DETROIT — No matter how Rays manager Joe Maddon looked at it, the choices weren't particularly good.
Tied at 2 into the eighth inning Tuesday, with starter Matt Moore out of the game and Detroit's dynamic duo of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, harmless to that point, coming up for a fourth time, Maddon had to pick a weapon from his bullpen.
Rather than go traditional with a right-hander against the righty-swinging Cabrera, Maddon opted to stick with hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee, who had finished the seventh after Moore allowed a tying homer.
For the first five pitches (strike-strike-ball-ball-foul) it looked, like most other things Maddon touches, as if it might just work.
But then Cabrera doubled off the right-centerfield wall. Fielder singled him in. And the Tigers quickly tacked on two more runs, ending the Rays' season-opening run at three games, with a 5-2 victory on a cold, snowy afternoon at half-filled Comerica Park.
"There's really no pitcher you like against Cabrera. He doesn't know right- from left-handed pitchers; he hits everybody," Maddon said. "I liked Jake's velocity, actually, against him a lot. It was kind of working out to the point he hit the ball off the wall. That's just who he is. I did like the left-handed velocity; he just foiled the plan.
"To me, you pick your poison. It's a bad example of Sophie's choice. I mean, what do you do right there? I thought it might have been the best weapon; that might have been the best chance to get him to mis-hit or swing and miss right there. Because you don't fool him easily."
McGee said he wasn't surprised to get the opportunity (ahead of Joel Peralta or Fernando Rodney) and liked the matchup, he just failed to execute the final pitch to Cabrera, throwing it hard enough (96 mph) but not far enough off the plate.
"I was trying to go a little more up and a little more away with it," McGee said. "I knew he was behind on my fastball quite a bit. It almost seemed like he didn't take a full swing, just went with the ball and hit it in the gap."
After a ball in, McGee was similarly trying to work the lefty-swinging Fielder away, banking on a ground ball out that at most would move Cabrera to third (which was why Maddon didn't walk him, and bring up Delmon Young). But Fielder was strong enough to hit it hard just to the right of second, the Rays, who were shifting extensively much of the game, playing him relatively straight up based on the count.
"Everybody talks about home runs, but those guys are good hitters," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "(Cabrera) didn't try to do too much, he almost hit it out to the opposite field. Prince didn't try to do too much against a tough lefty throwing 97, just put a nice stroke on the ball. Base hits are golden."
The Rays (3-1) were only in that position to start the eighth because Moore, the 22-year-old rookie, couldn't finish the seventh. At least that way, Maddon said, McGee would have opened the eighth against lefty Brennan Boesch and, under Maddon's theory, faced Cabrera with one out and had more freedom against Fielder.
But once Moore gave up the two-out tying homer to Austin Jackson on his 106th and final pitch, Maddon's decision became more difficult.
"It was all set up," Maddon said. "The part that foiled the plan was Jackson's homer."
Well, that, and McGee's pitches.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]