Anaheim, Calif. — You ask what could Tigers rookie right-hander Sawyer Gipson-Long do for an encore after winning his major league debut last week?
How about this: Achieving something no Tigers pitcher had done since Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris in 1977.
Gipson-Long struck out 11 hitters in five innings Saturday and left with a 4-1 lead.
That lead held until the bottom of the ninth when the Angels rallied for three runs off Alex Lange and sent the game into extra innings.
Miguel Cabrera, in what might be his final game at Angel Stadium (he is expected to be off Sunday), rescued the night. He poked a single to right field, his second RBI hit of the night, scoring the free runner Kerry Carpenter in the top of the 10th and giving the Tigers a 5-4 win.
Will Vest, who hasn’t allowed a run in his last nine outings, stranded the free runner, striking out Eduardo Escobar, Zach Neto and getting Brandon Drury to line out to center. Matt Vierling made a tough running catch at the wall.
The Angels came into the ninth with just two hits. But with one out, Jared Walsh launched a 407-foot, two-run homer to right off Lange. Then with the Angels down to their last strike, Brett Phillips hit a 2-2 fastball into the right-field seats.
Gipson-Long’s performance doesn’t deserve to be relegated to a footnote, though.
He became the first Tigers pitcher since Morris, and the third in club history, to punch out 10 or more hitters in one of his first two career starts. Ralph Comstock was the first to do it back in 1913. The 11 strikeouts was a season-high for any Tigers pitcher this season.
And he did it in five innings, 20 batters.
The Angels only put six balls in play against him and managed two hits, both by rookie Nolan Schanuel. He singled in the first and homered in the third inning.
Everybody else was flailing.
Ten of the 11 strikeouts were on swinging third strikes. The Angels took 39 swings and missed on 23 of them. It was a masterful performance, with catcher Carson Kelly expertly mixing sliders, changeups, sinkers and four-seamers to a right-handed heavy lineup.
Gipson-Long showed no fear throwing changeups to the six right-handed hitters. He threw 20 changeups and got 10 swinging strikes on 12 swings.
He came into the game throwing sinkers (93-95 mph) and sliders. He got nine whiffs on 15 swings with the slider and six called strikes with the sinker. He unleashed the changeup the second time through the order.
All six of his outs in the third and fourth inning were strikeouts. He struck out the side in the fourth, getting six swings-and-misses.
It was almost surreal how overmatched most of the Angels hitters were.
Just like in his debut, Gipson-Long was treated to an early run cushion. Second baseman Zack Short launched an 89-mph fastball from Angels lefty starter Tyler Anderson and launched it 400 feet over the wall in left-center.
His seventh homer staked the Tigers to a 3-0 lead.
They tacked on a fourth run in the fifth. Carpenter drew a two-out walk and scored from first when Cabrera’s bloop to center was misplayed by center fielder Phillips.
The Angels honored Cabrera before the game, presenting him with a massive surfboard by Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, manager Phil Nevin and five other players. As going-away gifts go, the RBI single was icing on the cake.
It was Cabrera’s 3,164th career hit. He’s two away from tying Adrian Beltre for 16th on the all-time list. His RBI knock in the 10th drew him within one hit.
It was a memorable night for Tigers’ Tyler Nevin, too. Playing against his father for just the second time in the big leagues, he doubled, walked, singled and scored a run. It could’ve been even better. He was robbed of a home run in the 10th by a leaping catch at the wall by Phillips.