Since the tiebreaker counted as a regular-season game, voters could hold their ballots and wait for this performance, as more than a few likely did.
What they saw was a performance that in some ways looked like it came from someone 10 years older. Considering how many quality pitchers the Twins had beaten during the torrid stretch that got them into the postseason, the fact that Porcello nearly silenced them for a five-inning stretch arguably ranks among the more clutch performances of baseball's home stretch.
With the game on national television, it also announced to the rest of baseball that Porcello might soon be stepping into the role as one of baseball's stingier pitchers, not just rookie pitchers. It also suggested that the Tigers' rotation still has some improvement left in it.
"We came in a tough place and played 12 innings and played our hearts out," catcher Gerald Laird said. "I know it wasn't enough, but this organization, we're going in the right direction, especially when you've got a 20-year-old kid who grew up in front of everyone's eyes today."
Much like the division lead the Tigers held to themselves from May 15 until last Saturday, Detroit seemingly had a stronghold on its fate after Magglio Ordonez's RBI single and Miguel Cabrera's two-run homer built a 3-0 lead in the third inning, and Porcello got into a groove to maintain it.
He gave a run back in the bottom of the third with what Leyland called his only flaw of the night, an errant pickoff throw that allowed Matt Tolbert to score from third. But the scoring chance came from two ground-ball singles, and they were the last hits the Twins would manage off him for a while.
Not only did the 20-year-old Porcello retire nine consecutive batters after his two-out walk to Joe Mauer later that inning, he flustered a Minnesota offense that had broken out in their mad dash to the top of the division. He fanned seven Twins in an 11-batter stretch from the second inning into the fifth.
"He was very relaxed," second baseman Placido Polanco, "and he was very filthy today. He kept us in the game. He gave us a chance."
He induced 15 swings and misses from Twins hitters, an incredibly high total for a team he was facing for the third time in as many weeks. The fact that he had just 14 swinging strikes from them over the previous two meetings combined makes it all the more impressive.
"I was just going with what Gerald called," Porcello said. "We were mixing up four-seamers and two-seamers, throwing some changeups. [I] didn't throw many sliders again today. It was working out for us. I've faced them so many times in the past three weeks. It's one of those games where you have to go with what's working and what you see happening up there."
That's much the same mix that has made him one of baseball's tougher pitchers since the start of August. He went 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA over his final 13 starts.
After Mauer's check-swing on a high fastball in the sixth, Porcello had his eighth strikeout of the night, tying a career high. Porcello said he accidentally pumped his first afterwards, but not to show off.
"I thought it was the third out," he said.
It wasn't. And once Jason Kubel hit Porcello's next fastball into the right-field upper deck for a solo homer to make it a 3-2 game, Porcello was in a struggle to get the third out. He left after a walk to Michael Cuddyer.
He left with the lead and ended up watching the rest from the dugout.
"It sure was exciting," Porcello said. "This is definitely the most exciting game I've ever been a part of. We played our butts off. They played our butts off."
Porcello was a big reason for the excitement, not just Tuesday but for the season. He finishes the year as one of just four pitchers to win 14 or more games at age 20 or younger, the first since Dwight Gooden.
Just don't mention Rookie of the Year to him quite yet.
"I'd rather be in the playoffs," he said on his way out of the visitors' clubhouse.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.