After lost challenge, Tigers take 21st shutout loss

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — For a brief moment, the Tigers had a rally going and a run on the board against American League Cy Young Award candidate Framber Valdez. Willi Castro had legged out a two-out double in the third inning, then tested Astros left fielder Yordan Alvarez on a Javier Báez ground-ball single.

The send from third-base coach Ramon Santiago made sense for a team having trouble scoring runs and challenged an outfielder who plays more games at designated hitter. However, Alvarez unleashed a 91.6 mph fastball on one hop to the plate. Castro was initially ruled to have beaten the tag, but the Astros challenged.

After replay showed catcher Martín Maldonado tagged Castro before he touched home plate, the call was reversed. As crew chief Phil Cuzzi announced the change, however, he mistakenly said that the runner was safe, prompting both the crowd and the Astros to go wild before Cuzzi quickly corrected himself.

“He made a really good throw,” Castro said. “They had really good defense. [Alex] Bregman and those guys, they’re one of the best defenses in the big leagues.”

It was the closest the Tigers came to a run Monday, and it was one of two outs the Astros executed at home plate to quiet an early outburst of offense. Valdez didn’t allow another runner into scoring position, tossing a complete-game six-hit shutout for a 7-0 Detroit defeat.

“Those are mistakes that against a good team like Houston, it’s hard to chip away if you can’t make those runs count,” manager A.J. Hinch said.

It marked the 21st shutout the Tigers have suffered this season, most by the club since 1905, when an 18-year-old Ty Cobb made his Major League debut and hit .238. Only the 1904 Tigers were shut out more often (26 times).

This year’s 21 shutouts are also tied for the most by an AL team since the Junior Circuit adopted the designated hitter in 1973. The ‘73 Yankees, who made Ron Blomberg famous as the first DH in Major League history, were also blanked 21 times under then-manager Ralph Houk in his final season before joining the Tigers. The 1976 White Sox, best known for wearing shorts for three games in the summer, were also shut out 21 times, though never while wearing shorts.

No AL team has suffered more shutouts since the 1972 Rangers had 27. On the National League side, the 2019 Marlins were shut out 22 times.

Despite the shutouts, the 1973 Yankees almost finished .500, going 80-82 thanks in part to tossing 16 shutouts and hitting well for some parts of the season. They were 80-61 when scoring a run, including 25-18 in games decided by five runs or more, but their four 1-0 losses were part of a 21-23 record in one-run contests. Catcher Thurman Munson and third baseman Graig Nettles went on to become key parts of the Yanks’ dynasty later that decade.

By comparison, this year’s Tigers have suffered only one 1-0 defeat on Angels starter Patrick Sandoval’s four-hit shutout Aug. 19. More often, their challenge has been in games in which they’ve fallen behind early. Monday marked their 10th shutout loss by seven or more runs.

Detroit is leaning on an offense that — though improved lately behind young hitters Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Kerry Carpenter and Ryan Kreidler — remains inconsistent. Add in Sunday’s 4-0 loss at Kansas City, and this marks the Tigers’ third set of consecutive shutout losses. They’re on a 21-inning scoreless streak since scoring 18 runs over the first 14 innings vs. the Royals on Friday and Saturday.

Some of that involves the level of competition, but the Tigers have struggled to manufacture offense against tough pitching, whether via home run or small ball.

“Obviously, you have to score to win,” catcher Eric Haase said. “The loss is more frustrating than that. But we definitely have to find opportunities to manufacture some more runs, whether that’s just moving guys over instead of taking a K, moving guys with the infield back, getting some of those runs. Obviously some missed opportunities that we’ll hit the drawing board and come back to.

“When we do get runners in scoring position, we do the job fairly often. It might just be kind of getting going, or just playing the game — leadoff double, getting that guy to third base, getting him in with a ground ball, fly ball, whatever it is, trying to manufacture as many runs as you can. It doesn’t seem like a lot until you’re starting to do that once or twice a game. Now you’ve got a swing of the bat right there, rather than trying to come back and put up five. That’s kind of a difference maker.”

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