ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — One day after the Detroit Tigers collapsed in the ninth inning and were beaten in the 10th by a three-run walk-off home run, Jeimer Candelario delivered a bomb of his own, launching a two-out, three-run homer to center in the first inning of Saturday’s showdown against the American League’s best.
Candelario’s sixth home run in his past 16 games — giving him 16 this season to go with an MLB-leading 40 doubles — gifted the Tigers an early advantage in a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
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The Tigers (71-78) set up Candelario’s blast with back-to-back singles from Akil Baddoo and Jonathan Schoop to start the game against Rays left-handed starter Ryan Yarbrough. (Baddoo earned a rare left-on-left start.)
The homer from Candelario traveled 436 feet with a 108.5 mph exit velocity.
Catcher Dustin Garneau helped the Tigers’ pitching staff, but he also contributed with his bat in the second inning. He got ahold of a cutter — the same pitch type Candelario went yard on — and lined a 362-foot solo home run down the left-field line for a 4-0 lead.
Garneau has a career-high five home runs in 14 games. His previous best was three home runs across 35 games with the Los Angeles Angels (28 games) and Oakland Athletics (7 games) in 2019.
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By the fourth inning, though, the Rays had cut the Tigers’ lead to 4-3.
In the seventh, rookie right-hander Alex Lange entered from the bullpen with one out, aiming to hold the one-run lead following strong outings from lefty starter Tarik Skubal and righty reliever Jose Urena. He inherited a runner on second base and, despite a hit-by-pitch, recorded two outs with eight pitches.
Once Yandy Diaz’s deep fly out was caught by left fielder Robbie Grossman, Lange unleashed a fist pump and bounced back to the dugout.
Right-handers Kyle Funkhouser and Michael Fulmer teamed up for scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to give the Tigers their first win of the four-game series. In the ninth, Tampa Bay’s first two batters — Mike Zunino (walk) and Joey Wendle (hit-by-pitch) — reached safely, but Fulmer responded by striking out Brett Phillips and inducing a game-ending double play.
The Tigers have a chance to split with Wily Peralta on the mound in Sunday’s finale.
In the fifth inning, Tigers center fielder Derek Hill exited the game with an injury. He was called out on a bunt because of batter interference. Upon crossing first base, he collided with first baseman Ji-Man Choi, took a tumble on the artificial turf and did not get up. A cart drove him behind home plate, and he was taken off the field on a wheelchair.
The details of his injury are unclear.
Skubal’s limited start
Making his third planned short-start in September, Skubal cruised through the first inning on 10 pitches.
In his previous outing, Sept. 12 against the Rays at Comerica Park, he also pitched a perfect first frame, followed by two more scoreless innings by the 24-year-old rookie. This time, though, the Rays jumped on him in the second with Jordan Luplow’s two-run home run over the left-field wall, trimming the Tigers’ lead to 4-2.
Luplow drove Skubal’s 94 mph fastball 389 feet to put Tampa Bay on the scoreboard. It was the third fastball of the three-pitch at-bat. Skubal has allowed 32 home runs in 29 games (27 starts) this year.
He finished with two runs allowed on three hits and no walks across three innings. He struck out two and delivered 30 of 41 pitches for strikes. In the third, he worked around a two-strike, two-out single from Randy Arozarena.
Meanwhile, Yarbrough kept the Rays in the game by retiring the final 13 batters he faced through his six innings of four-run ball. Following Baddoo’s second-inning single, the Tigers couldn’t reach base against Tampa Bay’s starter.
The Rays replaced Yarbrough with righty reliever Collin McHugh in the seventh.
Next up: Urena
To match Yarbrough, the Tigers turned to Urena in the fourth inning.
He put himself in a hole by walking Manuel Margot on five pitches and allowing a single to Luplow, which put runners on the corners. Although Choi grounded into a double play, the Rays easily scored their third run.
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From that point forward, Urena didn’t struggle. He struck out three of the next four he faced and carried the Tigers through two outs in the seventh inning. The 30-year-old ex-starter posted 3⅓ innings of one-run ball, conceding two hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
Of Urena’s 51 pitches, 29 went for strikes.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.