St. Petersburg, Fla. — Manager AJ Hinch said his ballclub wouldn’t sulk, sag or pout after blowing a three-run lead in the ninth Friday night and getting walked-off. He wasn’t lying.
“We’ve been this way, it’s not a surprise to me that we showed up today with a lot of energy in the clubhouse, a lot of banter, the same music,” Hinch said after the Tigers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 Saturday. “We were here to play today’s game. Our guys always respond in a good way.”
They came smoking out of the gates against Rays lefty Ryan Yarbrough. Jeimer Candelario blasted a two-out, three-run home run, 436 feet to dead center field. Catcher Dustin Garneau led off the second inning with a solo shot inside the foul pole in left and the Tigers were up 4-0.
“Like I always say, you’ve got to turn the page,” said Candelario, who has 16 homers on the year. “Come to the park expecting to win and that’s what we did today. We bounce back fast.
“I think we’ve got a short memory.”
That would become evident in the ninth inning.
The Rays, as you would expect from the winningest team in the American League, whittled the Tigers’ lead to a skinny run, but the bullpen did what it couldn’t do Friday — it locked it down.
Kyle Funkhouser retired Ji-Man Choi with two on in the eighth and then Michael Fulmer, who was tagged with the three runs and the blown save on Friday night, got his redemption.
“He’s tough, he can handle a lot,” Hinch said of Fulmer. “It’s impossible to get into that situation and not have some semblance of flashback to last night.”
Fulmer put the first two hitters on in the ninth — walking Mike Zunino and hitting Joey Wendle. Garneau walked out to the mound as Brett Phillips, the Rays’ walk-off hero from Friday night, stepped into the box.
“He was amped up out there, throwing it a million miles per hour,” Garneau said. “When he starts yanking balls like that, I just want him to get back to being over the plate and being in control.
“After that, he’s got lights-out stuff.”
Fulmer struck out Phillips, which brought the dangerous Yandy Diaz to the plate. Diaz blooped a two-run single off Fulmer Friday. This time, Fulmer got him to bang into a game-ending 4-6-3 double-play.
“We’re not getting blown out, we’re in games, we’re playing hard games and we’re losing tough games like last night,” Garneau said. “It hurts more than getting blown out. You are right there against a playoff team. But the way we responded today was just awesome.
“It’s what you want to see.”
The Tigers are now 35-33 in games against playoff contending teams. They are 22-19 in one-run games. And, they are 62-54 since May 8.
Garneau, who has hit five home runs in 13 games since the Tigers re-acquired him last month, played in the postseason with Houston last year and was with the Oakland A’s when they were on the verge of getting back to the playoffs.
He sees similar traits in the Tigers’ clubhouse.
“When I was with the A’s in 2017, we lost 90 games,” he said. “But when I went home at the end of the year and told my wife that they were going to be a playoff team in 2018, which they were. I don’t have a crystal ball or anything, but you could see where they were going.
“The way this team has changed and the way the clubhouse has changed, they are definitely going in the right direction to be a contender, in my opinion.”
One downside to the win Saturday, though, was another injury to center fielder Derek Hill.
Leading off the fifth inning, Hill dropped a bunt. Running at full speed, he hyperextended his left knee as his heel hit the back of the bag at first. He spun and landed on the back of his head.
He lay motionless for several seconds while the Tigers’ training staff tended to him. He was carted off the field, then wheelchaired through the tunnel underneath the stadium.
“He was pretty banged up,” Hinch said. “There’s concern about his left knee.”
There was no head injury, Hinch said, and Hill was undergoing tests on the knee.
“I don’t know how he avoids the injured list just given where we are in the season,” he said.
Rookie Tarik Skubal pitched the first three innings for the Tigers. The only mistake was a 94-mph fastball that he left over the plate to Jordan Luplow in the second inning – two-run home run. Skubal allowed only one other hit.
His streak of consecutive games with at least four strikeouts ended at 22, though. He punched out two. The 22-game streak is the longest by a big-league rookie since 1893.
Jose Urena took over in the fourth and gave up one run in 3.1 strong innings. The first batter he faced, Manuel Margot, walked and eventually scored on a double-play grounder by Ji-Man Choi.
Margot, who started the Rays’ ninth-inning rally Friday, had three hits and a walk.
Urena struck out four and left with a runner at second and one out in the seventh. Alex Lange cleaned that up and got the Tigers to within six outs of a win.
The Tigers’ offense shut down after the second inning. Yarbrough, who had been tagged for 14 runs in 4.1 innings in his two previous outings in September, retired 13 straight through the sixth.
They did not get another hit, and had just two more base runners, after the second inning.
“It was a good win for us,” Hinch said. “We did a lot of things right today.”