Say what? Guardians score 6 after Chafin K’s the side

Detroit Tigers

CLEVELAND — Andrew Chafin struck out the side in order in the eighth inning on Wednesday night, an incredible task against a Guardians offense that has the lowest strikeout rate in the Majors. Then the ball skipped past catcher Eric Haase and rolled to the backstop, sending Luke Maile to first base, and Chafin’s task got exponentially tougher.

By the time Alex Lange struck out Andrés Giménez — who’d also struck out against Chafin for the second out — to end the inning, six runs had scored, the Tigers’ two-run lead had vanished, and Detroit’s chance to win a season series against Cleveland for the first time since 2015 was gone. 

“Not sure if I’ve seen that before,” Chafin said after the 8-4 loss Wednesday at Progressive Field.

He hasn’t. Nobody, at least in the last 60 years, has seen it until now.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time since at least 1961 that a team scored six runs in an inning after striking out three times.

It’s also the first time since at least 1974, when inning-by-inning data began being tracked, that a team struck out four times and scored six or more runs in the same frame.

“Obviously I’m frustrated with the results,” said Chafin, who joins former Arizona reliever Chad Qualls as the only pitchers in AL/NL history to record three strikeouts in two-thirds of an inning or less and take a loss. “But how we got there, it’s kind of like, ‘Well, I did good.’ … Well, no, you didn’t.

“But that’s baseball for you. You’re going to have days like that, and you can’t let it get to you.”

If anything, the six hits that followed the strikeout-wild pitch showed what a job Chafin had done. Only the last of the hits, an Owen Miller line-drive single off Lange, had an expected batting average higher than .400, according to Statcast.

“I didn’t see it as a bad break,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I just think we had some non-box-score plays, and then their contact took over. They made contact on some tough pitches. Happens fast with a contact team, but obviously, we should’ve been out of the inning.”

Steven Kwan’s RBI ground-rule double off of Chafin, a fly ball that landed just inside the right-field line and bounced into the stands, had an expected batting average of .090. Amed Rosario’s game-tying infield single, a 65 mph roller to third base that greeted Lange, had an xBA of .280. The go-ahead, two-run bloop double that José Ramírez hit in front of left fielder Akil Baddoo had an xBA of .140. Even Oscar Gonzalez’s RBI double off of the left-field wall had an xBA of .080.

“Just giving them the slightest window to creep back in, unfortunately, that’s all they needed,” said Haase, who was charged with a tough-luck, run-scoring passed ball in the sixth inning on a wayward pitch from José Cisnero. “That’s obviously my fault, extending that inning. Just missed the ball.”

Chafin walked off the mound and into the dugout unusually frustrated by his standards, waving his arms at one point. But it was more general frustration than at anyone in particular, especially Haase.

“It went from like ‘Yeah, all right,’ to, ‘Well, crap,’” Chafin said, summing up the sentiment. “But that’s all you can do. It’s not a nice game, and it’s going to get you like that sometimes. You’ve just gotta roll with it”

It was a philosophical approach that helps Chafin thrive in relief, and one that could have benefited Haase in the moment. But amidst all the frustration of a season gone awry, this one hit particularly hard. Daniel Norris survived three hit-by-pitches, all on sharp-moving sliders at hitters’ feet, for five innings of one-run ball and was in line for his first win as a starter since July 31, 2019.

The Tigers were three outs away from their first three-game winning streak since winning six in a row July 4-8, a streak that included a four-game sweep of the Guardians at Comerica Park. Then they were four outs away again. Then they were trailing.

“Extremely frustrating,” Haase said. “That’s a very winnable game for us. Obviously, there’s a lot of baseball left at that point, anything can happen. But it doesn’t make it easier to swallow knowing that I left the inning open.”

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