Jonathan Schoop’s go-ahead grand slam leads Detroit Tigers to 10-4 win over Tampa Bay Rays

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch thought Jonathan Schoop had been grazed on the leg by a second-pitch sinker from Tampa Bay Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge, who took over with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning.

Hinch challenged the call on the field, but the replay review backed the initial ruling from home plate umpire Jordan Baker. Although the pitch came close to Schoop’s leg, it seemingly never made contact with his body.

“I didn’t even wait for the phone because Jonathan was so emphatic about it,” Hinch said. “He started taking his stuff off, so we went right to the headset. … Thankfully, it wasn’t overturned. I’ve never been happier with that outcome.”

“I don’t know why they didn’t see it, but thank God it worked out,” Schoop said. “A bad call that turned out to be a good one.”

Two pitches later, Schoop unleashed on Kittredge’s slider for a go-ahead grand slam.

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Schoop’s grand slam against Tampa Bay’s best reliever gave the Tigers a 7-4 lead, providing the momentum needed to cruise to the finish line. Victor Reyes chipped in a 429-foot three-run homer to complete his team’s 10-4 win over the Rays in Friday’s series opener at Comerica Park.

For the fifth time in his nine-year career, Schoop has crushed at least 20 home runs.

“I was trying to see the ball up and put a good swing on it,” Schoop said. “Fortunately, he left one up and a little bit outside. I put a good swing on it, and the ball went out. … It never gets old, but that one felt good.”

The Tigers (67-75) picked up scoreless outings from Michel Fulmer and Derek Holland in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. The offense scored one run in the fifth inning, two runs in the sixth, four runs in the seventh and three more runs in the eighth.

Back and forth

When Rays reliever J.P. Feyereisen entered for the sixth inning, his first assignment was to contain rookie Akil Baddoo. Three pitches in, Baddoo pelted a changeup to the right-field corner for his seventh triple. Robbie Grossman then drew a one-out walk, later stealing his 17th base to put two runners in scoring position.

And with two outs, Jeimer Candelario delivered.

He belted his MLB-leading 40th double to straightaway center field, driving in two runs for a 3-1 advantage.

“At that time in the game, it felt great,” Hinch said. “Moments later, we were down 4-3. This game made a lot of twists and turns, but we had mature play tonight at the plate and some big pitching that goes unnoticed. … Big night for us because of the way we went about it and the way we had to win tonight. I was very proud.”

But the Rays took the lead again in the top of the seventh. Tigers reliever Jose Cisnero got two outs before loading the bases. Pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi made Cisnero pay for his two walks, doubling past diving center fielder Derek Hill.

Driving in three runs, the Rays went ahead 4-3.

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Haase homers, Miggy streaks

Trailing by one run, Eric Haase crushed his 21st home run this season.

The 28-year-old rookie demolished Rays starter Michael Wacha’s changeup, winning an eight-pitch clash and sending the ball 416 feet to left field (with a 109.3 mph exit velocity). He knotted the score, 1-1, to open the fifth inning.

But Wacha gave the Rays a brilliant performance, tossing up five innings of one-run ball. He gave up just three hits — two to Miguel Cabrera and one to Haase — without allowing a walk, throwing 47 of 68 pitches for strikes.

“He had a really good changeup, and he was using it effectively to get us to chase outside the strike zone,” Hinch said. “I don’t know if we’re going to see him next weekend, but we have to make an adjustment on his front-to-back game where he was able to get us on fastballs and then get us to chase on the changeup.”

Wacha finished with six strikeouts, punching out five in a row during the third and fourth innings: Willi Castro, Hill, Baddoo, Schoop and Robbie Grossman. Cabrera snapped Wacha’s streak with his second single.

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Delivering a pair of singles off Wacha, Cabrera recorded a hit in nine consecutive plate appearances. Reaching the total set a new career record over Cabrera’s 19 seasons, featuring 2,973 career hits. He is 27 hits away from No. 3,000 with 20 games remaining.

“That was incredible,” Baddoo said. “What he’s done in his 19-plus years in the league, it’s ridiculous. It’s definitely a beautiful thing to see when he’s on a roll like that. You can’t stop him when he’s seeing the ball like that.”

Cabrera became the first Tiger with hits in nine straight at-bats since Walt Dropo, who tied an MLB record with 12 hits in a row, in July 1952. He also became the first MLB player to log a hit in nine straight plate appearances since Baltimore Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins did it June 4-6, 2021.

The streak ended in the sixth inning, when Cabrera struck out swinging.

“You look up at the scoreboard and MIggy’s inching closer and closer to some pretty good numbers,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t surprise any of us based on how he prepares.”

Alexander starts

Replacing scratched starter Matthew Boyd, left-hander Tyler Alexander fell into trouble in the first inning. After getting a quick out, the next three batters — Wander Franco (single), Nelson Cruz (double) and Yandy Diaz (walk) — reached safely to load the bases.

It seemed like Alexander would break early against the American League East leaders, but he responded by striking out Brandon Lowe (changeup) and Jordan Luplow (cutter) to escape the jam.

“Nelson Cruz continues to haunt us,” Hinch said. “I thought we were done with him. He gets traded (from the Minnesota Twins) to a team we have seven games left (against) at the time of the trade. He’s difficult and created an inning for them.”

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From that point forward, Alexander pitched his best. After walking Diaz in the first, he retired 11 of the next 13 batters until the fifth inning. He put runners on the corners with two outs in the third but induced an inning-ending groundout.

Leading off the fifth, Kevin Kiermaier put a blemish in Alexander’s streak of dominance with a triple. Two batters later, Joey Wendle delivered an RBI single to center for a 1-0 Rays lead.

“Being able to hang in there during that (first) inning and not having it be a two-spot or a three-spot proved to be very big for us to get into the game,” Hinch said. “I wasn’t going to let (Alexander) face Cruz a third time, so regardless of how that (fifth) inning played out, he was going to come out of the game.”

Before Cruz stepped into the box, Hinch called Kyle Funkhouser out of the bullpen. Despite walking Cruz on five pitches, Funkhouser recorded the final two outs. Alexander allowed one run on five hits and two walks — striking out four batters — over 4⅓ innings. He threw 43 of 69 pitches for strikes, including four swings and misses with his changeup.

After Funkhouser completed the fifth, Alex Lange pitched a scoreless sixth inning. He often struggles with his command, but he executed a pair of strikeouts with his esteemed curveball and did not concede a walk.

Young star exits early

Franco — a 20-year-old rookie shortstop who made his MLB debut in June — singled to start the threat in the first inning, extending his on-base streak to 39 games. When he slid into third base on Cruz’s double, head athletic trainer Joe Benge went out to check on his health.

Franco exited with right hamstring tightness.

Through 62 career games, Franco is hitting .285 with 15 doubles, four triples, seven home runs, 36 RBIs, 22 walks and 35 strikeouts. He was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball last season by MLB Pipeline, ahead of Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson (No. 4 in 2020) and Casey Mize (No. 5).

“He’s an exciting player,” Hinch said before Friday’s game. “I haven’t seen him in person, other than one game in spring. He played in that exhibition game that we had prior to leaving spring training. It was my first look at him. I’ve seen him on TV. I’ve been forewarned by a few managers that he’s a dynamic player and can do a lot of different things.

“Switch-hit talent who can play in the middle of the field and has a little flair, a little style to him. I’m sort of looking forward to seeing him, but I’ve enjoyed him on TV. Now I get to see him up close and in person.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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