Milwaukee — Jonathan Schoop had it right. It stinks to lose a game like this, but it doesn’t have to leave any scars.
“I think we played good baseball,” the veteran second baseman said after the Tigers were walked-off in the bottom of the 10th, losing 3-2 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday. “Our bullpen pitched great. Losing is tough, but when you lose, you’ve got to take the good things out of it and come back tomorrow.”
This was a mismatch on paper. The Brewers were throwing their ace, Corbin Burnes, and the Tigers, well, they were throwing the kitchen sink, Johnny Wholestaff — a bullpen game to fill the slot of injured starter Jose Urena.
But this is why they go ahead and play the games on the field.
This was a battle, kind of throwback, pre-designated hitter style game with stingy pitching, great defense and even sacrifice bunts.
The Tigers offset a strong six innings from Burnes with five scoreless innings (three by recently called up Rony Garcia) and when Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo launched a solo home run in the seventh inning off reliever Trevor Richards, it was a 2-2 game to be settled in extra innings.
After Brewers reliever Brad Boxberger struck out Robbie Grossman and Harold Castro, both looking, to strand a runner at third in the top of the 10th, the Brewers’ Luis Urias stroked the game-winning single to the gap in right-center off Jose Cisnero, snapping the Tigers’ three-game winning streak.
“It brings excitement,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said of starting the extra innings with a free runner at second base. “You’re immediately in scoring position. It brings some of the fundamentals back — you saw both teams bunt trying to score one run. Starting the runner at second base is probably here to stay.
“Unfortunately, they got the big swing and we didn’t.”
While the plan was always for this to be a bullpen game, the carousel wasn’t supposed to get started in the second inning. But you don’t always get to pick when your opportunities will arise against a pitcher like Burnes. You just have to be ready to take advantage when they do.
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out against Burnes in the top of the second. Not ideal in a bullpen game in a National League park where pitchers have to hit. But there it was. A single by Schoop, a double by Victor Reyes and a walk to Baddoo and the Tigers were knocking.
But they were at the bottom of the order. When No. 8 hitter Jake Rogers struck out, Hinch had to decide between letting starting pitcher Tyler Alexander bat, something he’s never done in his college or professional career or use a pinch-hitter and elongate the string of relievers.
“Trying to score a run off Burnes isn’t easy, so when you load the bases you’re going to take a shot,” Hinch said. “To me, whether (Alexander) went one or two innings, we knew we were going to pitch five, six, seven guys for the day.
“That didn’t bother me the least bit.”
He went for the run. But Burnes got pinch-hitter Nomar Mazara to bounce out to first.
“I’m not sure there was any way to avoid that,” Hinch said. “I will never complain about having the bases loaded against one of the better pitchers in the league. We’re going to take a shot and try to score a couple of runs.
“We probably would’ve gone two or three innings with Tyler, but who knows how the game would’ve played out.”
The rationale was solid. The Tigers mustered only one other scoring chance against Burnes — and on that one they cashed.
With two outs and Castro at third base in the top of the sixth inning, Schoop, a former Brewer, hit two long foul fly balls, both hooking just outside the foul pole in left field. The first one was close enough that Hinch asked for a review, but the ball was clearly foul.
But on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Schoop lined a single to left that broke a scoreless tie.
“He’s tough,” Schoop said of Burnes. “I’ve been through this a lot. It wasn’t the first home run ball I hit foul. I just have to keep hitting. When I hit it foul, just forget about it and be ready for the next pitch.”
Schoop had his third straight multiple hit day and since May 15 is hitting .333 (21 for 63) with three homers and 10 RBIs.
Garcia, the Tigers Rule 5 pick in 2020, allowed only a walk in his three innings taking over for Joe Jimenez. He followed Alexander, who struck out a pair in the first. He was recalled on Sunday to replace reliever Bryan Garcia who was optioned to Triple-A Toledo.
“That was my first live look at him,” Hinch said. “He’s not scared. He throws strikes. He’s able to move the ball around. He did a good job. It was unfair to him that he had to hit and he came back on three-days rest (after pitching Friday for Toledo). But we needed those innings. It was huge for us.”
Garcia, who has never swung a bat in professional career, whiffed horribly trying to bunt three 97-mph cutters from Burnes.
“That’s unfair to him,” Hinch said. “I’ll go on record, I prefer the DH. We’re an American League team, we prefer the DH. Our pitchers are at a disadvantage. … But those are the rules we play with. No excuses, but I prefer the DH.”
The Brewers two runs came on one swing off lefty Daniel Norris in the sixth. Former Tigers prospect Willy Adames knocked a two-run home run to left field.
Right-hander Kyle Funkhouser, pitching for the third time in four days, struck out four in two scoreless innings, sending the game to the ninth inning still tied. Funkhouser has punched out 11 in 12.2 innings this month.
After the Tigers were dispatched in the top of the ninth by All-Star closer Josh Hader, Gregory Soto, the sixth Tigers reliever, came out throwing fire in the bottom of the ninth. He struck out Christian Yelich with a 101-mph heater and got the game to the 10th.