Toronto – Trey Wingenter stood before his locker Wednesday night and tried to make some sense out of what had just happened.
The 6-7 right-hander hadn’t had a big-league save in four years. Before winning a job with the Tigers out of spring training, he hadn’t even thrown a pitch in the big-leagues since 2019. But there he was in the ninth inning trying to protect a 3-1 lead, trying to stop a five-game losing streak for his team and having to go through the heart of the Blue Jays’ lineup.
“I feel like the boys were in a position to win a game,” he said, after the Tigers were walked off by the Blue Jays 4-3 in 10 innings. “We’re on a skid. They trusted me to close the thing out and I let the boys down. This one is definitely on me.”
Wingenter gave up a single to Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. He walked Matt Chapman on four pitches, one of them a wild pitch to the backstop. Then he hit Daulton Varsho.
Veteran lefty Chasen Shreve was summoned and, though he made some tough pitches, he gave up a sacrifice flies to Whit Merrifield and pinch-hitter Alejandro Kirk to tie the game.
After the Tigers failed to score in the top of the 10th, George Springer slapped a single threw a drawn-in infield off reliever Jose Cisnero to score the free runner. Ballgame. Six straight losses for the Tigers.
“You can’t let the moment get too big,” Wingenter said. “You also can’t tense up. We’re having a rough skid right now and I’m a guy, I want to go out there and get us in the win column. That can hurt you a little bit. You start to press a little too much.
“They are a momentum-based team. One thing goes well and they get the snowball rolling. That’s what happened.”
Tigers manager AJ Hinch stood in his office afterward, he too had to answer some tough questions. Why put Wingenter in that spot? Right-hander Alex Lange had blown through the top of the Blue Jays’ lineup in the eighth in 12 pitches. Did you consider letting him work the ninth?
“Those guys are nasty at the top, as we saw at the end of the game,” said Hinch, referring to Springer, Bo Bichette and Guerrero, the top three hitters in the Toronto lineup. “That’s the group that won it. We’re just trying to get to the finish line.
“We obviously had to use multiple pitchers at that point. Lange did his part. Wing just couldn’t throw the ball over the plate.”
The back end of the bullpen was a strength last season. But Michael Fulmer, Andrew Chafin, Joe Jimenez and Gregory Soto are gone. Hinch has not named a closer. He pitched Lange in the eighth because, as he said, “You can lose the game in the eighth inning, too.”
Did he consider using Lange in the ninth, too?
“Obviously, it always looks like you could do something different, but it’s not the way we went,” he said.
Wingenter has an upper 90s fastball and a wipeout slider. He’s got the tools to be a late-inning, leverage reliever. The Tigers need to find out whether he can handle the role.
“I feel we have to get 27 outs,” Hinch said. “We’re going to have to get there in a lot of different ways. Obviously, when you’ve got to get nine outs (which the Tigers did after going up 3-1 in the seventh), you’re going to have to go through that order one full time. We just didn’t get it done.”
The clubhouse was subdued afterward, as you would expect.
“It’s tough to lose a game like that,” said second baseman Nick Maton, who homered for the second straight night. “The only thing we can do is come back better tomorrow. Keep grinding, keep putting ourselves in a position to win. We have a good club. I still believe that.
“It’ll start clicking. Everyone is pushing for each other. I believe heavily in our squad and I always will.”
A lot went right for the Tigers. Maton’s blast in the fourth inning was the first earned run Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman had given up in 15.1 innings. It was also the Tigers first hit of the game.
Gausman went eight inning and bedeviled the Tigers with his four-seam fastball and splitter combination. He struck out 11, getting 13 misses on 23 swings at his splitter and 11 called strikes with his fastball.
Maton, who has hit four of his nine career homers against the Blue Jays, launched a 95-mph fastball. Kerry Carpenter did the same in the seventh – a two-run shot that broke a 1-1 tie.
Tigers starter Eduardo Rodriguez was just as stingy as Gausman, scattering seven hits over six innings. The only run the Jays mustered against him was a disputed one in the fourth inning.
Guerrero was at second and Varsho at first with two outs and the Tigers up 1-0. Both runners were moving on the pitch and Whit Merrifield hit a ground ball in the hole at shortstop.
Javier Báez made a slick, sliding pick of the ball and smartly spun and threw home. Guerrero thought the ball was going through and rounded the base. He didn’t get more than a few steps down the line before he turned back and was tagged out.
Inning over, right? Not right.
Third base umpire Erich Bacchus nullified the play, calling obstruction on Tigers’ third baseman Ryan Kreidler. Kreidler had run over to cover third base and was in foul ground when he crossed paths with Guerrero.
By the letter of the law, he did impede Guerrero’s route, even if the route was misbegotten and he had no chance of scoring.
“I didn’t feel good about it going out there (to argue),” Hinch said. “I didn’t like the explanation, but when the umpire sees obstruction and he thought he had a chance to score, he awarded him the extra base.
“It is hard to understand how he’s going to have a chance to score on that ball. We had the ball at shortstop and we threw a one-hopper to the plate and he retreated and was going the other way. He doesn’t continue home and he still gets awarded the base.”
There is no reply that will show Guerrero had a reasonable chance to score on that play.
“The umpire saw it different and he rules the day,” Hinch said.
The Tigers had thrown Guerrero out at the plate earlier in the game. He tried to score from first base on a double by Matt Chapman in the first inning and was thrown out on a textbook relay. Right fielder Matt Vierling played the carom off the well expertly and threw a strike to the cutoff man, second baseman Maton. Maton fired it to catcher Eric Haase. Guerrero was out by several steps.
There was another head-scratching play in that fourth inning, moments after the obstruction call. Varsho and Merrifield seemed to pull off a double steal. But home plate umpire Ryan Wills sent them back, calling umpire interference on himself. Haase had stepped on his foot as he threw to third base.
The Tigers had some bad moments on the bases themselves.
Haase led off the sixth inning off a 1-1 game with a double, but he got caught too far off second on a routine grounder to shortstop and thrown out in a quick rundown.
“Bad mistake,” Hinch said. “He’s been around too long to make that mistake.”
In the sixth, Vierling inexplicably chose not to slide into second on a stolen base attempt. He was tagged out.
“No idea,” Hinch said. “Guys don’t run to second and not slide. Not a great play.”
The Tigers operate with a “win today’s game” mentality. It’s been the mantra since Hinch took over three years ago. Don’t drag yesterday’s drama into today. Games like this one make it tough to do.
“Just same old stuff,” Haase said. “Every day guys are coming here and working their butts off. It’s definitely not an effort thing. It’s doesn’t seem like a focus or concentration thing. It’s an execution thing. We just have to keep plugging away at the little things.”