An inch or two here, a foot or a cleat mark there. The Detroit Tigers got beat on the margins by the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.
The first few innings moved along quickly and efficiently. Tarik Skubal set down the first 13 batters he faced, striking out five in the process. Eric Haase continued his dream season with another homer, his fifth in seven games.
Then, little by little, the Tigers saw the game slip out of their grasp as the Twins scooped up a 5-3 victory.
Miguel Cabrera, feeling a little bit spry, tried to make an aggressive play on the base paths just after Haase’s long ball in the fourth. Cabrera tagged up and tried to go from first to second on Jeimer Candelario’s long fly to center.
Cabrera was initially called safe on a close play at the bag. Minnesota challenged and the call was overturned, even though replays shown on the TV broadcast were inconclusive at best.
“If he’s safe, we’re going to love on him. The fact that he’s out makes us question it,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Bang-bang play. I like the mentality, I don’t like the result.”
Skubal’s perfect beginning ended when Ryan Jeffers hit a homer that barely cleared the left-field fence.
Skubal fed Jeffers three consecutive fastballs after falling behind in the count 3-1.
“I just kind of grooved fastballs because I didn’t walk him,” Skubal said. “The one he hit out wasn’t a terrible pitch.”
The Tigers were still up, 2-1, heading into the sixth and had a chance to give themselves a cushion after loading the bases with no out. They only pushed across one run on Zack Short’s walk.
In the bottom of the inning, the Twins had runners on first and second with one out. Nelson Cruz hit a bouncer to third baseman Jeimer Candelario but the Tigers failed to turn a double play as the 41-year-old Cruz beat the throw from second.
“It’s a double play ball and we need to turn it in one fashion or another,” Hinch said.
During the decisive seventh inning when the Twins scored three runs, a fielding mistake and a missed call proved crucial.
Following Miguel Sano’s tying home run, Hinch stuck with Skubal.
Max Kepler hit a bouncer into the shift in shallow right and beat the throw for an infield hit. Gilberto Celestino then hit a grounder to Short, who threw the ball to second baseman Willi Castro. In his haste to try to turn a double play, Castro let his foot come off the bag a hair too soon.
The umpires ruled Kepler safe and Hinch’s challenge proved unsuccessful.
A sacrifice moved the runners up and Jose Cisnero’s wild pitch allowed Kepler to score.
In fact, it was wild enough that the replay showed the pitch actually hit the batter Jorge Polanco. Kepler would’ve been sent back to third with a successful challenge but Hinch was handcuffed when he used up his challenge on Castro’s error.
“There was no talk (with the umpire),” catcher Jake Rogers said. “Cisnero pulled it and I tried to get to it. I didn’t hear anything. I thought it was the dirt.”
The last two runs were unearned and Skubal’s early dominance went to waste.
“I thought my stuff was a lot better than the stat line will show,” he said.
The Tigers had played relatively clean ball while winning six of their previous eight games. Everything just seemed a tad off in the second half of Thursday’s game.
“It has not been our norm,” Hinch said. “You’re reminded quickly if you don’t execute in this game, it can hurt you in the end.”