DETROIT -- So you thought the Red Sox caught a break when they missed Justin Verlander, the Tigers' 23-year-old pitching phenom whose picture graced the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated?
After back-to-back nights of facing Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman, the Sox not only have learned firsthand why the Tigers can no longer be taken lightly in the American League, they have a right to wonder what awaits them this afternoon when they face Zach Miner, a kid who is undefeated (6-0) in Triple A and will be making his big league debut.
Even with former Sox prospect Mike Maroth out for at least two months after undergoing elbow surgery Friday, the Tigers have no shortage of quality pitching. They demonstrated that again last night when Bonderman, a righthander only four months older than Verlander, shut down the Sox on four hits and a couple of runs in a 6-2 win before a full house of 40,872 in
Magglio Ordonez assured Bonderman there would be no such sour ending last night when he broke up a tight game with a three-run home run off Julian Tavarez, who once again reminded one and all of how much Mike Timlin is missed. Tavarez entered after Manny Delcarmen started the eighth and gave up a couple of hits, the second one a one-hop comebacker by Ivan Rodriguez careening off his left heel to put runners on the corners with two outs.
Delcarmen could have continued, but manager Terry Francona, mindful that Ordonez was hitless in his six career at-bats against Tavarez, was going to have Tavarez face the Tigers' cleanup hitter either way.
``Good decision by me," he said, the sarcasm just as fat as the 1-and-0 fastball Tavarez threw to Ordonez, who sent the pitch over the left-center-field wall for his 13th home run of the season.
``The way it's worked so far, if we don't hit it over the fence, we have a tough time winning," Tigers manager Jim Leyland had said on the eve of the series.
That formula worked out nicely for the Tigers last night in a game delayed for 46 minutes at the start by rain, as Marcus Thames (two-out home run in the second) and Carlos Guillen (two-run home run in the fourth, the switch hitter batting righthanded) accounted for all three runs allowed by knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, before Ordonez applied the clinching blow.
``I came out of the bullpen very aggressive," Tavarez said. ``I'm thinking, `I'm going to go with a fastball inside,' but I missed really bad.
``You're not going to get away with many of those, especially against a great hitter. There's a reason they're paying him a lot of money [$75 million over five years]."
And before anyone back home wastes precious brain cells thinking about why Francona lifted Wakefield even though he'd thrown 100 pitches and struck out Craig Shelton with a runner on third to end the seventh, be advised that Wakefield was on board with the decision. Francona said Wakefield's back had gotten a little tight.
``I was tired," Wakefield said. ``That's about as far as I usually go."
Three years ago, when the Tigers were losing 119 games, an American League record, Bonderman seemingly wasn't going anywhere fast. Just 20 years old, he was a 19-game loser who felt like he was in way over his head.
``I was so young," he said, ``I probably didn't belong up here. But I just came to work every day and battled. I tried to learn and work on my stuff."
He also sat down one afternoon in the visitors' bullpen with someone to whom he was introduced by then-Tigers pitching coach Bob Cluck.
``He introduced me to Curt Schilling," Bonderman said. ``He sat down and talked to me right after batting practice. I learned a lot. He talked to me mostly about the mental part. He told me I had the stuff to be here, to keep my head up and to keep working hard.
``I respect him a lot for taking the time to talk to me because he didn't have to. There was no reason he had to talk to me. It was a great honor for me and showed a lot of class for him."
Bonderman, who still burns that Oakland, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2001 and traded him away a year later, already has three years of taking a regular turn in the Tigers' rotation. If he pitches like he did last night, he'll rival Verlander for the distinction of being ace of this staff.
In the first inning, he issued two-out walks to David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez followed by a double by Trot Nixon after falling behind, 2 and 0. ``I was pitching not to make a mistake," Bonderman said. ``That's how you get beat. After that, I kind of said, `I'm going to challenge those guys. If they're going to beat me, they're going to beat me.'
``I had a good breaking ball tonight and a good feel for my slider."
After Doug Mirabelli's bloop single in the second, Bonderman set down the next 14 batters in order until Nixon led off the seventh with a single. The Sox finally broke through again in the eighth when Alex Cora hit a gapper to right-center for a triple and scored on an infield out by Coco Crisp, who failed to get a hit for the first time in a Sox uniform.
Leyland brought in Fernando Rodney for the last four outs.
``You're seeing a lot of their young guys blossom into good major league players," Francona said.
On deck: Zach Miner.