outside.jpgWe knew that the interleague schedule would catch up to the Tigers at some point.

After losing two of three to the Dodgers way back in May, the Tigers ran roughshod over the dregs of the National League. Against the Pirates, Nationals and Diamondbacks, Detroit won eight of nine.

This past week the Tigers crashed back to reality while facing the top two clubs in the National League East. After losing two of three in New York, the Tigers needed to reverse that outcome in Atlanta to make it a .500 trip. Unlike the series at Citi Field, the Tigers were in every game against the Braves thanks to stellar pitching — and despite an often-dormant offense.

Friday night’s game was disappointing because of the outing by rookie Andy Oliver. He scattered five hits over six innings, walked only one and struck out four. Brian McCann‘s two-run homer accounted for the Braves’ only offense against Oliver. From what I saw, Oliver looks like the real deal and he looked right at home on the Tigers’ staff watching his offense fizzle.

On Saturday, Austin Jackson led off the game with a single to left and was stranded at second. The next Tigers hit wouldn’t come until the sixth when Ramon Santiago laid down a bunt single. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer was brilliant, if not a tad wild, pitching into the sixth inning while blanking the Braves and striking out eight. The real story, of course, emerged in the top of the ninth with the Tigers down 4-1. Magglio Ordonez lined out to lead off the inning. Miguel Cabrera followed with a 411-foot homer, inching the Tigers closer and giving them their third — and final — hit of the game. Then, suddenly, the Braves couldn’t find the strikezone. Here’s how the play-by-play recap looks on ESPN.com’s box score of the game:

  • B Boesch struck out looking.
  • C Guillen walked.
  • B Inge walked, C Guillen to second.
  • E O’Flaherty relieved T Saito.
  • D Worth walked, C Guillen to third, B Inge to second.
  • G Laird walked, C Guillen scored, B Inge to third, D Worth to second. (Braves 4 – Tigers 3)
  • P Moylan relieved E O’Flaherty.

Johnny Damon then pinch hit for Jackson and was the victim of a call perhaps even worse than Jim Joyce‘s on June 2. Homeplate ump Gary Cederstrom (pictured above) called the 3-2 pitch a strike, costing the Tigers a run and, given the way the Braves were pitching, a likely victory. (Photo credit to Grey who posted it on Twitter.) Once again, the Tigers were left to stew about the second egregious call against them in three weeks.

When Gerald Laird smacks three hits in a game, you have to figure the Tigers are winning big or getting trounced. Combine those three hits by Laird with a Justin Verlander start and you’re looking at a victory. The Tigers’ launched a 17-hit assault, highlighted by Brennan Boesch’s 12th homer of the year — which traveled 395 feet up and out. Verlander gutted out seven innings, striking out six and raising his record to 9-5, in helping the Tigers avoid a sweep.

All told, the Tigers’ interleague performance in 2010 (11-7) could have been even better had they not lost six of nine against winning N.L. teams. Still, the wins against weaker clubs allowed them to stay close to the Twins in the division and keep this season interesting for at least another couple of weeks.