In game of inches, Tigers can’t find lucky bounce

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — While Juan Soto’s bat certainly hurt the Tigers on Friday night, Detroit’s 5-4 loss to the Padres at Comerica Park was actually a lot more about little things gone wrong than it was mammoth hits.

Reese Olson righted his ship and combined with the bullpen to keep San Diego off the scoreboard for the final six innings while Detroit chipped away. When the Tigers came to bat in the bottom of the ninth — even though Soto had slugged 910 feet worth of home runs — they were still only down one run.

A packed house rose to its feet and stayed there as Miguel Cabrera strode to the plate to pinch-hit with two outs. The momentum was there. The magic was there.

The only thing Detroit was missing was a run.

As Cabrera went down swinging to end the suspense, it was hard not to think that if a few things had gone right at the beginning, the end might have had a very different vibe.

In the beginning …
Olson secured two outs quickly in the first inning before Soto tagged him for a 447-foot home run that clanged off the brick wall toward the back of the park in center field.

“I mean, he’s one of the best players in the game, so when you have to do that, and kind of … not lay one in there, but throw a heater in a hitter’s count, it’s probably not going to turn out good,” said Olson, whom Soto also caught for a Statcast-estimated 463-foot homer in the third.

Olson then walked Manny Machado and allowed a single to put two on for Michigan native Jake Cronenworth.

Cronenworth, who grew up an hour north of Comerica Park, sent a ball to deep center field. Matt Vierling raced to the warning track and appeared to be in position, but the ball bounced off the webbing of his glove as he leaped into the wall.

Vierling crashed to the ground, then pivoted to throw from one knee as two runs scored and Cronenworth cruised into third with a stand-up triple.

Eager to swing the momentum back the Tigers’ way, leadoff hitter Zach McKinstry grounded a ball to left to open Detroit’s half of the inning and was thrown out trying to stretch the knock into a double. Replay on the big screen at the park raised a few boos from the crowd, but the Tigers didn’t challenge.

McKinstry later homered to get the Tigers on the board with a solo shot in the fifth inning.

Act II
The Tigers’ trend of “almost” continued in the second inning, when Javier Báez’s sharp grounder caused the Padres’ middle infielders to collide, allowing the ball to roll into the outfield.

Báez motored to second, and Vierling — who’d singled to start the inning — hit the gas for third. He’d already rounded second by the time center fielder Trent Grisham came up on the ball, so Vierling didn’t see the center fielder also run past it.

Had the timing been a touch different in one direction or the other, Vierling might have rounded third and made it home, which could have made Riley Greene’s two-run homer in the seventh a game-tying shot. As it was, Vierling was nearing third and also trying to turn to see the commotion behind him, and pulled up at the bag.

“You want to be absolutely sure about [sending him] because you have a lot of bats coming up behind him,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “And you look back on the inning, and it was a missed opportunity to score a run. We don’t get a run at all. Bases loaded, no outs, and that turned out to be really big.

“I don’t really fault anyone, it’s a baseball play, but, you know, one that we could have done better.”

Padres starter Seth Lugo followed up with a walk to Nick Maton that loaded the bases with no outs, and the Tigers were still in decent shape until Jake Rogers and Akil Baddoo went down looking at third strikes.

When McKinstry grounded out to end the inning on the next play, it represented another opportunity missed, and the boo birds let the Tigers know it.

“Once we got back in the game, it was nice to see us make them a little uncomfortable,” Hinch said. “These guys come in and put up zeros and give us a chance to win, we just couldn’t quite get the end.”

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