Cleveland — The baseball hasn’t much bounced the Tigers’ way this season. But it did Tuesday in their 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Guardians.
The Tigers won a pivotal challenge in the first inning that led to a three-run head start at Progressive Field and they prevailed on a controversial umpire’s call in the bottom of the ninth to preserve it.
“I think the call was right,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “But I totally understand Tito defending that call. I would have been just as angry if it went the other way.”
Guardians manager Terry Francona, aka Tito, and center fielder Myles Straw were ejected in a wild bottom of the ninth.
Down 4-3, rookie Tyler Freeman led off with a ringing double to left field off closer Gregory Soto. He was bunted to third by Austin Hedges. Soto struck out Straw on a foul tip that catcher Tucker Barnhart caught.
The initial call by home plate ump Lance Barksdale was foul ball.
“I knew I caught it,” Barnhart said. “With the tying run on third, it was a slider in the dirt. I had to sell out to block it just to keep us in the lead. But I knew I caught it. But as I juggled it a little bit I asked Lance, can you check if I caught it? I didn’t know if he could even do that.”
Barksdale asked to see the ball, looking for dirt or scuff, evidence of the ball hitting the ground. There was none. After meeting with the other umpires, Straw was called out.
As Francona was ejected by Barksdale and Straw had to be restrained from going after third base umpire Alan Porter, replays on the giant scoreboard showed clearly that Barnhart caught the foul tip.
“Those are hard,” Hinch said. “One of us is probably getting tossed there. The foul ball, it’s hard for anyone to see. They’re looking at it from 100 yards away on the corners. And it’s not reviewable. We saw some replays that he caught it but you can’t go to replay.
“Lance’s initial reaction was uncertain so he looked at the ball, kind of an old-school trick to see if it had any dirt on it. But we got the call. … As big as that at-bat was in the game, it was worthy of that emotion.”
Soto retired Steven Kwan to earn his 22nd save.
“To win a one-run game against a really good club like this is pretty rewarding,” Hinch said.
It all started with an overturned call at the plate in the first inning.
With two outs, Javier Báez drew a walk, something he does only 4% of the time, and stole second (one of his two steals in the game). Harold Castro hit a ground ball up the middle that second baseman Andres Gimenez was poised to field and convert the final out of the inning.
But the ball caromed off the base. Báez slowed up rounding third and looked back to see where the ball was, even though third base coach Ramon Santiago was waving him in. Shortstop Freeman pounced on the carom and made a strong throw to the plate.
Báez was called out, but Hinch alertly asked for a video review, challenging the home plate collision rule. Indeed, catcher Hedges was in the running lane blocking Báez’s path to the plate.
“It’s a tough rule,” Hinch said. “I can see why their side would be frustrated. That’s not the play that rule was designed for. But when we saw he was in front of the plate, we were going to have them take a look at it. And we got the call.”
The call was overturned and the Tigers went from walking off scoreless to scoring three runs in the inning, two on the second home run in two days by rookie Kerry Carpenter.
“I feel for Austin, just catcher to catcher,” Barnhart said. “There is so much gray area in how that play is called. It’s a hard play because you have to be so aware of where you’re standing. That’s where the umpires will be looking initially — where you are standing and not where the ball or the play takes you.
“You have to be super aware of where you’re at and everything is happening so fast. Fortunately it went our way.”
It was a heck of an at-bat by Carpenter. Guardians starter Zach Plesac got ahead 1-2, but Carpenter smartly laid off a changeup that faded just out of the strike zone. The next pitch was a 91-mph four-seam fastball and Carpenter put a charge into it, sending it 429 feet over the wall in right-center — almost exactly where he hit his first big-league homer on Monday.
“It’s just getting my timing back,” he said. “It was just off the first couple days for some reason. But once I felt it last night again, I felt the getting up early, on time and being able to control it so I can adjust to any pitch that they throw.
“It gives me the ability to swing at pitches I want to swing at, adjust to pitches. So when I’m right, it feels really good, and it felt really good again tonight.”
Carpenter added a single and two walks in the game, going on a 6-for-8 spree after starting his big-league career 0-for-10.
Castro, who had three hits, doubled in the Tigers’ fourth run in the third.
Rookie right-hander Garrett Hill made that lead stand, doggedly navigating a right-handed heavy Guardians lineup through six innings.
Right-handed hitters, atypically for right-handed pitchers, have given Hill more problems than lefties in his seven starts this season, slashing .294/.348/.506 against him. Lefties were hitting just .158 against him with a .316 slugging percentage.
Cleveland, as you’d expect, loaded up with six right-handed hitters.
“The challenge for him is to find the breaking ball that works against right-handed hitters,” Hinch said.
He seemed to find it. After giving up a run on three hits in the first inning, he settled in and allowed only one more hit with two walks through six innings.
The six right-handed hitters in the Guardians’ lineup went 2-for-15.
“With the two-seamer and slider, he was able to make the plate look a little bigger,” Barnhart said. “He was able to command the ball running in to right-handers (two-seamer) and command the ball going away (slider). That makes the plate look wider.
“And it opens up a lot of things for him. If you get a righty who’s trying to get the bat out and pull a fastball coming in, it will be a lot harder to stay on the slider. If a guy is diving out on sliders, it will be a lot harder for him to cover the fastball in.”
An error by Castro at first base — he missed a throw from Báez — led to an unearned run for the Guardians against reliever Jason Foley in the seventh.
But that one miscue was not representative of the defense the Tigers played. Victor Reyes in right and Riley Greene in center both ran down balls to the wall. Báez quelled a potential rally in the third inning with a brilliant backhand play in the hole, taking a hit away from Amed Rosario.
The seventh inning ended with textbook execution between Barnhart and Báez, nabbing speedy Kwan trying to steal second — perfect throw and fast tag.
“Any time you can stop a rally in a close game, especially at the top of their order which was so hard to get through, it’s huge,” said Barnhart, who has thrown out 18 runners this season, fourth most in baseball.
The Tigers won back-to-back games for the first time since July 7-8.