The Tigers built an early lead in this one, and while it got dicey here and there, they held on to take the game by a final score of 4-3.
Things got off to another volatile start on Saturday. Akil Baddoo didn’t lead off with a homer like he did on Friday, but he did show off a nice piece of hitting, tracking a nasty sweeping slider moving away from him and lining it into right field for a leadoff single. Jonathan Schoop smashed a hot grounder to third, and while Yandy Diaz made a nice diving stop, he initially turned to throw to second where he had no chance and by that point there was no play at either base.
Robbie Grossman was then called out on as bad a strike three call as you’ll ever see. It was all the more galling because Grossman has one of the best eyes for the strike zone in the game. Miguel Cabrera grounded into a force of Baddoo and third, and we were not happy.
However, Jeimer Candelario was also displeased, and he promptly expressed all of our frustrations by bombing one out to center field for a three-run homer.
A lead acquired, Tarik Skubal came out in the bottom of the first and got three quick ground ball outs to turn things right back over to the offense. Dustin Garneau led off the second, and continued this new Tigers tradition of catchers who mash. The solo shot to left was Garneau’s fifth since being called up just a few weeks ago, and marked the 39th home run from Tigers’ catchers on the year. That is the second most in baseball behind Kansas City who have benefitted from Salvador Perez’s outrageous 45 home runs, all but one of their total this season.
Beyond Garneau, the Tigers got another single from Baddoo, but no more in the inning.
Skubal unfortunately couldn’t shut down the Rays. A leadoff single from Manuel Margot brought Jordan Luplow to the dish. In a 1-1 count after staying away with the first two pitches, Garneau set up middle-in for a fastball, for some reason, and Skubal threw it exactly where Garneau wanted it. That appeared to be Luplow’s sweet spot, as he turned and casually smoked it into the left field seats to cut the lead in half.
Skubal cruised from there, retiring six of the next seven he saw to get through the third, and his outing was over. Jose Ureña came on for the fourth, and he quickly got into some trouble. He walked Margot to start the inning, and then allowed a line drive single to Luplow that sent Margot to third base. Ureña got the double play ball off the bat of Ji-Man Choi, but the run scored to pull the Rays within one. Mike Zunino struck out to end the inning.
The fifth inning brought nothing but pain and sorrow. Derek Hill led off with an apparent bunt single down the first base line, but Yarbrough fielded it and shoveled it right at Hill’s back. First baseman Choi had to reach for the ball, but Hill was already well ahead of the toss. Choi’s glove hand hit Hill, knocking him off stride and his foot slid across the bag, stopping cold when his cleats hit the dirt, and Hill rolled his ankle as he came to a sudden spot. His ankle or knee was clearly in bad shape, as he couldn’t stand up and had to be carted off the field.
Adding insult to injury, the home plate umpire called Hill out for interference, presumably because he was inside the first base line most of the way to the bag. The throw was coming almost from directly behind him. The Tigers went in order from there, with Victor Reyes taking over in right field and Baddoo sliding over to center. All in all this whole half inning had me capable of chewing nails and spitting bullets. Just awful all around.
Ureña settled in for a 1-2-3 bottom of the fifth. Likewise, the Tigers went quickly and quietly in the top of the sixth. In the bottom half, Ureña pitched around a two-out Margot double without much difficulty. Again, and really since Garneau’s homer to start the second inning, the Tigers offense was completely silent.
Ureña lost his release point in the seventh, walking Choi on four straight pitches to start the inning. However, Chris Fetter came out for a short conversation—I’m starting to wish Chris Fetter would come out and talk to me when I have a problem—and Ureña dialed it back in to punch out Zunino. Garneau continues to clang easily catchable pitches with disturbing regularity and strike three bounced off his glove allowing Choi to move to second base. Settle down with the framing just a bit, Dustin.
At that point A.J. Hinch emerged from the dugout to turn things over to Alex Lange. Lange got Joey Wendle off-balance with a changeup and he popped out softly to right field, but then nicked Brett Phillips on the thigh with a heater that got away from him. So it was Lange versus Yandy Diaz, and Lange won, getting a somewhat scary fly ball off the bat that was ultimately caught without issue by Grossman.
The Tigers continued to put together a lot of bad plate appearances. They were swinging at everything and couldn’t put up much of a fight against Rays’ pitching as a result. Victor Reyes and Akil Baddoo struck out to start the eighth, Baddoo on a somewhat questionable checked swing call. Jonathan Schoop drew a walk, the first of the day for the Tigers, but Grossman flew out to center field.
Kyle Funkhouser took over in the bottom half, and quickly got Randy Arozarena on a swinging bunt right in front of home plate. Garneau pounced quickly, spun, and fired a strike to first for the out. Brandon Lowe bounced one back to Funkhouser on a checked swing for the second out of the frame, but Funk threw a pretty bad 0-2 pitch to Margot, who lined the fastball into center field for a single. Austin Meadows got a fastball away first pitch and went with it, lining one to left for a single. That brought up Choi needing only a single to likely tie the game. Funkhouser got ahead 1-2 and then jammed him with a heater to turn the Rays away.
This, as many in the game thread and on social media told us, would have been a great time to score some runs. Michael Fulmer was getting loose for the save chance, but a little breathing room would help. The Rays brought in Joey Krehbiel, and Miguel Cabrera struck out to start the ninth. The Rays pitched around Candelario a bit, issuing a walk. Niko Goodrum ripped a grounder down the first base line, but it was right at Choi, who knocked it down and got the out at first. And so it was up to Garneau with Candy at second base and two outs. Unfortunately, Garneau struck out after a seven pitch battle, and so the game was in Fulmer’s hands.
It didn’t go smoothly, but all’s well that end’s well. Fulmer looked to have struck out Mike Zunino on a checked swing, but the Tigers again had a tough call go against them. Fulmer then yanked a slider into Joey Wendle’s foot, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Fulmer waxed sorely pissed at that point, and he took it out on Brett Phillips, blowing him away for the first out of the inning. Yandy Diaz was next, and Fulmer got him to ground out weakly to second base, and Willi Castro and Niko Goodrum turned it over nicely for the double play to put this one to bed.