Minneapolis — When wins are as elusive as they’ve been for the Tigers this season, you can’t always follow conventional paths.
“We’re trying to score runs,” manager AJ Hinch said after the Tigers salvaged the final game against the Twins with a heart-stopping 4-2 win in 10 innings Wednesday. “We don’t have the luxury of trying to be perfect and have roles in the bullpen and just sit back and wait for the big hit.
“It’s not been an easy stretch.”
The Tigers went into this game without a starting pitcher, with their every day shortstop as the designated hitter and the designated hitter on the bench. They used their closer in the eighth inning. By the end of the game, the left fielder was playing shortstop and the starting shortstop who had hit two home runs was pinch-hit for.
It was a little bananas.
“We needed to find a way to push runs across,” Hinch said. “We haven’t played that team very well and we’re going to play them a lot next week. You’ve got to stand up and fight for yourself a little bit.”
All four Tigers runs came off the long ball.
Harold Castro hit a pair of solo homers, the second a 423-foot blast into the upper tank in right-center field that tied the game at 2 in the top of the eighth inning.
Then, after the they squandered a golden scoring chance in the top of the ninth, Jeimer Candelario, with the free runner on second in the top of the 10th, ambushed a first-pitch 97-mph fastball from Twins reliever Trevor Megill and sent it onto the berm over the center field.
“That’s what I want right there,” Candelario said. “I want to be consistent with that swing — be on time, throw the barrel to the front and let the ball and the barrel do the job. That’s what I’m trying to do. If I can be consistent with that, it’s going to be great for the team.
“Thanks to God I was able to contribute today.”
Getting the final three outs was arduous, though.
The Tigers used seven relief pitchers to get through the 10 innings. Rony Garcia started and gave the Tigers four solid innings. The only blemish was a 92-mph fastball that Trevor Larnach blasted 431 feet into the seats in right for a two-run homer.
Wily Peralta pitched two scoreless innings and Joe Jimenez struck out the side in the seventh. Down 2-1, Hinch decided to use fresh-armed closer Gregory Soto in the eighth.
“We knew we were going to have to extend a few guys, Soto being one of them,” Hinch said. “We were going to be pretty aggressive with Soto in the eighth regardless.”
Ideally, Soto would have pitched the eighth and ninth, but with one out in the ninth, he hit pinch-hitter Kyle Garlick. Hinch went to Alex Lange. Lange, who pitched on Tuesday, struck out hot-hitting Gio Urshela and with runners at the corners got Humberto Celestino to ground out.
Hinch then had to get through the 10th with Michael Fulmer and lefty Andrew Chafin. And in three batters, the Twins loaded the bases. Starting with the free runner at second, then Willi Castro, just moved in from left to play short (explanation for that coming) made a throwing error and Luis Arraez singled.
Fulmer, undaunted, responded by striking out Carlos Correa.
“I knew what I had to do,” he said. “Either get a ground ball or punch him out.”
It looked for a second that he might have hit Correa with a 1-2 sinker that came up and in. It hit the knob of Correa’s bat.
“Close call on that,” Fulmer said. “It sounded like it hit bat and they didn’t challenge it. I knew he was going to expect a slider there so I wanted to run one up and in trying to get the ground ball. It all worked in the end. I got him to chase a slider away.”
Chafin entered to face dangerous left-handed hitting Max Kepler, who has hit four homers in six games against the Tigers this season. Chafin struck him out chasing three sliders and then got Gary Sanchez to foul out to Spencer Torkelson.
“With the lefty coming in, I knew I was pretty much going to go slider, slider, slider, slider until we got the results we wanted,” Chafin said. “Fortunately enough, he was swinging at everything but the rosin bag.”
The Tigers bookended the 3-5 trip with wins and snapped a five-game losing streak against the Twins. It was just the Tigers’ fifth win in 25 games at Target Field.
“Bullpen days are exciting, but you’ve got to use a lot of guys,” Hinch said. “So it’s also costly because we have another 12 or 13 games before another day off.”
In a perfect world, Hinch would not have had Willi Castro playing shortstop in the ninth and 10th innings of a close game. He would not have inverted his late-inning relievers. He certainly wouldn’t have taken Harold Castro out of the game after he’d hit two home runs.
“I don’t know if I ever pinch-hit for someone who hit two homers, probably not,” Hinch said.
It happened because Castro’s next turn to bat came in the ninth inning. The Tigers had the bases loaded and one out against lefty Caleb Thielbar. And Miguel Cabrera, who did not start the game, was available off the bench.
“We’re trying to win the game and we have the best match-up imaginable with Miggy coming off the bench against a lefty who has dominated left-handed hitters and struggled against righties,” Hinch said.
To that point, right-handed hitters were hitting .282 and slugging .462 off Thielbar, while lefties were hitting and slugging .095.
“We got the match-up we wanted,” Hinch said. “Bases loaded, nowhere to put him and Miggy put up a really good at-bat.”
Cabrera worked the count full then took a borderline pitch at the bottom of the zone. Home plate umpire Charlie Ramos rang it up, called strike three. Cabrera was furious and replays showed the ball was below the strike zone.
And the consequence of pulling Castro out of the game was to put the Tigers in a precarious spot defensively going into the bottom of the ninth and into extra innings.
“With Baez the DH and a three-man bench, it’s almost impossible to utilize your strongest defense,” Hinch said. “Willi can play short, he just made a bad throw. In an attempt to win the game, sometimes you’ve got to do some things that aren’t perfect.
“But the guys hung in and still found a way to win.”