Pittsburgh — It was a rough Labor Day for the Tigers. In the morning they learned that pitcher Joe Jimenez and bench coach George Lombard tested positive for COVID-19 and three other coaches would have to leave for quarantining because of contact tracing.
“It’s just something you’ve got to deal with,” shortstop Niko Goodrum said. “That’s why we went through the vaccination process so we don’t have to lose too many guys to contact tracing. It’s just stuff you have to deal with, stuff that’s going on in the world and just move forward.”
Then the game happened.
The Pittsburgh Pirates put up a four-spot against reliever Kyle Funkhouser in the bottom of the seventh and ended a six-game losing streak with a 6-3 win against over the Tigers at PNC Park.
“It’s part of the day,” manager AJ Hinch said of the COVID news. “The day-game part was a little bit new for a first game of a series. But credit those guys. Pittsburgh put together two big innings and some really good at-bats by the bottom of their order.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk about our day. They beat us and won the big moments of the game.”
The seventh inning started ominously for Funkhouser.
He’d pitched a clean and quick sixth inning, but he walked Ben Gamel to start the seventh. And balked him to second. After a single and a nine-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Colin Moran, he was in a bases-loaded, no-out mess and he was at 25 pitches.
Ke’Bryan Hayes and Yoshi Tsutsugo both rapped two-run singles to flip the game for the Pirates.
“This game was winnable on both sides,” Hinch said. “They did more than we did.”
The Tigers had taken a 3-2 lead in the sixth.
Down 2-0 against Pirates starter Bryse Wilson, Robbie Grossman ripped a one-out double. After Jeimer Candelario worked a walk, Eric Haase singled to load the bases.
Goodrum, whose season has been chopped up by injuries, ambushed a first-pitch slider and hooked it past first baseman Tsutsugo into the right field corner.
“He threw me four change-ups and a fastball in my first at-bat and then got me with that cutter-slider pitch my second time,” Goodrum said. “I had a feeling that might be what he wanted to do again and try to get a double-play ball.
“I’m just trying to react to a pitch, but I had an idea he’d want to go to that pitch again and I was able to put the barrel on it.”
Miguel Cabrera, who is expected to start at first base on Tuesday, came off the bench and delivered a first-pitch sacrifice fly to put the Tigers up 3-2.
“At the end of the day, you still have to play baseball, you still have to do your job,” said Tigers’ starter Tarik Skubal when asked about the impact of learning of the positive tests. “I don’t know if the vibe or the energy was any different. We addressed the situation and moved on, just doing our jobs to stay safe and be smart through this whole thing.”
Skubal, like fellow rookie Casey Mize, will close out the year as a de facto opener as his workload is restricted in the final month of his first full big-league season.
He threw 50 pitches in three innings, and there was probably just one he’d like back. He threw a 94-mph fastball right through the heart of the plate to the second hitter of the game, Kevin Newman, and he blasted into the seats in left-center field.
“It’s just unfortunate that’s the one pitch I get beat on,” Skubal said. “I left it too middle. I wanted to go up and in with the sinker and it didn’t quite get there. Later in the game I did exactly what I wanted to and I got two punch-outs with that pitch.
“Unfortunately, that pitch got run out of the yard. I need to be better early.”
That two-run home run was all the damage Skubal allowed. He gave up four hits in the first inning, then retired eight straight through the third.
Skubal has given up more runs in the first inning (18) than any other inning he’s worked.
“I’ve talked to (pitching coaches) Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves about it already,” Skubal said. “Maybe it’s a mentality thing. Maybe not trying to find the feel so much and just go attack guys in the first inning.
“There are a bunch of different things I can take away from this game.”
After the game, the Tigers optioned right-hander Drew Carlton back to Triple-A. Carlton pitched two scoreless innings Monday.
Jimenez, too, was placed on the COVID injured list. The Tigers are likely to call up two pitchers before the game Tuesday.