Detroit — It wasn’t as much about the call he was protesting as it was the need to release some of the frustration that had built up watching his team get no-hit for the first six innings.
Tigers manager AJ Hinch gave an earful to crew chief Tim Timmons in the sixth inning of the Tigers’ 5-2 loss to the Indians Thursday about a largely irrelevant ball hit down the first-base line that home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz called fair and first base umpire Carlos Torres called foul.
“When I got out there, they told me the first base umpire was 100 percent sure it was a foul ball,” Hinch said. “That made the home plate umpire 100 percent wrong. So my conversation was, I don’t just get to pick an umpire that feels good about a call.
“I was frustrated the whole day, but that explanation was tough for me to hear.”
The Tigers lost three of the four games to the Indians at Comerica Park, the three losses by a total of seven runs. So the flimsy explanation was more like the last straw.
“There was a little frustration from the day Bieber was having,” Hinch said.
Indians starter Shane Bieber, the reigning American League Cy Young winner, was the story Thursday. He bullied the Tigers’ hitters and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
“He’s special,” said Jonathan Schoop, who broke up the no-hit bid with a leadoff home run in the seventh. “He’s a really good pitcher. You know you are facing one of the best pitchers in the game and you’ve got to grind him out. Just try to get a pitch and put a good swing on it.
“He doesn’t give you mistakes and even when he does give you a mistake he can still get away with it. He’s that good.”
Schoop tattooed a slider from Bieber, the ball leaving his bat with an exit velocity of 115 mph. It was one of just two balls the Tigers hit out of the infield against him.
“He threw me sliders all day,” Schoop said. “I didn’t see a fastball. He was getting me out with it, so why not? He finally left one right there and I put a good swing on it.”
Bieber finished with 12 strikeouts, the Tigers whiffing on 51% of their swings against him.
“Generally I give up a hit in like the first inning and kind of get it over with nice and early,” Bieber said. “Tried to extend it as long as possible. I was just having fun with it.”
While Schoop, one of just two right-handed hitters in the Tigers lineup, saw a steady diet of sliders, the seven left-handed hitters were served a lethal dose of knuckle-curveballs.
It’s usually his second most-used pitch behind his fastball, but it was his primary pitch against the Tigers.
He threw 45 of them, producing a career-high 13 swings and misses and nine called strikes. The collateral impact of that pitch, the Tigers’ hitters were late to or frozen by his fastball. Bieber had nine swings and misses and seven called strikes with his four-seamer.
“That little knuckle-curve, when he can throw it over the plate and down, it takes incredible discipline to lay off it,” Hinch said. “He was also landing it (in the strike zone). If you are doing both of those things it becomes a really tough task to get after him.”
Bieber essentially used the same sequence against the Tigers’ lefties the entire game with no visible adjustment or pushback. In the sixth, for example, he struck out both Willi Castro and Jeimer Candelario by setting them up with curveballs and freezing them with a fastball.
“Adjustment-wise, you can look for it and know it’s coming and he can still entice swings-and-misses and soft contact,” Hinch said. “We didn’t have a lot of answers for him.”
For five innings, Matthew Boyd did his level best to keep the Tigers within a loud swing of the Indians. He gave up a run on successive hits in the first and just one other single through five innings, keeping it a 1-0 game.
But it felt like he was treading water.
“I didn’t put guys away,” Boyd said. “A lot of my misses in 0-2 and 1-2 counts were a little too big. The ball wasn’t really in and out of the zone, it was a ball out of my hand. I kind of racked up my own pitch count.”
He’d gone to seven three-ball counts and in the fifth walked the eighth and ninth hitters in the Indians order after getting two strikes on both. His pitch count was at 91 going into the sixth inning.
“I thought he did a real good job in the fifth after the two walks,” Hinch said. “But the wheels came off in the sixth.”
With left-handed hitting Eddie Rosario due up third in the sixth, Hinch wanted Boyd to at least get to that point before going to the bullpen. He got there, but not how Hinch or Boyd might’ve hoped.
Jose Ramirez, working the eighth three-ball count against Boyd, doubled and scored on a single by Harold Ramirez. Rosario then blew up the entire outing for Boyd, blasting a 2-0 slider 406 feet into the seats in right field.
Small margins magnify every mistake. This was the sixth start out of 10 starts that Boyd’s margin was two runs or less.
“When the ball leaves my hand, the other side of the scoreboard doesn’t matter,” Boyd said, accepting no excuses. “I’m attacking. My game is my game. It runs separate from that.”
No rest for the wicked, though. Up next for the Tigers hitters Friday night — Yankees’ Gerrit Cole.