A few inches and an error put the Detroit Tigers ahead of the Minnesota Twins in the sixth inning and played a key role in determining the outcome of this year’s next-to-last game at Comerica Park.
“We capitalized on a mistake,” manager A.J. Hinch said, “which is always fun.”
Luis Arraez, the Twins’ first baseman, ranged toward the middle of the field and picked up a weak bouncer from Harold Castro. He flipped the ball to right-handed reliever Ronny Henriquez, racing to cover first base, but it tipped off his glove and rolled into foul territory.
On the bases, Javier Báez — who reached safely on a hit-by-pitch — rounded third and crossed home plate without a throw for the Tigers’ eventual winning run in Saturday’s 3-2 victory. The Tigers can take the three-game set with a win in Sunday’s home finale.
After getting the lead, the Tigers (64-93) needed to hold on for the final three innings. Right-hander Alex Lange completed the seventh and registered the first out of the eighth. He left a runner on second base for lefty Gregory Soto.
Soto, however, walked the first two batters he faced — Gilberto Celestino and Gary Sanchez — on 13 of his 16 pitches. He used his final three pitches on pinch-hitter Ryan Jeffers, who grounded into an inning-end double play.
“I hate how that inning got started,” catcher Eric Haase said. “But at the exact same time, the walks didn’t exactly hurt us. We had matchups that we wanted after. It’s like a pitch-around situation, but sometimes, that’s very hard to execute and not make a mistake over the plate.”
The ball deflected off Soto and was fielded by shortstop Ryan Kreidler. He flipped to Castro, the second baseman, and the relay concluded with first baseman Spencer Torkelson on the receiving end.
“We created that mess with a couple walks, but it was nice to get out of it,” Hinch said. “We walked a fine line, obviously, but to get out of it with some emotion, the lead and (Andrew) Chafin coming in — that was a good win.”
Chafin, a left-hander, tossed a scoreless ninth for his second save. A diving catch from right fielder Victor Reyes robbed Carlos Correa of a single and provided Chafin with his second out of the frame.
“I didn’t think he was going to have to dive from my vantage point,” Hinch said. “When he dove, hold your breath that he’s going to hold onto the ball.”
In the first inning, the Tigers were all over Twins right-hander Dylan Bundy.
Three straight batters — Riley Greene, Báez and Haase — collected one-out singles, with Báez’s hit driving in Greene for a 1-0 lead. Greene singled to right, but Matt Wallner made a fielding error as the ball skipped past him, which allowed Greene to advance to third base.
Bundy needed 26 pitches to complete the first inning, but he escaped further damage when Castro grounded out and Torkelson, batting .197 this season, struck out swinging on a 90.7 mph inside fastball.
Bundy settled in and completed five innings. He allowed two runs on five hits — without a walk — and recorded three strikeouts, throwing 53 of 77 pitches for strikes. He generated 14 swings and misses, half with his slider.
The Tigers upped their lead to 2-0 in the fourth inning. For the 13th time this season, Haase hammered a home run, launching a solo shot 402 feet to left-center.
“In my first at-bat, I was a little bit late and got a breaking ball that I hit into left field,” Haase said. “I just didn’t want to be late anymore and got something I could handle.”
In three at-bats against Bundy, Greene produced exit velocities of 105.6 mph, 109.3 mph and 101.7 mph. He singled in his first plate appearance but flied out to the warning tracks in center (410 feet) and left (341 feet) in his second and third trips to the plate.
Like Bundy, Tigers right-hander Drew Hutchison pitched into the fifth inning in his final start of the season. Hutchison, though, allowed both of his runs in the fifth and recorded just one out in the inningbefore his departure.
Hutchison gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 4⅓ innings, finishing with a 4.53 ERA in 28 games (18 starts). He has the Tigers’ second-most innings pitched, at 105⅓, in 2022.
“I don’t think about all that stuff (starts and innings),” Hutchison said. “I just try to take the ball and do my job. I think I’m capable of throwing a lot of innings, so that’s something I think I can definitely do.”
The 32-year-old veteran worked around several singles and walks through the first four innings. A double play, started by Kreidler at shortstop, helped Hutchison respond from back-to-back singles to start the fourth.
In the fifth, the Twins finally broke through for runs.
Mark Contreras, the No. 9 hitter and leadoff man in the sixth, battled for eight pitches and sent a middle-middle fastball inside the right-field foul pole for a solo home run.
“Stuff tailed off there at the end,” Hutchison said. “I didn’t want to walk Contreras there, and I maybe didn’t make that pitch as aggressive as I should have. But I thought, overall, I threw the ball pretty well.”
Two of the next three batters picked up singles, chasing Hutchison from his final start. Right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero took over and recorded the second out, but Gio Urshela answered with an RBI single to tie the game, 2-2.
Cisnero, who walked the bases loaded, picked off Urshela at second base to end the fifth inning.
“The play of the game, to the point of the game, was the pickoff,” Hinch said. “That’s all Harold. He told Cisnero to be heads up once Cisnero came in and after I left the mound. It’s a very heads up play.”