ST. LOUIS — Detroit Tigers rookie Tarik Skubal recorded strikeouts for his first seven outs.
He finished Wednesday’s outing with 10 punchouts, pushing his season total to 144. When he struck out Harrison Bader in the fifth inning, the 24-year-old put himself two away from a tie for second place among all Tigers rookies — held by Spencer Turnbull with 146 in 2019 — and 12 away from tying Les Cain’s 156 in 1970 for No. 1.
Had it not been for St. Louis Cardinals slugger Paul Goldschmidt hitting a pair of solo home runs, Skubal would have lined the Tigers up for a victory and two-game series sweep at Busch Stadium. But those scenarios — winning and sweeping — didn’t become a possibility until the top of the ninth against Cardinals reliever Alex Reyes.
After Miguel Cabrera’s two-out pinch-hit double to the right-field corner, pinch-hitter Harold Castro singled up the middle. Third base coach Ramon Santiago stayed aggressive, waving Cabrera home from second base to tie the game at two runs.
The 10th, though, didn’t go as the Tigers would have liked. With Michael Fulmer on the mound and the bases loaded, Cardinals rookie Lars Nootbaar delivered a walk-off single with two outs. His slow-rolling hit to right handed the Tigers a 3-2 loss.
“That was a really good baseball game,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “And we got beat. They did more than we did.”
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The Tigers (61-67) squandered an opportunity in the top of the 10th when Harold Castro — the free runner on second base — forgot to tag up on Jonathan Schoop’s deep line-drive out to right field. Robbie Grossman drew a four-pitch walk, but with Castro still stuck on second base, Jeimer Candelario grounded into a double play.
“He’s got to get to third,” Hinch said. “Your responsibility as the runner is to get to third. It was a tough play for the right fielder, but you’ve got to end up at third base there. He thinks the ball is going to hit off the wall and he’s not going to be able to score. You have to make sure you score that run. Obviously we had a couple more at-bats and chances at it, but it turned out to be a pivotal play.”
In the bottom of the 10th, Hinch intentionally walked Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado to load the bases with one out. Paul DeJong grounded a pitch to second baseman Willi Castro, who threw home to catcher Grayson Greiner and eliminated the lead runner.
That’s when Nootbaar ended the game with his single.
The Tigers’ first run scored in the fifth, when Schoop followed Derek Hill’s two-out double with an RBI single to right field. In the eighth, Schoop faced righty Giovanny Gallegos and opened the inning with a double to left, but the Tigers stranded him with three consecutive outs.
Detroit went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position, only managing two runs on 11 hits.
At the plate, on the mound
Skubal made his MLB debut in the batter’s box, following fellow rookie Casey Mize in Tuesday’s 4-3 win under National League rules. He finished 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and didn’t swing the bat until he reached two-strike counts against lefty starter Jon Lester.
On the mound, Skubal struck out 10 for the second time this season. (The left-hander previously struck out 11 on June 5 against the White Sox in Chicago.) He joined Alek Manoah and Triston McKenzie as the only MLB rookies with multiple double-digit strikeout games in 2021.
Carrying the Tigers through five innings, Skubal allowed two runs on three hits and one walk.
“He was awesome,” Hinch said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve seen this out of him, so I’m not surprised the least bit. He was very efficient. He pounded the strike zone. Tip your cap to Goldschmidt. He got two really good swings off him — one off a heater up and one off a backdoor breaking ball. For a while, those were the only two swings that looked good at all. … Tarik did a hell of a job. I was super impressed by his outing.”
Skubal vs. Goldschmidt
The first matchup between Skubal and Goldschmidt happened with one out in the first inning.
Looking to steal a first-pitch strike, Skubal tossed a 94 mph fastball — one of the slowest fastballs during his start — near the top of the strike zone. Goldschmidt belted the offering 427 feet over the wall in left-center.
“That’s exactly where I wanted the ball to go,” Skubal said. “He just kind of jumped me.”
With two outs in the bottom of the third, Goldschmidt stepped back in the box.
Skubal got ahead in the count with a first-pitch slider for a strike before turning to his knuckle curve. He didn’t seem interested in throwing Goldschmidt a fastball. Despite a seemingly well-located curve, Goldschmidt drove the ball 368 feet the opposite way.
“It could’ve been more down, sure, but I’m trying to go backdoor with a breaking ball right now,” Skubal said. “That’s just what happened. He stayed on it and flipped it. I mean, he’s a good hitter.”
The home runs were Nos. 20 and 21 for Goldschmidt in 2021, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. In their final matchup, Skubal threw seven pitches. Goldschmidt, a six-time National League All-Star, popped out to Schoop at first base after swinging at a fastball to end the fifth.
Skubal threw 62 of 85 pitches for strikes.
He picked up 17 swings and misses, doing so with his four-seam fastball (6), two-seam fastball (5), slider (2), knuckle curve (2) and changeup (2). He only threw his knuckle curve and changeup seven and six times, respectively.
Skubal has struck out at least four batters in 19 consecutive outings, for the longest streak for a rookie in team history.
“I just felt like my fastball had a lot of life on it today,” Skubal said. “Being able to execute and get ahead, I think I did a pretty good job of throwing first-pitch strikes. The fifth inning got a little long on me, just because I was throwing a lot more balls than I had prior. But yeah, I felt good out there.”
Bullpen gets work
Taking over for Skubal, reliever Alex Lange made his 21st appearance this season.
He quickly retired Dylan Carlson and Arenado but hit DeJong with a 96 mph fastball and walked Edmundo Sosa. Both free passes came with two strikes. After a mound visit from pitching coach Chris Fetter, Lange got Bader to fly out to right field on a first-pitch fastball to complete the sixth inning.
Joe Jimenez worked around a hit batter and a single, striking out Matt Carpenter (94 mph fastball), Goldschmidt (85 mph slider) and Carlson (94 mph fastball). Despite a 6.14 ERA this season, Jimenez has worked scoreless outings in 10 of his last 11 appearances.
Jose Cisnero and Gregory Soto pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.