Baltimore — Eric Haase shook his head slowly as he was packing up his bags in the quiet Tigers’ clubhouse Sunday.
“Baseball is so stupid,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
On a day when left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez made franchise history and took a perfect game into the seventh inning, in a game where they hit 14 balls on the screws (eight with exit velocities of 100 mph or better, six at 95 mph or better), and yet left 13 runners on base and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, the Tigers were walked off for the second time in three games by the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, in 10 innings.
“They say it’s going to even out,” Haase said. “But on a day like today, you start to wonder. We barreled like 15 baseballs. I don’t know what else to do. We could have easily won the series playing the exact same baseball with just two more balls falling.”
Getting swept out of Camden Yards, the Tigers have now lost four straight games. And, salt in the wounds, the winning run was scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 10th.
“It hurts to lose the game because we had plenty of opportunities,” manager AJ Hinch said. “If you continually miss out on opportunities, especially in low scoring games…we still couldn’t come through with any breakout base hits or run scoring events.
“It sucks to lose this game.”
The Tigers, who mustered three runs total in the three games here, stranded a runner at third base in the second inning and left the bases loaded in the third. They also stranded the free runner in the top of the 10th.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde went to lefty reliever Keegan Akin (Western Michigan), which looked like advantage Tigers with right-handed hitters Haase and Spencer Torkelson coming up. But Hyde smartly, brazenly, issued intentional passes to both, loading the bases to get to a lefty-lefty matchup with Nick Maton.
Hinch had right-handed hitters Miguel Cabrera and Javier Baez on the bench. But, as Hinch explained after the game, Baez was held out of the lineup with a sprained middle finger on his left hand and wasn’t available.
And taking Maton out of the game would’ve meant Cabrera would’ve had to play defense in the bottom of the 10th. He hasn’t taken a single defensive rep, not even in spring training.
Akin got Maton to pop out to escape the inning.
The Orioles in the bottom of the 10th bunted the free runner to third base against rookie right-hander Mason Englert. With Jorge Mateo at the plate, Hinch deployed five infielders, moving right fielder Matt Vierling into the middle of the infield.
“It was just desperation,” he said. “Ball on the ground, they were going on contact. We’re just trying to cover as much ground as we can. Englert is going to throw the ball down, especially with his changeup, and he did. But he bounced it.”
First pitch to Mateo, changeup, bounced off catcher Jake Rogers’ mitt and mask. Ramon Urias scored the winner.
“When it’s going good, those things go your way and you are on the other end of that,” Haase said. “When you’re not, that’s what happens.”
Tough, too, to waste Rodriguez’s brilliant performance.
“Yeah, it definitely hurts,” Vierling said. “He had a hell of a performance. It sucks we couldn’t have taken advantage of that.”
Coming off his eight-inning, scoreless outing against the Guardians, when he struck out 10 and walked nobody, Rodriguez took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Orioles Sunday.
“You don’t think about that, you just keep pitching,” said Rodriguez, who later admitted that he absolutely knew what he was working on going into the eighth inning. “At the end of the day, I had to keep the game where it was at and try to help the team win.”
He struck out Austin Hays and Adley Rutschman to start the seventh – 20 straight outs. But Ryan Mountcastle fouled off four straight two-strike pitches and then slapped a solid single to left to break up Rodriguez’s perfecto.
“I tried to throw a changeup down, trying to bounce it and get a swing and miss,” Rodriguez said. “It was down and away but he made a good swing on it.”
It was the only blemish against him in seven innings. Going back to his start at Toronto on April 12, Rodriguez has pitched 17 straight scoreless innings, striking out 18 with no walks and just seven hits (all singles). He becomes the first pitcher in Tigers’ history to post consecutive starts of seven-plus innings, six-plus strikeouts and no walks.
“I have to say that was the best start of my career,” he said. “I took a no-hitter into the eighth in Oakland, but this was a perfect game.”
The Tigers, though, didn’t dent the scoreboard until the top of the eighth inning.
Vierling, who had two hits, led off with a single off lefty reliever Cionel Perez. Haase, pinch-hitting for Kerry Carpenter, hit a 102-mph ground ball through shortstop Mateo for a single. Zach McKinstry dropped a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners.
Spencer Torkelson, facing right-handed reliever Austin Voth, hit a 241-foot fly ball down the right-field line. Vierling, who has the fastest sprint speed on the Tigers’ roster, aggressively tagged and beat the throw from Ryan McKenna with a clever slide to the back of the plate.
“I was going to run on contact regardless,” Vierling said. “But fly ball down the line, I waited for Jonesy (third base coach Gary Jones) to give me the OK. Once he did, I ran as fast as I can. Maton (who was up next) was telling me to slide outside. I did my best to get to the back of the plate to be as far away from the catcher as possible.”
The Orioles tied the game in the bottom of the eighth off lefty Chase Shreve.
With two outs and Mateo at first base, pinch-hitter Anthony Santander ripped an 0-2 fastball down the line and into the left field corner. Mateo scored from first after left fielder Akil Baddoo overthrew the first cutoff man.
“We were playing pretty deep there because the ball over his head and the runner scores from first,” Hinch said. “He hit the one ball down the line that stops rolling. Akil had a long run to get it. But we didn’t execute a clean play.
“Mateo is probably the only guy on their team who could score on that ball. He’s the fastest guy on their team. But if he handled the ball better, maybe it’s a different outcome.
Feels wrong for Rodriguez’s effort to go unrewarded.
Facing a lineup of seven right-handed hitters, he masterfully mixed cutters and changeups off a well-located four-seam fastball (92-94 mph). The cutter and changeup come at the hitter with the same velocity (86-89) and out of the same arm slot, but they have very different movement patterns. The cutter generally moves in on right-handers and the changeup away.
“I just felt my location has been working for me,” he said. “I’m throwing my pitches with a purpose and I’m throwing it right where I wanted. That’s what I think is going in a good way for me.”
Crisscrossing the plate with those pitches, Rodriguez induced nine ground ball outs and six strikeouts. He got 16 swinging strikes and 18 called strikes (11 with the fastball).
“He was incredible,” Hinch said. “He had quick, efficient innings early. He was pounding the zone with all his pitches. He was literally almost perfect right to the end of his outing. If we can keep getting pitching performances like that, we’re going to start winning a lot more games.”
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