Detroit — The culture of pressure that AJ Hinch has tried to instill in the Tigers this spring has paid plenty of dividends already this season.
But in the sixth inning Wednesday, it may have crossed the line from aggressive to reckless.
Trailing by a run, the Tigers had two runners thrown out at the plate — costly considering they ended up losing the game and the series to the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, in front of a crowd of 7,568 at Comerica Park.
“You play the game to try to score,” Hinch said afterward. “When they execute and you make an out, it’s a punch in the stomach. When you put pressure on them, they don’t execute and you get a run, everybody’s high-fiving in the dugout. That’s the essence of the game — pressure.”
With no outs, Willi Castro was waved home by third base coach Chip Hale, trying to score from first on a double to left field by Miguel Cabrera. The fact there were no outs and the ball was hit to left made it a dangerous chance to take.
And then factor in the strong arm of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, whose relay to the plate was a missile, getting in well ahead of the sliding Castro.
“In a close game it’s always magnified and it doesn’t feel good when you get the guy thrown out at home,” Hinch said. “(Left fielder Jake Cave) was on the ground when Castro rounded third. He made the long throw to Simmons, one of the best in the league.
“Obviously that’s an aggressive play there. No outs and I understand the magnitude of it. But I think it was more about the Twins’ execution and less about Willi or anything like that.”
Castro, who had three hits on the day, had only one regret about the play.
“When I saw the left fielder dive for the ball, I kind of stopped a little bit (before rounding second base),” he said. “I didn’t want to get doubled off. I think if I kept running, I would’ve been safe at home.”
Then after a walk to Jeimer Candelario and a single by Nomar Mazara, the bases were loaded for Jonathan Schoop. Cabrera tagged from third and tried to score on a fly ball to medium-depth right field.
Twins right fielder Kyle Garlick threw him out by several steps.
“Miggy is going to read the depth,” Hinch said, when asked if Hale was trying to keep Cabrera on third. “A lot can happen on a 180- or 200-foot throw. But they executed. There is no blame to be had there. It’s a play where they have to have perfect execution on a long throw.
“He did it in the air, chest-high throw, easy tag. If they don’t execute, we’re talking about Miggy’s aggressive base running.”
Rookie Akil Baddoo, who had already tripled in a run, was on deck and deprived of an RBI opportunity.
“It’s a results business,” Hinch said. “And it’s tough to make two outs at home.”
The Tigers didn’t do much offensively outside that sixth-inning flurry. Baddoo’s triple plated one run, but he was doubled off third on a line drive back to Twins starter Kenta Maeda.
Wilson Ramos’ solo homer in the fifth provided the only other run. Twins reliever Alex Colome got the final six outs to preserve the win.
“We won a series and we lost a series, and we had an opportunity to win this series,” Hinch said. “The effort has been great, the attention to detail has been pretty good. We’ve had some mishaps. But six games in, I’m proud of this group.”
Frustrating for the Tigers, too, was how the Twins flipped the score in the top of the sixth inning. By a fraction of an inch. That’s how close Matthew Boyd was to getting out of the sixth inning with a 2-1 lead.
Boyd, who pitched seven full innings for the first time since Aug. 18, 2019, was a picture of efficiency. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first 19 batters he faced (and 24 of the 27).
“I loved how he pounded the strike zone,” Hinch said. “First-pitch strikes were almost automatic. And when you pound the zone with that much conviction, good things can happen when you have your good stuff.
“He gave us an excellent chance to win.”
Boyd had gotten a double-play grounder to erase one runner in the sixth. Then, after giving up a single on a 1-2 fastball to Garlick, red-hot Nelson Cruz hit a short-hopper that deflected off shortstop Castro’s glove. Second baseman Schoop reacted quickly, got to the carom and made a strong throw to first.
Cruz was initially called out, but replay showed he just beat the throw.
“It was like a knuckleball coming at me,” Castro said. “It’s tough to get that.”
Instead of being out of the inning, Boyd had to face Jorge Polanco with two on. Boyd had struck out Polanco with a slider in the fourth. This time Polanco lashed an 0-1 slider to the gap in right-center, scoring both runners, taking the Twins from one down to one up, 3-2.
“That was a tough turn of events on both sides in that sixth inning,” Hinch said. “It was a bang-bang play and they go to replay. Cruz did a nice job of getting down the line. He doesn’t run (well) but he ran hard on that play and never gave up.
“Nelson Cruz finds a way into the middle of something against us in all three games.”
Boyd, who has faced 55 hitters without giving up home run this season, ended up with eight strikeouts. It wasn’t the Polanco hit that troubled him after. It was the Garlick single.
“Polanco’s hit was the knife that broke the skin,” Boyd said. “But if you go farther back, I had him 1-2 and I didn’t execute my pitch. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but I didn’t execute my pitch there and that changes the complexion of the inning.”