Bottom of the ninth.
Jose Cisneros on the mound for the Detroit Tigers.
Matt Olson at the plate for the Oakland Athletics. Cisneros threw a 97 mph sinker and Olson lifted a high pop up towards center — and it soared right into the sunshine.
Tigers shortstop Willi Castro couldn’t get to it, so he peeled off. Center fielder Victor Reyes couldn’t find it in the sun. He looked helpless, covering his face, trying to protect himself.
The ball landed between them — like a dash of salt in a wound, or a stab to the heart, if you will — and Olson was suddenly standing on second.
“He broke on the ball perfectly and the ball found the sun,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “It’s tough.”
A few batters later, Mitch Moreland knocked in the game-winning run.
Athletics 3, Tigers 2.
That one play seemed summed up the state of this team: It is plagued by an anemic offense, stung by painful mistakes and doomed by an inability to capitalize.
What a strange road trip.
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The Tigers went to Cleveland and lost three straight, playing some ugly baseball.
They went to Houston and won three straight, getting all kinds of hitting and playing fantastic defense. It looked like they were turning a corner.
Then, they went to Oakland and — yikes, like a bright light beamed right into your eyeballs — lost four straight.
“Everything that kind of could go wrong did go wrong this four-game series,” Hinch said.
So here are seven takeaways from this seven-loss road trip.
Some good, more bad — just like this team.
1. The Tigers have just been far too inconsistent offensively
In the three wins over the Astros, the Tigers scored 20 runs while allowing eight. In the seven losses, they were outscored 41-12.
Hinch tries to pair hitters together in the lineup, in theory, linking together hits; it’s a great strategy when guys are hitting. But it doesn’t work if nobody gets a hit. And it’s even worse when they can’t make contact, like on Sunday, when the Tigers kept whiffing.
Oakland starter Chris Bassitt baffled the Tigers, recording 17 swings-and-misses.
“Bassitt moves the ball all over the place,” Hinch said. “And by the looks of some of our swings, that the ball was moving pretty late.”
2. Akil Baddoo is human after all
After an amazing start to his MLB career, he has cooled off considerably. In his last four games, Baddoo is 1-for-15 with 10 strikeouts. That’s not surprising. He is going to have ups and downs all season, as pitchers adjust to him.
But Baddoo unveiled something new on Sunday. He showed he can play some outstanding defense.
Baddoo had an impressive running catch in the bottom of the first inning, followed by an athletic sliding catch.
3. Even when something good happened Sunday, something bad followed
In the first inning, Robbie Grossman drew a walk and Jeimer Candelario had a nice line drive. But Willi Castro’s looper to short left-center confused Grossman. He got caught between second and third, waiting for it to fall. Perhaps he was baited by the outfielder. Perhaps he got his feet tangled. But he was forced out at third. Which nixed a huge inning, especially when Wilson Ramos followed Castro’s at-bat with a single of his own.
Somehow, in the first inning alone, the Tigers had three hits and a walk but came away with no runs. That’s hard to do. And it was the microcosm of this trip: Not doing damage when they had a chance.
At least in Cleveland and Oakland.
“We put some really good at bats against them but came away with nothing,” Hinch said.
4. Yeah, Boyd!
One baseball truth still rings true.
When you throw strikes, good things happen. When you don’t, baseball gets real ugly.
But Matthew Boyd was fantastic on Sunday, allowing two runs in 7⅓ innings and giving the Tigers a chance.
“He was good as he’s been,” Hinch said. “I think his execution was very good. I thought his breaking ball was very good.”
5. Hinch refuses to sum up series
He sees game to game only.
So after this one, he saw some positives.
“(Candelario) had some good at bats,” Hinch said. “Robbie drew couple walks. Harold Castro got a couple hits.”
6. A Turn of fortune
There is some good news: Spencer Turnbull is returning to the starting rotation.
Last year’s most successful starter has missed the first 16 games of 2021 on COVID-19 protocols, but will start on Wednesday at Comerica Park against the Pirates. To make room for him in the rotation, Hinch has moved Tarik Skubal to the bullpen; if I had to guess, he will be paired with Turnbull in Wednesday’s game.
7. Snow more worries
The best news of all? No more sunshine.
The weather is supposed to be nasty on Tuesday, with snow in the forecast, when the Tigers host Pittsburgh.
And we all know, after Opening Day, the Tigers play some of their best baseball in snow.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.