Once again, the Tigers got pretty good work from their bullpen, while struggling at the plate. Still, the offense took advantage of some Pirates mistakes, they played good defense, and ultimately the Tigers took Game 1 by a score of 3-2 on Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park.
Michael Pineda got the start, and he had some trouble early on. It took him nearly 60 pitches to get through the first two innings as the Pirates worked deep counts, rapped a pair of singles, and drew two walks. A double play ball that Javy Báez fielded to the first base side of second base, ran to the bag, and fired to first, got Pineda out of a little trouble in the second frame.
A rare Báez walk in the first, and a two-out single from Willi Castro in the second inning were the Tigers only baserunners through two as lefty Dillon Peters kept them in check.
It was Báez coming through defensively again in the third. A one-out Ben Gamel single brought Brian Reynolds to the dish. Pineda fed him a fastball and Reynolds spanked a ground ball up the middle with the strong lefty shift on. The ball skipped off second base, but a diving Báez knocked it down, then shoveled it between his legs to Candelario at second base for the force. That play, and more efficient work from Pineda after that point, kept him in line to give the Tigers a solid start.
Pineda finally settled in a bit in the fourth, racking up a pair of strike outs. A pair of one-out singles in the top of the fifth ended his outing, as AJ Hinch turned to Alex Lange. Lange immediately fell behind 3-0 to Gamel, and came back with two fastballs in the zone. Unfortunately the second one was smoked up the right-center field gap for a two-run triple. Lange did punch out the final two hitters of the inning to avoid any further trouble, but the Tigers were down 2-0.
Fortunately, they came right back with a little help from the Pirates. Jeimer Candelario finally got rewarded on a line drive, leading off with a double. Willi Castro reached on an error from Tucker at shortstop. Tucker Barnhart struck out, but Akil Baddoo walked. Robbie Grossman drove one 400 feet to center field for a sacrifice fly, and both Castro and Baddoo tagged an advanced as Candelario scored. With two outs, it was up to Báez. He chopped a one-hopper to Ke’Bryan Hayes at third, and Hayes waited for the hop and had to rush to get Báez at first. Instead, he completely whiffed on the hop, the ball went into left field, and Castro and Baddoo raced around to make it 3-2 Tigers.
Jacob Barnes managed to get three quick outs despite the ongoing lack of strikeouts. Three sharp ground balls right at Tigers’ infielders resulted in a swift half inning for Barnes. The Tigers went 1-2-3 in the bottom half.
Andrew Chafin was once again nonchalantly effective in the top of the seventh. Michael Chavis grounded out, and then Cole Tucker screwed himself into the ground chasing Chafin’s slider for strike three. A nice catch on a foul pop-up against the netting by Spencer Torkelson ramped up the frame.
Akil Baddoo put a little pressure on the Pirates with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. He dumped a single into left-center field, then stole second with ease. An ill-advised high throw went into center field, and Baddoo cruised over to third. Still there were two outs, with Robbie Grossman at the dish. Grossman lined one just foul down the right field line, but ultimately swung over a curveball for strike three to strand Baddoo at third.
Derek Hill took over in center field in the top of the eighth, moving Baddoo to left, with Willi Castro out of the game for defensive purposes. Michael Fulmer spun a quick frame, getting three pretty routine outs, and potentially keeping himself fresh enough to pitch in Game 2.
The Tigers went quickly in the bottom of the eighth in another pretty dismal offensive performance. Three hits, two of them singles, and two walks against a weak set of pitchers did not impress anyone. However, they had a one-run lead, and that put the game in Gregory Soto’s hands.
Soto punched out Daniel Vogelback to lead things off. Vogelbach didn’t like the call but he was wrong so no one cared. Soto got Diego Castillo down 1-2, and interestingly, Javier Báez came to the mound to tell Soto something. Whether it was about Castillo or about his own mechanics, Soto seemed to listen and got Castillo on a routine fly ball to center field. That left just Roberto Perez, pinch hitting for Yoshi Tsutsugo. Soto finished Perez with a pair of 99 mph heaters on the outer edge, collected the save, and the Tigers came away with a 3-2 victory.