Phoenix – The Tigers were in position to get out of the desert with a sweep Sunday. A two-run triple by Willi Castro, a clutch, two-out RBI knock by Robbie Grossman and a three-run home run by Eric Haase had the Tigers up 6-5 going into the bottom of the fifth.
Given the way the bullpen locked down the first two games of this series (8 2/3 scoreless innings), that skinny lead felt somewhat secure. It was not. After allowing just one run in 23 innings, the bullpen blinked. Big-time.
The Diamondbacks scored six runs in the fifth and sixth innings to take the finale from the Tigers, 11-7.
“We were kind of a mess on the mound,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said after the game. “Which is unusual. We’ve been able to throw strikes and get out of the messes that we’ve created. Today was the opposite.
“When you go to the pen that early, you are asking a lot of guys to be good. Seemed like we were not able to execute when we needed to.”
After Haase’s blast — 433 feet to left on a first-pitch slider from right-handed reliever J.B. Wendelken — Arizona loaded the bases against reliever Wily Peralta with no outs. Two of the runners reached on walks.
Peralta got a big strikeout against Daulton Varsho and limited the damage to a run on a sacrifice fly by Carson Kelly. Varsho would redeem himself an inning later.
He highlighted a five-run sixth inning by crushing a 435-foot, three-run home run off a misplaced change-up by Tigers’ right-hander Will Vest.
“More than anything, it’s just we got beat today by not commanding the strike zone,” Hinch said. “And that’s unusual for us. (The bullpen) has carried us for a lot of the season and given us a chance to win a lot of games. Today wasn’t our day. We didn’t pitch in, we didn’t pitch up, we didn’t get ahead in the count and we didn’t finish at-bats.
“You’re not going to win when that happens.”
By the time the dust settled on this one, the Beau Brieske homecoming storyline became a footnote. It didn’t go well.
“Frustrated and disappointed,” Brieske said when he was asked what he was feeling after giving up five runs in 3 2/3 innings. “Just because I didn’t come close to throwing the ball as well as I know I could have.”
It wasn’t nerves or anxiety that got him. After pitching in Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park already in his rookie season, how nerve-wracking could it be to pitch against his hometown team in the stadium where he went to games with his dad growing up?
No, it wasn’t anything external that stressed him and led to his short outing. The Chandler, Arizona, native was more concerned about commanding his fastball and setting up his change-up and slider.
Both seemed to elude him, specifically in a 30-pitch, two-run third inning.
“I wasn’t as precise with my heater as I usually am,” Brieske said. “That’s what sets me up for success, being able to command the corners so I get ahead in the count. Then when I go to my off-speed, I don’t have to land it for strikes every time. You’ve got no room for error.
“And I was being too fine with my off-speed, especially the change-up. I wasn’t being aggressive in the zone, which is frustrating. I didn’t need to be as fine with the change-up as I was.”
Things got wonky after Brieske led off the third blasting a 1-2 fastball into the left field seats, his first home run of the season. Brieske admitted that he started nibbling the edges a bit after that and the Diamondbacks loaded the bases with a single and two walks.
The inning would have been far worse except for another highlight-reel play by center fielder Riley Greene. Christian Walker, with the bases full, hit a line drive into the gap in left-center. Greene, tracking it to his right, made a diving catch.
If the ball gets up the gap, probably three runs score. Instead, it’s a sacrifice fly scoring one run.
Brieske, though, didn’t survive the fourth inning and ended up being tagged with five runs. The last two runs were scored on a single by Josh Rojas off reliever Alex Lange.
“It got to the point where for us to win this game, we needed to get out of that situation Beau was in, in the fourth inning,” Hinch said. “And we didn’t. Once you go there you have a lot of outs left to cover.”
Walks were an issue all day for the Tigers. Brieske had walked three total in his last four starts. He walked three in less than four innings. In all, they issued eight free passes.
Also lost in the Diamondbacks’ run barrage was another bit of magic from Javier Báez. With a runner at first and two outs in the fourth inning, Ketel Marte hit a bullet right at Báez, who was shifted to the right side of the infield.
He blocked the ball with his chest and shoulder and it caromed up and in front of him. He caught the carom on the run and in the same motion tagged Pavin Smith as he was running to second base.
Worth the price of a ticket, even when he goes 0-for-4.