Detroit — The difference between a Tigers win and loss was just a matter of a couple steps on Monday.
Detroit was aiming to mount a ninth-inning comeback against Cleveland Indians closer Emmanuel Clase. And it looked like they were going to do it.
Clase, who entered the game with a 0.84 ERA, struck out leadoff man Willi Castro, who had hit a two-run homer to cut a 6-3 deficit and make it a one-run game in the seventh. But then Robbie Grossman walked. Jonathan Schoop lined a first-pitch 100.5-mph cutter into left field. Rookie sensation Akil Baddoo, who entered in the eighth as a pinch runner for Miguel Cabrera, worked a 3-0 count before the Indians decided it was best to intentionally walk him.
Then came Eric Haase, a seventh-round pick of Cleveland’s in the 2011 draft who had spent his entire professional career in the Indians’ organization until the Dearborn product was acquired by the Tigers last season. He saw four straight 100-mph cutters and lined the fourth one to right field. And it nearly dropped. But reserve outfielder Jordan Luplow robbed Haase of what could have been a walk-off hit.
Instead, Cleveland hung on for a 6-5 win to kick off a four-game series at Comerica Park.
“The story is we lost,” manager AJ Hinch said. “I love our effort. We played a complete game, fought to the finish. Gave ourselves a chance in the eighth, gave ourselves a chance in the ninth. We just came up about 6 inches short of that ball bouncing in front of Luplow.”
It’s the third loss in a row for the Tigers (18-29) and fifth straight against Cleveland. The Indians (25-20) sit 1½ games behind the White Sox for first in the American League Central.
“That’s as close as you can come to losing without losing,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona told local media. “I mean it was fun. When I say fun, it was agonizingly fun.”
Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull took the mound in his first start since throwing a no-hitter last week against the Seattle Mariners. He had good stuff again Monday, but Cleveland was eager to swing the bat.
Turnbull had three double plays turned behind him. But he found himself working out of multiple jams.
“We didn’t do a good job of controlling the first hitter of the inning,” Hinch said. “We were in duress pretty much the whole game.”
The effort was still good enough to put the Tigers in a position to win. Turnbull was tagged for three runs and seven hits as he pitched six innings and left with the game tied at 3. But a troublesome seventh for reliever Bryan Garcia (0-1) allowed the go-ahead run to score on a bases-loaded wild pitch.
“I felt like I battled really well,” Turnbull said. “I felt like I competed a lot. I definitely didn’t feel like I had my best stuff but I was able to make a lot of pitches.
“It’s definitely not the easiest thing, following up a no-hitter. But it’s kind of just business as usual now.”
Any shot Turnbull had at repeating his no-hit bid was put to an end four batters into the game. Eddie Rosario laced a first-pitch fastball to center to lead off the second inning. The damage, however, was negligible after Turnbull induced a double play and got Josh Naylor to ground out to get out of the inning.
The Tigers got out to a 2-0 lead in the second after Niko Goodrum got things started with a leadoff single and Victor Reyes, in his first game back with Detroit since being recalled from Toledo on Sunday, walked in his first at-bat. Castro scored Goodrum on a bloop double down the right-field line, which also advanced Reyes to third. Reyes scored on a sacrifice fly from Grossman.
Cleveland struck right back and evened it up at 2 in the third. The Indians started the inning with three straight singles, including the first career hit for leadoff man Owen Miller. He hit a slow roller to Goodrum and beat the throw. He advanced to second on a single from first baseman Jake Bauers and scored on a liner to center by catcher Rene Rivera. Rivera’s hit dribbled off the glove of a diving Reyes.
Bauers, who finished 3-for-3, scored on a fielder’s choice and Turnbull got Jose Ramirez and Rosario to flyout to prevent further damage.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Turnbull said. “I made good pitches. They didn’t hit them hard. The balls just fell in. That’s baseball. Last week everything was hit at guys and this week they had some that fell in and cost some runs. That’s just kind of the way baseball goes.”
The Tigers reclaimed a 3-2 lead but a baserunning blunder possibly prevented another run from scoring. Jeimer Candelario doubled to lead off the bottom of the third and advanced to third on a two-out single from Goodrum. Candelario scored on a single from Nomar Mazara, which also moved Goodrum to third. Mazara got caught in a pickle between first and second while Reyes was up, but Bauers fired a strike from first to Rivera to nab Goodrum by a few steps.
“We’re trying to be aggressive there,” Hinch said. “He (Goodrum) read the ball in the dirt really early, went really early. …It was an aggressive out.”
Harold Ramirez tied the game at 3 with a two-out single in the sixth. Amed Rosario had led the inning off with a single, stole second and advanced to third on a fielder’s choice for the second out of the inning. Ramirez lined a 3-2 slider that deflected off Turnbull’s glove. After getting checked on by pitching coach Chris Fetter, Turnbull got the next batter to pop out and end the threat.
Turnbull’s night was over after 86 pitches. He threw a career-high 117 pitches in his no-hitter last week and escaped with only three runs charged in part because of the several ground balls he got. The right-hander left the game with three strikeouts and a walk.
Turnbull’s hit 97 mph twice, but his fastball mainly stayed around 94-95.
“I definitely didn’t feel as fresh as I wanted to but at the same time I knew it would be a challenge this week,” Turnbull said. “It was such a physical and mental emotional drain last week. But I’m proud of myself for battling.”
Miller reached again to lead off the seventh, this time with a hard hit grounder that ate up Candelario and was ruled an error. Bauers singled and Cesar Hernandez walked to load the bases. Garcia got Amed Rosario to fly out, but he threw a breaking pitch in the dirt to Jose Ramirez that got by catcher Haase. He later walked Ramirez and his night was done.
That meant lefty Daniel Norris was tasked with disposing of Eddie Rosario. But Rosario was able to lace a 2-2 pitch from Norris into center field to score a pair. Rosario was picked off trying to steal second for the last out of the inning.
The Tigers’ had another rally attempt fell short in the seventh. Reyes started things off with a leadoff single — his first hit since being recalled from Triple-A on Sunday — which set the table for Castro to pull a 92.4 mph fastball 356 feet into the right-field seats off reliever Nick Wittgren.
Castro finished 2-for-4 and had three RBIs. Castro, like Haase, was also once a member of of the Cleveland organization.
But unlike Haase, Castro said it felt good to get a little payback.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit,” Castro said. ” I can’t let my head down. I have to keep battling — it’s a long season. And I started to feel myself again.”