Detroit – Pretty electric night at the old ballpark Saturday. Maybe the most electric night in a few years.
“Let me start by saying thanks to the fans for coming out and creating such a great night,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said after the Tigers completed a doubleheader sweep of the Twins with a walk-off, 5-4 win in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The Tigers had invited a large throng of former players, several generations deep, and they were scattered about in suites wearing their jerseys. The Jumbotron kept showing Phil Coke inciting the crowd from the balcony throughout the late rally.
“It was the first time it really felt like kind of an opening day atmosphere,” Hinch said. “It was a little bit of a slow game and they stayed with it and were all on their feet at the end when we walked it off.
“I know they’ve been waiting a long time to come back to the ballpark and we’re trying to earn their respect. They really created a nice vibe for us tonight.”
It was the largest crowd since July 24, 2019, a lively 31,624. The Tigers had eked out a 1-0 win in the first game and the teams battled into extra innings in the nightcap.
A most unlikely walk-off was their reward.
“I’ve seen this kind of crowd here before when I was with the Orioles,” said Jonathan Schoop, whose single in the eighth tied the score. “Last year we couldn’t see them. Now we see them. This was a really great crowd. Loud, cheering for us, We had to get it done for them.”
The Twins had taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth without the benefit of a hit. A controversial hit-by-pitch call and a wild pitch by reliever Joe Jimenez put the Tigers in the hole.
“It was disappointing to have them score without putting a ball in play,” Hinch said. “Joe had done such a good job in his back-to-back innings. We felt like we had the right matchup (Jimenez against right-handed hitting Ryan Jeffers) and he had plenty left in the tank.
“Then he threw it to the backstop. That’s a deflating feeling.”
The bottom of the eighth started with speedy Derek Hill on second base as the free runner. With one out and Schoop at bat, Hill boldly stole third base on Twins lefty closer Taylor Rogers.
“We wanted him to run,” Hinch said. “We wanted him to be aggressive…We felt like we could run on Rogers if we needed to. It was a one-out risk, but you have to risk it to be able to score in a lot of different ways.”
Turned out to be a conventional single to right field by Schoop.
“(Hill’s steal) was big, really big,” Schoop said. “It brings the infield in and I’m going to hit with less pressure. The pressure is on the pitcher now. I calmed myself a little bit, just trying to hit the ball no matter where it goes. Just hit it hard.”
Then came the walk-off. With two outs, Miguel Cabrera, with two strikes, lifted a fly ball into shallow center. Statcast had a hang time of six seconds on the ball. Center fielder Nick Gordon was playing deep to cut off extra base hits and neither middle infielder could get to it.
The ball fell and Schoop raced around to score the winner.
“I knew they were playing deep because they wanted to catch it even in the gap,” Schoop said. “I just said, I’m going to run as fast as I can so if it drops I’m going to score. I showed I have some wheels when I need to (laughs).”
The Tigers have swept doubleheaders from division rivals twice in the last three weeks, taking two in Cleveland on June 30. This was especially sweet for the Tigers after the Twins swept four from them at Target Field before the All-Star break.
“We weren’t really happy them walking us off, so we had to pay them back,” Schoop said. “We take it personal. We got two tonight and we’ve got another one tomorrow. We’ve got to come get it tomorrow.”
Schoop’s hit was the Tigers’ first since the second inning.
Rookie Akil Baddoo delivered the first three runs off Twins starter Kenta Maeda with one clutch swing in the second inning — belting a bases-loaded triple into the gap in right-center field.
Hill played a role in that, too.
The Tigers trailed 1-0 and Maeda walked Jeimer Candelario to start the inning. With two outs, Zack Short looped an opposite-field single to right to keep the inning alive. Maeda got two quick strikes on No. 9 hitter Hill and then lost control of a splitter.
Hill never moved, taking it in the arm, loading the bases for Baddoo. And Baddoo made sure Hill’s courage wasn’t in vain. He jumped a 1-0 splitter and produced his American League-leading fifth triple.
With starting pitcher Jose Urena going on the injured list between games with a groin strain, the Tigers rotation has essentially two vacancies. Tyler Alexander put in his application for one of those spots in Game 2 Saturday night.
The left-handed Alexander went 3 1/3 innings and left with a 3-2 lead.
The only damage against him came from the bat of Josh Donaldson, who knocked in the first run with a two-out single and belted his 14th home run of the season, a 413-footer into the left-field seats leading off the fourth.
“We were trying to steal a couple of extra outs and get him close to 50 pitches,” Hinch said. “Barring a change, he’s likely to be our starter that last game against Texas (Thursday). We might change our mind, but that was the thought.”
Alexander threw 48 pitches, the most he’s thrown in an outing since he threw 56 on June 10.