Detroit — So much of what the Tigers do this year is in the name of development and professional growth and their thrilling 2-1, 10-inning win over the Houston Astros in the series finale Sunday was a testament to that.
Robbie Grossman laid down a bunt, a safety squeeze, that scored Akil Baddoo from third base to lift the Tigers to a split of the four-game series. That was just the capper.
There was a significant growth moment in the bottom of the seventh inning, also involving Baddoo.
They were down 1-0 and had two runners on with two outs. Astros manager Dusty Baker summoned lefty Brooks Raley to face the rookie left-handed hitter Baddoo, who was just 3 for 27 in his career against lefties.
Sound, logical move.
Tigers manager AJ Hinch had both Miguel Cabrera and Eric Haase, right-handed hitters, available to pinch-hit, but he stuck with Baddoo. Unconventional move.
“I want to keep finding ways to challenge him and hitting lefties is the next area of development for him,” Hinch said before the game.
Challenge accepted. Baddoo dunked a single into right field, scoring Willi Castro from second, tying the game.
The first seven innings was a study in the growth and development of rookie left-hander Tarik Skubal — more like an examination in how far he’s come since the start of the season.
The only blemishes on his outing Sunday were self-inflicted — walked three, hit a couple.
The only run he allowed in seven innings came without the benefit of a hit. His fastball was ringing 98 mph on the radar gun. His slider, changeup and curveball were generating swings and misses and keeping the hitters off-balance and off his fastball.
He finished with nine strikeouts (all swinging). He had 21 misses on 44 swings.
Just on those merits, it was a brilliant outing for the lefty. But put it in context of the team he was pitching against and it takes on a greater sheen.
The Astros are the best-hitting team in baseball against left-handed pitching. They lead the majors in average (.291), on-base percentage (.357), slugging (.452) and OPS (.816) against southpaws.
And for seven innings, Skubal locked them up. He gave up one measly first-inning single, which he erased with a double-play ball. Even in the inning where he walked two and hit another, he limited the damage to a run on Carlos Correa sacrifice fly.
Skubal hasn’t allowed more than three runs now in eight straight starts. He’s got 63 strikeouts in his last 44.2 innings.
And yet, he left the game trailing 1-0 because the Tigers’ bats were quelled. First by starter Jake Odorizzi, who allowed just two hits in five scoreless innings.
The Tigers finally broke through in the seventh, Baddoo’s clutch hit cashing in on two walks by reliever Christian Javier.
It looked like the Tigers were going to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth. With runners on first and second, Daz Cameron, who singled in the fifth, drove a ball 417 feet to left-center. Center fielder Myles Straw ran it down just before the wall.
That ball is a home run in 23 other ballparks, according to Statcast.
Reliever Jose Cisnero struck out Yonder Alonzo with two out in the eighth inning and Gregory Soto pitched a clean top of the ninth and dodged a bullet in the 10th to put the Tigers in position to win it.
Astros had runners on second and third with one out and Jose Altuve up. Soto went right after Altuve, getting him to pop out. Soto then dispatched Straw on a 6-3 groundout.