As the Detroit Tigers honored the late Al Kaline with a moving pregame video on the first anniversary of his passing, the 2021 Tigers battled hard with his same spirit and won a thrilling 10-inning walk off game with a hit from the right fielder in fitting fashion 4-3. More on that later.
Casey Mize had a perfect first inning, striking out the first two twins batters, and holding the Tigers current owner, Nelson Cruz, to a lowly single. He would strike out the next batter to end the inning. He should have had a clean second inning but he got badly squeezed on a 3-2 splitter to Jake Cave for what should have been the second out, but still managed to prevent damage limiting the twins to just a pair of singles. He cruised through the third inning on just 11 pitches, including getting Cruz to ground out weakly.
Mize got into some trouble in the fourth inning, giving up a leadoff double. He battled with his command out of the stretch, which resulted in a walk to put two on with one out. This led to an RBI single from Willians Astudillo. That inning would be his last as he would need 34 pitches to escape the frame, the last out coming on a deep flyball to the left centerfield warning track that looked like it might be a grand slam before JaCoby Jones hauled it in. His final line was decent, though he surely would have liked to pitch deeper into the game. Four innings, five hits, one run, two walks, and four strikeouts.
Meanwhile the Tigers struggled to get things going against J.A. Happ. They drew just a couple of walks before they got a one-out double from Niko Goodrum in the third inning. Unfortunately, the Tigers did not do anything with it. However, they broke through to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth, when Robbie Grossman doubled in Jeimer Candelario. The Tigers did make Happ work though. They grinded out tough at bats and fouled off good pitches to drive up his pitch count. He would only go four innings, giving up three hits, one run, three walks, and striking out four.
Bryan Garcia came on in the fifth inning and kept the Twins from taking the lead, but it wasn’t easy. The leadoff batter reached base after a diving stop from Miguel Cabrera but a high throw to Garcia resulted in Garcia missing the bag with his foot. A hanging slider to Nelson Cruz which he hit in the air somehow landed in Goodrum’s glove right in front of the bullpen fence. Then with the runner on third after that deep flyout, Max Kepler grounded out to second, and with the runner going on contact, a strong throw home from Schoop cut down the runner. Garcia struck out Brent Rooker to end the inning.
The Tigers took the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Niko Goodrum led off the bottom of the fifth with a single off Cody Stachak, who came on in relief of Happ. After a strikeout of Willi Castro, Cabrera drew a walk and then Candelario drove in the run with an RBI double. Grossman then drove in another run with a two-out single to right.
Michael Fulmer came on in the sixth and worked a clean inning, save for an odd series of misplays from Schoop that resulted in the leadoff man reaching second. He nearly had a clean seventh, but Nelson Cruz was required to bat again, and the laws of the universe dictate that he must hit at least one home run each game he faces the Tigers. Fulmer successfully kept it to just a solo shot, and kept the Tigers in the lead, 3-2.
The Tigers were unable to drive in Candelario in the seventh after he reached second base with one out. Jose Cisnero took over in the eighth and Byron Buxton, pinch hitting, greeted him with a long solo homer to tie the game. With nothing going for the Tigers in the bottom of the eighth, A.J. Hinch made several changes in the ninth, moving Ramos from DH to catcher, moving Grossman from right to left, moving Goodrum from left to second, and bringing in the Tigers hottest hand, Akil Baddoo for Schoop. Gregory Soto took the mound and retired the Twins in order to send the game to the bottom of the ninth.
Goodrum started the frame with a one-out single, his fourth hit of the afternoon. Castro followed with a groundball single through the left side to put runners on first and second for Cabrera. However, Cabrera grounded weakly to third, allowing the Twins to turn the easy double play and end the inning. Which means the Tigers got their first experience with 2021 ghost runner baseball.
With a runner now on second to begin the inning, and the leadoff hitter being Nelson Cruz, the Tigers temped fate by actually pitching to him and only got singed as he hit a single to right to put runners on the corners. Soto struck out Kepler on a sinker in the dirt. Then Buxton hit a grounder to a drawn in infield and Candelario fired a strike to Ramos to get the runner at home. Soto finished off the inning with a wicked slider to strike out Andrelton Simmons. With the crisis thwarted for now and Tigers fans several years older after that (see it DID speed up the game), we went to the bottom of the tenth.
Candelario led off with a tough nine pitch at-bat where he eventually grounded out to move the runner over to third. Ramos just needed to hit a flyball to win it, but he failed and struck out instead. That left it all up to Grossman. The Twins elected to intentionally walk Grossman after a couple of pitches and go after the young legend. It was the wrong move. After taking a couple close pitches to get into a good hitter’s count, Baddoo ripped a liner into right field to walk it off for the Tigers. Yes, that just happened. On Al Kaline Day, the young man who ended up playing in Kaline’s Corner in the final innings, walked it off, and against his former team no less. The legend grows.