‘This one stings’: Tigers waste Candelario’s late homer, lose 3-2 against Astros

Detroit News

Houston — If there is anything to be learned from last season, it’s that you don’t hang your head this early in the season.

So when left-handed hitting Kyle Tucker rolled a single off lefty Gregory Soto to the shift-vacated left side of the infield — a place he hardly ever hits a baseball — to bring home the winning run in the Astros’ 3-2 win over the Tigers Thursday night at Minute Maid Park — the mood in the visitors’ clubhouse was somber but not defeated.

“This is a tough one, obviously,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “Any way you slice it, this one stings. More than most. But I am proud of our guys. We competed. We stayed with it…It speaks to the grit this team has.

“I wasn’t here last year but when I played against this team, it was something I admired — it was never easy, never any backing down or letting up. There’s lots of baseball left to play. I know the saying, ‘It gets late early,” and I understand that. But we playing better. We played a clean game tonight. It just didn’t go our way.”

BOX SCORE: Astros 3, Tigers 2

The Tigers lost for the ninth time in 11 games. They are eight games under .500 (8-16). And the sudden loss came just two three hitters after Jeimer Candelario hit a dramatic, two-out, two-strike, two-run home run in the top of the ninth off Astros closer Ryan Pressly to tie it.

“Tough loss, tough league,” AJ Hinch said, his first loss back in Houston as the Tigers’ skipper. “I hope the energy from the top half of the ninth inning will carry over to tomorrow.”

Miguel Cabrera, who had three hits and passed Al Kaline on baseball’s all-time hit list (3,008), was on first with two outs in the ninth. Pressly tried to flip a curve ball on a 1-2 count to Candelario.

“With two strikes, you don’t want to look for a pitch,” Candelario said. “You want to look for a strike. With two strikes you don’t want to get surprised, just be short to the ball.”

The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 105 mph and traveled 383 feet into the seats in right field.

“We haven’t been getting the big hit, but I thought our at-bats were better tonight,” Hinch said. “Then Candy got the big hit. Great job by our guys hanging in there and fighting. But we were in trouble from the very beginning in the bottom of the ninth.”

More: Mental approach gives Tigers reliever Andrew Chafin big advantage: ‘It’s all in your head’

Candelario’s homer, as it turned out, was but a short reprieve for the Tigers.

Yordan Alvarez, another left-handed hitter, led off against Soto and blasted a ball high and deep to left-center field. He stood at home plate admiring the ball flight, only to watch it bounce of the high wall — he watched his home run turn into a leadoff single.

Astros manager Dusty Baker pulled Alvarez for a pinch-runner (Chas McCormick). Later, Alvarez apologized to Baker, with Baker telling the media, “Lesson learned.”

Soto then walked Yuli Gurriel and gave up the walk-off single to Tucker.

“We just need to do a little bit more to win,” Hinch said.

Tigers lefty starter Tarik Skubal, who gave up 35 home runs last season, hadn’t allowed a single one in four starts. Then Astros perennial All-Star Jose Altuve sent the first pitch of his fifth start here Thursday night 413 feet off the signage in left-center field.

But that blast and another by rookie Jeremy Pena (off a hanging curve ball) leading off the fifth inning was all the damage Skubal tolerated, striking out nine without a walk in six strong innings.

More: Ex-Tiger Justin Verlander ‘not exactly the same as I was’ after Tommy John surgery

“Just keep staying aggressive,” Skubal said. “The first pitch of the game, you tip your cap. Obviously that’s not where I wanted it to go, but if he’s going to jump me on the first pitch and run it out of the yard, I’m going to right after the next guy.

“It’s not good to say, but I’ve been there before.”

Skubal kept attacking the strike zone with fastballs, sliders, curveballs and the occasional change-up. At one point in the third inning, his strike-ball count was 31-8. He ended up with 15 swings and misses and 13 called strikes.

More: Mental approach gives Tigers reliever Andrew Chafin big advantage: ‘It’s all in your head’

He got six of his nine strikeouts with firmer-than-usual slider (89-91 mph) that he was locating up in the zone.

He’s the first Tigers starter to post nine strikeouts without a walk since Matthew Boyd did it twice in 2019. On the season, Skubal has 29 strikeouts and three walks.

He left at 90 pitches after six innings, trailing 2-0 and probably deserving of a happier fate.

“I felt like I threw the ball well, but it doesn’t matter — we lost,” Skubal said. “If I don’t give up those two runs, the two-run bomb we hit in ninth is a game-winning homer. All that matters is winning.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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