Detroit – This one was a little gnarly — some mental gaffes and misplays — but it didn’t lack for intensity or entertainment value.
The Tigers escaped a bases-loaded, one-out mess in the eighth inning, got three-hits and a home run from catcher Eric Haase and a rare save from lefty set-up reliever Andrew Chafin to beat the Minnesota Twins 3-2 in the next-to-last home game of the season at Comerica Park Saturday.
“We created that mess with the walks,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We walked a fine line but to get out of it with some emotion and have the lead with Chafin coming in — it was a good win.”
The announced crowd of 18,307 stood, stomped and cheered as Chafin, following a diving catch in right field by Victor Reyes, struck out Nick Gordon to end the game. You’d never know the Tigers are 29 games under .500.
“When you use as many bullpen arms as we did it’s costly,” Hinch said. “So it’s nice to win when you do that.”
Let’s break down the crazy top of the eighth inning when the Twins had a single, two walks, a wild pitch and a stolen base, had Billy Hamilton, one of the fastest players in the game at third with one out, and did not score.
“There was a lot going on,” Haase said. “You hated the walks. I hated how that inning got started. But at the same time, the walks didn’t hurt us. We had matchups we wanted after them so it was kind of a pitch-around situation.”
Jose Miranda started the inning by hitting a ground ball that rookie third baseman Brendon Davis, in his big-league debut, couldn’t field cleanly. It was scored a single and Hamilton pinch-ran for him. Reliever Alex Lange put him on second uncorking his major league-leading 15th wild pitch.
Then it got interesting.
Hamilton got to third on a ground out. Gregory Soto was summoned and walked pinch-hitter Gilberto Celestino. With runners at first and third and right-handed hitting Gary Sanchez at the plate, Celestino took off slowly toward second. He wanted the Tigers to throw down so that speedy Hamilton could break for the plate.
“Honestly, I wanted him to go like on the first or second pitch,” Haase said. “I thought he was just going to try to get hung up there. There wasn’t going to be a rundown with Billy, the fastest guy in the world.”
Celestino all but stopped between first and second trying to bait Haase into throwing.
“I was just waving him on the whole time,” Haase said. “Like, ‘Dude, we’re trying to walk (Sanchez) to get to the lefty behind him. If you could just go, please, that’d be great.’ When he finally went it was like, ‘Thank God. Now we can get back to our plan.’
“I wasn’t throwing that ball. We would’ve walked him or just started pitching with him between the bases.”
Soto did walk Sanchez, which brought up, not lefty Matt Wallner, who was scheduled, but right-handed pinch-hitter Ryan Jeffers. Soto calmly got him to bounce into a well-played 1-6-4-3 double-play, the ball deflecting off Soto to shortstop Ryan Kreidler.
“Sometimes it is very hard to execute those things and not make a mistake over the plate when you are trying to pitch around somebody,” Haase said. “So kudos to those guys. Everything I was thinking through, trying to get the matchups we wanted, they were able to execute. It made my job easier.”
The Tigers scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning without a hit. Fittingly, it was unearned
Javier Báez was hit with a pitch by reliever Ronny Henriquez to lead it off. He smartly tagged and moved to second on a long fly to center by Haase. He scored from second when first baseman Luis Arraez threw errantly to Henriquez covering first base on a grounder by Harold Castro.
The Tigers pulled off another escape in the fifth inning. The Twins’ Mark Contreras homered to start the inning off starter Drew Hutchison and with two on and one out, Hinch went to his bullpen early.
Jose Cisnero gave up an RBI single to Gio Urshela that tied the score. Cisnero walked Jake Cave to load the bases with two outs. With Gary Sanchez at the plate, Cisnero spun and picked off Urshela at second base.
“That was the play of the game to that point,” Hinch said. “That was all Harold (Castro, who was playing second base). It was a very heads-up play. He waited patiently and took his opportunity to end it without retiring a hitter. That rarely happens at this level. A huge out in a one-run game.”
It was the last start of the year for Hutchison, who made 18 starts and gave the Tigers 105.1 innings, second most to Tarik Skubal. Pretty impressive considering he was a non-roster invitee to spring training, made the club as a reliever and was designated for assignment and signed back three times.
“He pitched very meaningful innings for us in a year where we’ve used 17 different starting pitchers,” Hinch said. “And he earned his way. We started pushing guys around a little bit and keeping him in the rotation because he was pretty reliable for five or six innings. Those innings mattered.”