Detroit — Rookie right-hander Matt Manning was out of the sixth inning with no damage, about to walk off the mound with a solid, quality start, keeping the Tigers down by just one skinny run.
But what should have been an inning-ending 6-4 fielder’s choice ended up igniting a three-run inning and sending the Orioles to their second straight win over the Tigers before a crowd of 25,132 at Comerica Park, 5-2.
“We didn’t do enough to win the game, bottom line,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We had a lot of empty at-bats early in the game and a critical mistake following a couple of walks. You do that and you put yourself in a hole, it’s not easy to come back.”
Manning walked back-to-back hitters to load the bases with one out. He was at 81 pitches and Joe Jimenez was warm in the bullpen. But Hinch gave Manning the chance to clean up his mess.
“He’s given me that chance multiple times now,” Manning said. “I’m trying my best to get through that third time around the lineup. I got better from the last time. I need to get more consistent and be sharper when I get into those innings where they are seeing me multiple times.”
Manning got Pedro Severino to pop out and Maikel Franco, who had homered off him in the fifth, to roll one to Zack Short at shortstop. Short’s throw to second was knee-high and catchable, but second baseman Willi Castro dropped it.
One unearned run scored on that play and two more scored on an opposite-field single by No. 9 hitter Pat Valaika.
“It was a huge step forward for him,” Hinch said. “He did his part. I wish it were different results for him at the end when he gave up that hit after the error. But those two at-bats, the pop-up and the ground ball, those are big development moments for him and he made his pitches.
“But at the end of the day, we didn’t get it done and we’re a team. I was happy how he threw the ball and he responded to that traffic at the end of his outing.”
The Tigers, as they seem to do every night, didn’t die without a fight. This time they did it against the same reliever they rallied against in the loss Friday night — lefty Tanner Scott.
He faced four hitters without recording an out Friday and he loaded the bases (two walks and a hit batter) with no outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Right-hander Cole Sulser was summoned, as he was Friday. He limited the damage to a run (on a ground out by pinch-hitter Akil Baddoo).
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Hinch said. “Brought the tying run to the plate but we had some rough at-bats at the end (Derek Hill and Jonathan Schoop struck out). It’s hard to win at this level in general, but when you make the mistakes that we did and have the empty at-bats we did, it’s even tougher.”
Manning, though he created the mess in the sixth, probably deserved a better fate. He’d allowed two runs on five hits through five innings and seemed to be in control of most of the at-bats, deftly mixing four-seam and two-seam fastballs and sprinkling in sliders, change-ups and curveballs.
“He’s showing a lot of maturity with every start,” catcher Eric Haase said. “Even his two-seam was backing up and acting more like cutter and that played well into some of the stuff he was doing.
“The only time he got beat was when he missed the spot by a wide margin. We make a play behind him and it’s a completely different ballgame.”
He gave up a run in the third inning on a two-out, broken-bat single by Ryan Mountcastle — a ball that center fielder Derek Hill just missed after a long run and full-out forward dive.
In the fifth, Franco turned on an 0-1 four-seamer (93 mph) and knocked it into the Tigers’ bullpen in left field.
But in the sixth, he was facing the heart of the Orioles lineup for the third time.
“That’s the hardest part about starting — going into games and figuring out what’s working for you and find out what they’re looking for and trying to be creative and keep pounding the zone,” Manning said. “If I don’t get two walks in the sixth, we have no problem.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, weren’t able to sustain any kind of an attack against Orioles lefty John Means. The only damage against him in six innings was a solo home run by Haase with one out in the fourth.
He jumped a first-pitch fastball, up and probably out of the strike zone, and got the barrel on it for his team-leading 18th home run.
“He threw me a couple of fastballs up the at-bat before,” Haase said. “I was going to give him anything away. I was looking up and in and trying to get on top of a heater.”
This was Means’ third start since coming off the injured list. In the previous two, he’d been tagged for nine runs in 11.2 innings. But his change-up was extremely effective against the Tigers’ all right-handed lineup, working off a 93-mph four-seam fastball.
The four balls put in play against the change-up, all outs, had an average exit velocity of a meek 76 mph. All told, the Tigers had an average exit velocity on eight balls in play off Means of 79 mph.
The two losses to the rebuilding Orioles came after the Tigers had won 10 straight at Comerica.