MINNEAPOLIS – Andrew Chafin began his Wednesday afternoon standing in the rain at Target Field, holding an umbrella and talking on the pregame show for the YouTube broadcast. A few hours later, he was standing on the mound with a storm he inherited — bases loaded, one out and Tiger-killer Max Kepler at the plate with a two-run Tigers lead.
It wasn’t an easy move for A.J. Hinch, but the Tigers manager’s day was filled with tough calls.
“We needed to find a way to push this one across,” Hinch said. “We haven’t played [the Twins] very well. We’re going to play them a lot next week. And you’ve got to stand up and fight for yourself a little bit.
“Guys are trying to do anything and everything to end the day on a positive note.”
They put up a fight. And as they headed out of the Twin Cities with a 4-2 win — their first victory at Target Field in six tries this season — the combination of relief and reward was evident.
“It’s always nice to have a W, and it’s always nice to have a happy flight,” said Jeimer Candelario, whose go-ahead two-run home run in the 10th inning was the difference.
On a day when the Tigers ran out a procession of relievers, Chafin was the seventh and final arm. Michael Fulmer, who struck out the Twins in order in the eighth inning of a 2-0 loss Tuesday night, began the 10th with a runner on second and a two-run lead against the top of the Twins’ order, but a Willi Castro error and Luis Arraez single loaded the bases.
Fulmer struck out Carlos Correa for the second consecutive game, but he wasn’t going to face Kepler, who has hit four of his six home runs this season off Tigers pitching.
Enter Chafin, who took a walk-off loss in Monday’s series opener on an infield single.
Said Chafin: “I knew I was pretty much going to go slider, slider, slider, slider, slider until we got the result we wanted. Fortunately enough, he was swinging at everything but the rosin bag.”
Chafin threw five consecutive sliders to Kepler, four of them below the strike zone. Kepler fouled off one and missed three. Up came right-handed hitter Gary Sánchez, who saw three sinkers before popping out behind first base on a running catch from Spencer Torkelson.
“This is a great win for everybody,” Chafin said. “Hitters stepped up when we really needed them to. It was fantastic. It was a bullpen day from the beginning, so I felt like we went out there and tried to do our part, and everything seemed to click today.”
Chafin’s save was one of several bold moves:
Small ball until Hittin’ Harold goes homering
The Tigers haven’t been a big bunting team this season aside from Derek Hill, but they combined for five bunt attempts in five-plus innings against Twins starter Dylan Bundy. Hill had two, but so did Candelario, on consecutive pitches in the fourth inning. Both went foul. The one bunt from the Tigers that stayed fair was Willi Castro’s drag bunt for a single to lead off the fifth inning.
“If they continue fielding us that way, we’re going to take the bunt,” Candelario said. “We want to create momentum. We want to have men in scoring position. We want to be on base. So if they give it to us, we’re going to take it.”
Hill nearly took a run with his legs. He beat Carlos Correa’s throw to turn what looked like a routine grounder into an infield single leading off the third, then stole second base. Harold Castro’s groundout moved him to third, then he took off when Bundy’s 1-2 breaking ball to Jonathan Schoop got past the catcher, Sánchez. Hill was called out at the plate, a call that stood after replay review, though it wasn’t clear whether Sánchez’s tag made contact.
“My only question to the home-plate umpire was: Did he actually see a tag?” Hinch said. “Replay’s fine, but if you don’t get it right on the front end, it’s hard to correct on the back end.”
After all the small-ball, ironically, both Tigers runs in regulation came on solo homers for Harold Castro, leading off the sixth and eighth. Castro came back up in the ninth with the bases loaded against lefty Caleb Thielbar, when …
Hittin’ Harold becomes Sittin’ Harold
While Castro was hot, he faced a difficult lefty-lefty matchup against Thielbar. Though Miguel Cabrera was 1-for-6 in his career against Thielbar, Hinch wanted the right-handed bat with experience on big hits rather than the hot hand.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever pinch-hit for somebody that has two homers,” Hinch said, “but that’s the perfect scenario with Miggy on the bench.”
Cabrera worked a full count against Thielbar before taking a borderline pitch around the bottom of the strike zone, garnering a called third strike from plate umpire Charlie Ramos. Cabrera was irate as he returned to the dugout.
Once Schoop flew out to right, the Tigers had to replace Harold Castro at shortstop. Javier Báez was at designated hitter, so rather than lose the DH slot, the Tigers moved Willi Castro in from left field to short, where he played for most of his pro career. His throwing error in the 10th put Byron Buxton on base before the Tigers escaped.
Soto for the 8th
Once the Tigers tied it in the eighth, closer Gregory Soto retired the middle of the Twins’ lineup in order. He came back out for the ninth before hitting pinch-hitter Kyle Garlick with one out, prompting Hinch to bring in Alex Lange, who ended the threat by retiring Gilberto Celestino with runners at second and third.
“Going into a bullpen game, we know we’re going to extend a few guys,” Hinch said, “Soto being one of them that’s available to be extended.”
The Tigers’ bullpen depth became crucial after that. Once Chafin ended the 10th-inning threat, it paid off.