Detroit — Earlier in the season, manager AJ Hinch wouldn’t play his rookie outfielder Akil Baddoo against left-handed pitching — lefty vs. lefty with Baddoo, who hadn’t played in two years and not ever above High-A ball, was not in his or the team’s best interest at that point.
Then, as Baddoo progressed through the season, Hinch started giving him a few starts against lefties, usually batting him at the bottom of the order on those days. When Baddoo was going good at the plate, he’d challenge him by giving him more work against lefties, though he still tried to protect him against the especially nasty ones.
When he felt Baddoo was scuffling, as he has recently, he started him only against right-handers.
But on Tuesday, Baddoo, who was hitting .257, started and batted leadoff against a seasoned lefty — White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who won a Cy Young Award when he played for Hinch in Houston. It is at least some measure of his development that Baddoo responded with two RBI singles in two of his first three at-bats.
The two hits helped erase a 2-0 lead and reset the game before Niko Goodrum’s two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the seventh broke the tie and sent the Tigers to a 5-3 win over the Central Division-leading White Sox.
It was the Tigers’ fourth straight win and their fourth straight series against a first-place team that they’ve either won (Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, Chicago) or tied (Tampa Bay).
The White Sox gifted the Tigers five free bases in this game, including two uncontested steals of third base. It was an uncontested double-steal that led to two tack-on runs in the seventh.
Goodrum stole third and Daz Cameron took second without a throw. Victor Reyes cashed in both runners with a single to right field.
The Tigers posted 16 hits in the game. Reyes had four. He also stole third without a throw. Cameron had three hits and a walk.
The weather conditions added a strange dynamic to this game — which was moved up six hours, to 1:10 p.m. because of a daunting forecast. The game started in a wet mist thick enough to obscure the Renaissance Center building that usually towers proudly beyond the stadium confines.
The combination of the weather and time change served to keep the crowd down to a scattering of diehards — a large, vocal percentage rooting for the visitors..
It seemed early on like the Tigers and White Sox might’ve been trying harder to beat the rain than each other. Then it became a race to break to the tie — first one to three, with the rain supposedly coming, wins.
Baddoo came within inches of putting the Tigers ahead in the sixth off another lefty — reliever Jace Fry. With Reyes on third and nobody out, Baddoo hit a ground ball up the middle against a drawn-in infield. Shortstop Tim Anderson, whose error put Reyes in scoring position, fielded the ball and made a strong throw home across his body.
Reyes was initially called safe at the plate, but it was overturned by replay. Reyes’ hand tagged catcher Yasmani Grandal’s foot, not the plate.
It was the second Tigers’ runner cut down at the plate. Jonathan Schoop was thrown out (also by Anderson on a relay from the outfield) trying to scored from first on a double by Robbie Grossman.
The White Sox were squandering chances and leaving runners every inning (13 total runners left on base).
Tigers’ lefty starter, Tyler Alexander, soldiered through five high-traffic innings. The White Sox hit him hard (average exit velocity of 92 mph on 19 balls in play with just three swings and misses), but they didn’t break him.
Alexander stranded a runner at second in the first and fifth, got a clutch 5-4-3 double-play with the bases loaded and one out in the third (after two run already had scored) and got a boost when Yoan Moncada was thrown out at third in the fourth after a textbook relay.
Moncada, leading off the inning, drove one to the base of the wall in center. Victor Reyes ran it down and made a strong throw to cut-off man Goodrum in short left field. Goodrum fired to third baseman Jeimer Candelario who made a quick tag to get him.
A two-run single by Luis Robert, after a single by Cesar Hernandez and a double by Anderson set the table, was all the damage Alexander allowed. He left a tie game after five innings.
The Tigers wriggled out of a jam in the sixth inning, too. Lefty Ian Krol put himself in a bad spot with a throwing error to start the inning. Then after he struck out Adam Engel with a runner on third and one out, he walked No. 9 hitter Hernandez ahead of the dangerous Anderson.
Hinch brought in right-hander Bryan Garcia, who we last saw allowing a walk-off three-run home run to Tampa’s Brett Phillips. Garcia got Anderson to ground out to end the inning.
Jose Abreu just missed his 30th homer of the year in the top of the seventh, sending a Garcia pitch to the fence in left-center. Baddoo got back, reached and caught it.
With two outs in the eighth, right-handed rookie Jason Foley gave up a double and a walk, which brought Anderson to the plate as the tying run.
Hinch brought in Michael Fulmer, who gave up an RBI single before getting out of the inning and then closing out the ninth and completing the four-out save (his 11th).