Detroit — You can curse the baseball gods and bemoan buzzard’s luck for a couple of seeing-eye singles the Pirates hit off reliever Gregory Soto in the eighth inning that ultimately sunk the Tigers, 4-2, in the series finale Thursday at Comerica Park.
But the Tigers didn’t do much to create their own misfortune, squandering another strong, seven-inning performance from starter Jose Urena, a much-needed productive day from center fielder JaCoby Jones and good chance to win a home series.
“We didn’t make enough winnable plays,” manager AJ Hinch said. “You give them extra opportunities and an extra 90 feet here and there and it’s going to come back to bite you in a close game.”
And again, with the Tigers struggling to score runs, any lapse at any point in a game can be fatal.
Start in the first inning. After a leadoff double by Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds singled to center. Frazier scored easily, but Reynolds tried to go to second on Jones’ throw home. Jonathan Schoop cut the ball off and threw to Willi Castro covering second base.
Reynolds should have been out cold, except Castro, who was slightly off the base, didn’t apply the tag. Reynolds ended up scoring on a two-out single by Erik Gonzalez.
That was effectively all the damage against Urena. He allowed just two more singles and a walk through seven innings and gave the Tigers a chance to win, which they were in a position to do.
Urena has gone seven innings in his last two starts, the first time he’s gone at least seven in consecutive starts in his career, and has nothing to show for it.
Jones, who had been in a 1-for-22 skid, lined a home run to right field off Pirates starter Mitch Keller with two outs in the fifth to tie the game at 2. And it looked like he was going to put the Tigers ahead with a single in the bottom of the seventh.
Rookie Akil Baddoo, who tripled in a run in the second inning, doubled ahead of Jones. He should have scored easily on Jones’ single to center, but he got a bad read on the ball and pulled in to third.
“We have to let Akil have these one step forward, mini-step backwards moments,” Hinch said. “He’s developing nicely. He’s handling moments pretty well and he’s learning a lot.”
Pirates reliever Sam Howard retired Robbie Grossman and Willi Castro on shallow fly balls to strand Baddoo at third.
The kill shot came in the top of the eighth.
Jose Cisnero sandwiched a Frazier single around two outs and Hinch went to lefty Gregory Soto to face the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in the Pirates lineup — switch-hitter Reynolds and left-handed hitting Colin Moran.
The reasoning was sound. Reynolds is far more dangerous against right-handers (hitting 19 of his 25 home runs) and Soto had allowed just one hit to a lefty this season.
But after a wild pitch, Soto walked Reynolds and then gave up back-to-back RBI singles to Moran and right-handed hitting Gonzalez — neither was hit hard, with exit velocities of 75 and 83 mph.
“It’s baseball,” Hinch said. “Right now, with our offense, it feels like we have to do everything right. And as much as it’s about Soto’s inning, we had a good opportunity in the previous inning and didn’t capitalize on our momentum play.
“That sequence between the bottom of the seventh and top of the eighth was pretty frustrating. It isn’t the only reason the game swung one way or another, but they put the ball in play and found holes against our best reliever and they won the game.”
Moran’s hit just eluded third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who was the only defender on the left side of the infield. Gonzalez’s hit went right past first baseman Schoop, who didn’t move on the ball.
“They put the ball in play and that’s the difference in this series,” Hinch said. “They put the ball in play in critical moments and got some hits.”
The Tigers were 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position Thursday.
“We’ve played a few of these close games that we’ve lost and it comes back to execution,” Hinch said. “Who concedes 90 feet? Who concedes an out or an extra pitch? That’s why they won the game. They made better plays.”
The Tigers fall to 7-12 on the season.