Why Detroit Tigers’ Jason Foley didn’t unleash ’emotional energy’ after escaping jam

Detroit Free Press

Jason Foley didn’t smile.

He didn’t pump his fist.

An emotionless Foley walked off the mound after stranding the bases loaded with three consecutive outs — capped by freezing Byron Buxton with a down-and-away sinker for a strikeout — to get the Detroit Tigers out of a jam in the eighth inning of Sunday’s 6-4 win over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

“Sometimes, it’s tough to come back when you spend all your emotional energy,” Foley said. “I knew there was a pretty decent chance that I was going to go back out (for the ninth inning). I figured I would try to stay focused.”

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Foley, a right-handed reliever, returned for the ninth inning and retired three consecutive batters for a 28-pitch, six-out save, his third save of the season (and the third of his 102-game MLB career).

In the eighth, Foley inherited a bases-loaded, no-out situation after right-handed reliever Alex Lange imploded with two hit-by-pitches, two walks, a double and a wild pitch. The Twins had cut the Tigers’ lead to 6-3.

Foley immediately allowed an RBI single to Royce Lewis, making it 6-4, on a ground ball through the infield and into center field.

“I tried to execute one pitch at a time,” Foley said. “I figured, hopefully, get a ground ball and get two outs. It’s tough to strand every guy out there. I got the ground ball, but unfortunately, it went through, but I made some good pitches after that.”

Then, Foley responded by retiring the next three batters: Kyle Farmer (flyout), Joey Gallo (strikeout) and Buxton (strikeout).

Gallo has a whopping 37.3% strikeout rate in his nine-year career, but his track record makes him a home run threat. The left-handed slugger has 11 homers in 51 games for the Twins this season. He also blasted 19 homers for the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

A grand slam from Gallo, who launched 38 homers in 2021, would have put the Twins ahead by two runs, possibly too many runs for the Tigers to overcome. Foley fell behind 2-0 in the count, then responded with three consecutive sinkers for strikes: 98.7 mph (called strike), 98.7 mph (swinging strike) and 99.1 mph (swinging strike).

“I faced him last year in New York,” Foley said. “I got him with some changeups away and a sinker in. He took a front-door sinker for a Strike 3, so I was trying to maintain that same approach. I knew if I could get it in there, I could hopefully beat him, and I was able to do it.”

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Foley threw 18 pitches in the eighth inning and 10 pitches in the ninth inning. In total, he threw 22 sinkers, four sliders and two changeups. His sinker averaged 98.1 mph and maxed out at 99.2 mph.

Sixteen of his 18 pitches in the eighth were sinkers.

“It was obviously working pretty well for me, especially to the glove side,” Foley said. “If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down with my best pitch. (Catcher Eric Haase) was calling a great game back there.”

“His sinker is electric,” Haase said. “Guys were taking them for Strike 3, and they probably know it’s coming.”

In 2023, Foley — known for inducing ground balls rather than generating strikeouts — has a 2.30 ERA with seven walks (5.7% walk rate) and 28 strikeouts (23% strikeout rate) across 31⅓ innings in 31 games.

His sinker velocity, and his strikeout rate, has improved from the 2022 campaign.

“It’s not easy coming into that situation with no margin for error,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “I love the fact that he challenges the guys with strikes and beat some guys in the strike zone with his back against the wall. He didn’t load the bases, but he knew coming in that it was important for him to throw strikes.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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