On a rainy Sunday afternoon in Chicago, the Detroit Tigers mustered a late rally to pull away from their AL Central foe and end the 2021 season with a 5-2 victory.
The Tigers wrapped up their year by playing all the young’uns. Miguel Cabrera, Robbie Grossman, Jonathan Schoop, and Jeimer Candelario all got the day off and spent the game cheering on their younger, or less established, teammates from the dugout. The tarp was on prior to the game, and there was plenty of rain in Chicagoland, but for the most part it was never more than a brief drizzle during the game.
Harold Castro got the start at first base, while Willi Casto handled second base. Zack Short handled the six, while Isaac Paredes manned the hot corner. With Niko Goodrum as designated hitter, and Eric Haase, Akil Baddoo, and Daz Cameron left to right in the outfield, this wasn’t the A offensive unit.
They did score first in this one, something that has been a bit of a challenge over the season’s final week. With two outs in the first inning, Harold Castro, hitting in the three hole, drilled a triple to the wall in center field, and Eric Haase followed with an RBI double to make it 1-0 Tigers.
Starter Tyler Alexander would have his work cut out for him with a flimsy lineup on his side, but fortunately he was up to the task. It didn’t start off so well, however, as Luis Robert mashed a solo shot in the bottom of the first to tie things up.
The second inning was relatively routine, but in the third, the Tigers began setting up one of the themes of the day: the desire to test Yasmani Grandal’s arm. With one out, Harold Castro singled, and then he stole second with Haase at the dish. Haase struck out, but a wild pitch moved Castro to third. Unfortunately a screaming line drive to center field off the bat of Niko Goodrum went right to Luis Robert in center field.
Alexander escaped a little trouble in the bottom half of the third as well. With two outs, Tim Anderson reached first on a throwing error from Zack Short. Alexander pitched Robert carefully, eventually walking him, but the lefty bounced back, getting Yoan Moncada whiffing over a cutter for the first strikeout of his outing.
Daz Cameron led off the fourth with a walk, and then he too put Grandal to the test, stealing second base just ahead of the throw. The Tigers went quickly from there, and Alexander quickly retired the Sox in the bottom half of the inning.
Tony La Russa turned from Dylan Cease to Michael Kopech in the top of the fifth, a rather strong display of spectacular young power arms. Akil Baddoo greeted him with a single, and then Baddoo ran as well, stealing second without much trouble for the Tigers third stolen base on the day. In the process he set the Tigers up to manufacture a run, and they managed to score him. Isaac Paredes lined out deep to left, and Baddoo advanced to third, then scored on another fly ball to left from Harold Castro. Eric Haase struck out to the end the inning, but the Tigers had taken another slender lead.
Alexander managed to hold it, despite allowing three singles in the bottom of the fifth. A double play ball off the bat of Andrew Vaughn saved the Tigers bacon there.
In the sixth, both pitchers dialed up their best stuff, with both Kopech and Alexander racking up three strikeouts apiece. Willi Castro tripled into the right field corner with two outs, but was stranded, while Alexander walked Zack Collins, who took over at the start of the inning for Grandal. Still, there was no damage to either side.
All in all this was another outstanding effort from Tyler Alexander, aka Todd the Painter. Six innings, with one run allowed on just four hits, with two walks and four strikeouts on his ledger. He was greeted warmly outside the dugout by his teammates for high fives and mustache gestures.
The Tigers went 1-2-3 in the seventh, and A.J. Hinch, in let everyone play mode, turned to Drew Hutchison. That didn’t go well. Adam Engel led off with a double, and Vaughn singled him home on the first pitch he saw. Hutch got Cesar Hernandez to pop out, but Tim Anderson singled, and Chris Fetter came out for a discussion. It didn’t help much, as Hutchison walked Luis Robert to load the bases. However, mercy of mercies, Yoan Moncada grounded to Harold Castro at first with the infield in. Castro fired home for the force, and then Dustin Garneau caught Anderson too far off the bag at third. The Tigers got him in a rundown, and it was Harold Castro who eventually got the tag after some back and forth.
The ol’ 3-2-5-1-6-3 double play is always a classic. Still, we were now tied up and the only plus there was that Craig Kimbrel, Garrett Crochet, and Liam Hendricks were likely to be rested for the postseason. That didn’t help in the eighth, as Ryan Tepera got a gift strike three call above the zone on Haase, and the Tigers went in order.
At this point, another look at the crazy AL Wild Card chase was in order. With Boston and New York tied to hold both berths, the Mariners and the Blue Jays needed to win and get the two AL East titans to lose in order to snatch a wild card berth.
Toronto won big to stake their claim, while the Red Sox and Mariners were losing to the Nationals and the Angels in the late innings, respectively. Meanwhile the Tampa Bay Rays ran out their best starting lineup in a clear middle finger to the New York Yankees, and those two clubs were locked in an 0-0 tie entering the ninth inning. The double tie-breaker scenario was still in play.
Joe Jimeñez got the call in the bottom of the eighth. He started off well, freezing Collins on a slider for a called strike three as the rain began to thicken again. Eloy Jimeñez then drew a walk, but Leury Garcia lined out to Baddoo in center, while Engel was blown away, whiffing at a fastball for strike three.
The White Sox turned to Reynaldo Lopez in the top of the ninth. The Tigers badly needed runs, and it was the rookie right fielder who delivered. Daz Cameron took a 2-0 heater and smoked it out to right field for his fourth home run of the season, and then Tigers had a one run lead. They were also saved, at least temporarily, from a rain delay with extra innings to follow. No one wants to end the season like that.
Willi Castro followed with a single, and Dustin Garneau drilled a double to left. Eloy Jimeñez had trouble handling the wet ball and Castro roared around to score from first, and the Tigers led 4-2. A passed ball moved Garneau over to third, and Lopez walked Zack Short to put runners on first and third, still with no outs.
Akil Baddoo found a pitch to lift the other way, flying out to left as Garneau tagged and scored from third to make it 5-2. Isaac Paredes popped out for the second out of the inning.
Meanwhile, over in Tampa, the Yankees walked off the Rays 1-0 to lock up the first AL Wild Card berth. Boston was tied with the Washington Nationals in the late innings, holding their fate in their hands. A victory would lock up the second spot. A loss would leave them in a winner take all game against the Toronto Blue Jays, with the possibility that a Mariners victory would create a three-way tie.
Back in Chicago, Harold Castro reached on an Moncada error to put two on with two outs, but Haase popped out to second base. And so the Tigers carried a three-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Angry Mike was warming, looking for the save to send his team into the offseason on a high note.
The rain was really coming down at this point, and Fulmer was working hard to keep control of the baseball and dealing with a muddy mound. After a little battle, he got Andrew Vaughn to fly out to the warning track in right field. Cesar Hernandez singled, the rain kept building, and the strike zone started getting just a wee bit bigger as the umpires desperately wanted to avoid a delay. No doubt the White Sox were fine with it.
Gavin Sheets popped out to third on a tricky play where the ball came back toward the middle of the diamond late. Isaac Paredes over-ran it initially, but launched himself backward at the last moment and just snared it. That left just Billy Hamilton left for Fulmer to get, and he quickly did so.
Your 2021 Detroit Tigers finish with a record of 77-85. This whole season was a massive leveling up across the whole organization after so many stagnant years. The CBA negotiations could put a wrench in things, but this is going to be a hugely important offseason for the ballclub.
We look forward to bringing you all the news, rumors, and analysis as the team tries to take the next step. Thanks as always for joining us here at Bless You Boys. It’s been a really fun year, possibly the most entertaining since Jim Leyland left the Tigers dugout, and all the better for having you all here with us to enjoy it. Heading into an offseason with optimism is a beautiful, long-lost feeling, and we look forward to bigger, better things in 2022.
Odds and Ends
AJ Hinch: “I’m very grateful for the players and for the opportunity here. Ultimately, the season was progress. I’m never going to celebrate too much because we’re going home, but I think it was a great year.” #Tigers
— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) October 3, 2021
So barring something wild, Akil Baddoo finishes the year with the 4th best wRC+ by a Rule 5 pick since 2000.
Josh Hamilton 130
Odúbel Herrera 111
Dan Uggla 110
Akil Baddoo 108
Jay Gibbons 106
Mark Canha 105
Not bad for a kid who never played above A ball.
— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrown0914) October 3, 2021
Spencer Torkelson finished his monster pro debut season in style, mashing home run number 30, accumulated across three levels this year. The big man concludes his campaign with a whopping 91 RBI in just 121 games, with a .267 batting average and a .935 OPS. He’ll have every opportunity to earn a spot on the Tigers’ roster next spring. Either way, it won’t be long.