The series opener between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees featured a significant pitching matchup: Rookie Casey Mize — a former No. 1 overall pick evolving into a future top starter — squared off against 30-year-old Gerrit Cole, an established ace (and former No. 1 overall pick himself) seeking his first Cy Young award.
“Somebody I definitely respect and watch,” Mize said. “He’s done a lot of things right to get where he is, and I’m trying to figure out what those things are.”
Although the 24-year-old Mize conceded a run, it was Cole who did so first. And while Mize didn’t last as long as New York’s crafty right-hander, he put his team in a position to win with a tie game through five innings.
In the end, the Tigers (20-31) capitalized with a 3-2 victory over the Yankees in the bottom of the 10th inning. Robbie Grossman launched a walk-off home run to left field off a two-out Justin Wilson fastball on a 3-2 count. It was his sixth home run this season and first-career walk-off blast.
“He was my first roommate in pro ball, actually,” Grossman said of Wilson, a Tiger from 2016-17. “I’ve faced him before. I know what he’s got. I kept telling myself, ‘We’re just one swing away from winning this game.’ I got a pitch to hit. Luckily, I got enough of it and it went into the stands. I couldn’t be happier to have my first walk-off home run in a Tigers uniform.”
Mize allowed five hits and zero walks through five innings. He picked up seven strikeouts, throwing 58 of his 97 pitches for strikes. DJ LeMahieu (Birmingham Brother Rice) and Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against him.
The bullpen produced scoreless innings from Kyle Funkhouser in the sixth, Jose Cisnero in the seventh and Michael Fulmer in the eighth. Gregory Soto gave the Tigers a scare in the ninth with one single, two wild pitches and one walk. He struck out Stanton and Aaron Judge, though — and danced in celebration — to keep the Yankees from scoring.
In the top of the 10th, a changeup from Bryan Garcia deflected off catcher Jake Rogers’ glove and rolled to the backstop, allowing the Yankees to plate the go-ahead run. They had the momentum until Grossman called game.
“It was quite a game,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “The whole game could have gone either way for both teams. We got the final pitch and put them away, so it was a big win.”
Scoring first, missing late
The Tigers scored their first run in the third inning, thanks to three consecutive singles from Grossman, Harold Castro and Jeimer Candelario. While Grossman and Castro sent soft grounders up the middle, Candelario tagged a first-pitch changeup from Cole for a 1-0 lead.
“We faced an ace today,” Grossman said. “When you face guys like that, you just got to go up there and expect to get the best stuff you’re going to see. That’s what we did. We battled and got him out of the game.”
Candelario got a feel for Cole by doubling on a first-pitch fastball with two outs in the first inning.
The third baseman has reached base safely in 24 games in a row, the longest active streak in the major leagues. In the eighth, LeMahieu took a likely RBI single away from Candelario with a leaping catch at first base.
Yet the Tigers — and Candelario — got to Cole in the third inning to snag the lead before Cabrera grounded into a double play, allowing Cole to escape the jam with runners on the corners.
It was the seventh time Cabrera grounded into a double play this season.
“Four quality at-bats,” Hinch said about Candelario. “Arguably should’ve been the hero of this game an inning earlier. He smoked that ball to first base. I think LeMahieu caught it behind him, it was hit so hard. He played good defense tonight, made some good plays and really contributed to a good team win.
“When you play close games like this, you need guys to perform well. Candy was one of the good ones tonight.”
The Tigers had a chance to score in the sixth inning, but Cole escaped once more.
With Schoop at first (after a groundout that wiped Candelario off the bases) with two outs, a wild pitch and passed ball moved him to third base. But Nomar Mazara struck out swinging on an elevated 3-2 fastball to end the inning.
Cole gave up one run on six hits and one walk across six innings. He only struck out five batters, a testament to Detroit’s improved approach at the plate.
Mize hangs vs. Cole
Mize opened his 10th start with authority, striking out LeMahieu and Stanton. The first hit against him came from Judge, who singled on a 3-1 slider. Mize went to three-ball counts against all four first-inning batters.
He responded by retiring eight batters in a row, including a 10-pitch battle with LeMahieu to conclude the third inning. LeMahieu fouled seven pitches — five in a row — before striking out on a 2-2 slider.
As LeMahieu walked back to the dugout, he looked at Mize over his shoulder.
“Casey was impressive,” Hinch said. “To see what he did to the top of their order, a bunch of punch outs, and was able to pitch in and out of traffic with really good stuff. There were only a couple pitches we talked about after his outing that could go either way, either pitch selection or execution. … But he did a really good job matching Cole.”
Judge kept Mize in check with the second hit against him, a double with one out in the fourth inning. Mize didn’t flinch, inducing back-to-back grounders from Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres.
The only damage against Mize — who sent down 12 of his first 14 batters faced — occurred in the fifth, Mize’s final inning. The rookie threw 31 pitches and gave up the game-tying run on a home run by Rougned Odor to right. Mize then gave up singles to two of the next three batters, retiring only Kyle Higashioka on a strikeout. In danger of giving up the go-ahead run, Mize ended his night with back-to-back strikeouts against LeMahieu and Stanton, on a sixth-pitch fastball and eighth-pitch slider, respectively.
“I threw too many pitches, and I hate that I couldn’t give my bullpen more than that,” Mize said. “But just proud of the way we battled and made it through five and limited the damage to just that one home run. Bullpen did a really good job of throwing up zeros the rest of the way. That was the difference in the game.”
Mize finished his 97-pitch performance with seven swings and misses — two each with his slider, four-seam fastball and changeup. He also got 19 called strikes. His competition, Cole, ended his 103-pitch outing with 14 whiffs and 11 called strikes.
“I definitely wanted to rise to the challenge,” Mize said. “Obviously, he’s a great pitcher who has had an amazing career. That’s a good team we just beat tonight. I definitely want to rise to the challenge of the pitcher I’m facing and the lineup I’m facing, so there was a little more being excited and being pumped for this game.
“I’m glad we came out on top.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.