Detroit — Looking at it from the outside, it might seem a little daunting for the Tigers, the lowest scoring team in the American League, to face a pair of Cy Young winners in back-to-back games.
Players don’t look at it that way.
“You don’t reach this level by backing down or bowing down,” manager AJ Hinch said before the Tigers squared off against 2019 Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole and the Yankees Friday. “We have a lot of respect for him…We faced Shane Bieber yesterday, Cole tonight and Corbin Burns is lined up to face us in Milwaukee.
“This is the big leagues. I don’t know if you can look at it any other way. We all signed up to play at the highest level.”
The Tigers were overmatched by last year’s Cy Young winner Bieber on Thursday, but they fought Cole to a 1-1 draw through six innings and took it all the way to the 10th inning.
And then Robbie Grossman walked it off.
After the Yankees scored on a passed ball in the top of the 10th, Grossman hit a two-out, two-run home run off former Tigers lefty Justin Wilson, to give the Tigers a thrilling 3-2 win.
“I’ve known Justin for a long time,” Grossman said. “He was my first roommate in pro ball (12 years ago in the Pirates organization). I’ve faced him before. I know what he’s got. I just kept telling myself, we’re just one swing from winning the game.”
It was a typical grinding, give-no-quarter at-bat from Grossman. He fell into a 1-2 hole, then took a cutter off the plate and laid off a borderline 92-mph fastball to run the count full.
Wilson tried to throw a 93-mph four-seam fastball by him and Grossman knocked it into the left-field seats.
“I got a pitch to hit and luckily I got enough of it,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier to have my first walk-off home run in a Tigers’ uniform.”
It was a night for pitchers, though. It rained most of the day and it was still damp and chilly — temperature 45 degrees at first pitch. Cole vs. Tigers’ rookie Casey Mize, both first-overall picks: one an established star, the other rapidly finding his footing in the big leagues.
“I definitely wanted to rise to the challenge,” said Mize, who allowed just a solo home run in five gritty innings. “I definitely wanted to rise to the challenge of the pitcher I was facing and the lineup I was facing.
“That’s a good team we just beat tonight.”
Jeimer Candelario, extending his Major League-leading active on-base streak to 24 games, had a double and two singles off Cole. He ambushed first pitches on the first two; the second one in the third inning scored Grossman from third.
He singled again in the sixth, this time winning a nine-pitch battle.
Candelario made a bid for a fourth hit, and a go-ahead RBI, in the eighth inning. With Grossman at second, he hit a line drive, a ball that left his bat at an exit velocity of 108 mph.
But Yankees first baseman DJ LeMahieu, the former Brother Rice standout, leaped and snared it.
“Jeimer very easily could have been the hero tonight,” Hinch said. “It looked like LeMahieu caught it behind him it was hit so hard.”
The Tigers stranded runners on third in the third, fifth and sixth innings against Cole, but forced his pitch count over 100 and ended his night early. And that in itself was a victory.
“We’re going to make him work,” Hinch said. “I thought we battled him great tonight. It’s not just about doing damage. You do have to peck away and take your base hits and singles. He’s one of the best, if not the best, pitchers in the big leagues…
“When you show up and face someone like Cole, you need to buckle your seatbelt and get going.”
Mize wasn’t as dominant, but he was every bit as determined. You hear a lot about his stuff, his diverse and electric five-pitch mix. You probably don’t hear enough about his battle level.
“Casey was impressive,” Hinch said. “He did a really good job of matching Cole in a game where going into it Casey was well aware we’re facing Gerrit Cole and he was going to have to match him zero for zero.”
He did that. He made one regrettable pitch — a grooved 93-mph four-seam fastball on an 0-2 count that left-handed Rougned Odor lined into the right field seats. Other than that, he allowed four hits and just two other runners in scoring position.
He struck out seven, getting the first two hitters in the Yankees order — LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton — three times each.
But the Yankees made him earn it. They worked nine three-ball counts against him, including the first four hitters of the game. But Mize won six of those nine battles.
He only got seven swings and misses on 39 swings, but the Yankees took 19 called strikes, nine on two-seamers.
All the long counts took a toll on his pitch count, though. He was at 93 pitches after five and his night was over.
“Just mechanically, I was yanking pitches and missing to the glove side,” Mize said. “I was battling that from the first inning and I threw too many pitches. But I am proud of the way we battled and limited the damage.”
The Tigers bullpen continues to answer the call, as well. Coming into the game, Tigers relievers had allowed the fourth fewest runs in the Majors since May 16. Kyle Funkhouser, Jose Cisnero and Michael Fulmer kept it a 1-1 game through the eighth inning.
Box Score: Tigers 3, Yankees 2 (10 innings)
Gregory Soto then made a serious escape in the ninth. He threw two wild pitches, allowing pinch-runner Tyler Wade to get to third with one out. But he struck out Stanton and Judge to send the game to the bottom of the ninth.
“It’s agonizing to watch it,” Hinch said. “But he’s got the ability to escape because of the stuff. The slider is real and his fastball is electric.”
Soto fell behind Judge 2-0, then got back in the count with a pair of evil sliders. After Judge fouled off a third slider, Soto blew him away with a 99-mph fastball.
In the top of the 10th, reliever Bryan Garcia struck out Gio Urshela and got Gleyber Torres to ground out, which moved free runner Judge to third. Rogers, who had just made a run-saving block on a pitch in the dirt, completely missed a change-up that was up and fading away, allowing Judge to score.
“There is preparation, some buy-in and some belief and it gets all mixed in and we show up ready to play,” Hinch said. “I’m proud of this team. We’re going to post and we’re going to play all 27 outs. It’s going to be our identity. This is going to be our culture.
“Have we been successful enough? Not yet. But it is fun to experience the good times when we put it all together like we did tonight.”