Shake it off: Skubal shows grit after taking hard comebacker

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Tarik Skubal isn’t usually one to wear his emotions on his sleeve when he’s on the mound. He prefers to leave them somewhere in the dugout, sometimes against the wall when his frustration reaches a boiling point.

“Just get it out,” Skubal said. “I’m a guy to just get it out. That way it’s over with. And that’s kind of what I did.”

The storms that passed over Comerica Park Wednesday afternoon, delaying the Tigers’ 6-4 loss to the Cubs, had nothing on Skubal once the game started. He screamed into his glove on his way back to the Tigers’ dugout after retiring Seiya Suzuki for the final out of the third inning. When he made it down the dugout steps, he flung his glove against the dugout wall.

The two-out RBI hits the Cubs kept slashing were wearing on him, three innings in a row. Cody Bellinger’s two-run single through the middle in the third inning ahead of Suzuki’s groundout was the last straw. Skubal hadn’t given up an earned run in 18 1/3 innings at home this season since returning from the injured list.

“Luckily my glove didn’t hit Riley [Greene] or something like that like it did last time,” said Skubal, referring to a similar moment last season.

Skubal was knocked around for a couple innings, then literally knocked down when Yan Gomes’ liner — struck with a 101.6 mph exit velocity, according to Statcast — hit him in the left leg. He tried moving around in obvious pain, but eventually ended up lying on his back on the front of the mound.

For a team that has endured injuries across the pitching staff, it was looming as a bigger frustration than anything on the scoreboard.

“That was an ugly one,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I mean, you go out there and I didn’t know where it hit him. And he said, ‘That’s why you do squats.’

“His demeanor didn’t change, but it did hurt him, man. You don’t see players on their back on the field very often.”

Skubal not only stayed in the game after that, he delivered some of his most effective pitching of the day, retiring nine of his final 10 batters. The exception was another two-out RBI single, this time a ground ball through the left side from No. 9 hitter Nick Madrigal.

“His day was better than it probably looks on paper,” Hinch said of Skubal, who struck out seven over six innings but finished with four runs allowed on six hits and one walk.

In many ways, Skubal’s toughness set the tone for the rest of the Tigers’ afternoon. While the Cubs picked Skubal apart for singles and doubles in earlier innings, Jameson Taillon held Detroit hitless through five frames before Andy Ibáñez, Jake Rogers and Akil Baddoo broke through with consecutive singles to lead off the sixth.

Taillon was a pitch away from escape, fanning Riley Greene before getting a fly ball to shallow left from Spencer Torkelson. Up came Kerry Carpenter, whom Taillon had fanned twice already. Carpenter shook off some of the high fastballs he had chased earlier, working into a 3-1 count and forcing Taillon to challenge him in the zone.

Carpenter’s ensuing loft just over the new fence in right-center made his 20th homer of the season a game-tying grand slam. The ability to slug back into the game on one swing was a plot twist on what the Tigers had written much of the season with tenacious hitting and smaller ball.

“When I stick to my approach, I can do some damage. I knew he had to make a pitch there,” said Carpenter, who joins Torkelson as the Tigers’ first homegrown pair of 20-homer sluggers in the same season since Curtis Granderson and Brandon Inge in 2009.

In the end, the ultimate frustration was not finishing the job with a chance to take a series from a playoff contender. The Tigers stranded two in the seventh inning, then had the tying run on base with one out before Cubs closer Adbert Alzolay fanned Ibáñez and Rogers. By contrast, the Cubs turned an eighth-inning infield single into a go-ahead run with another two-out hit, this one from Gomes, and tacked on by turning a leadoff walk in the ninth into a sacrifice fly.

These are the margins, the smaller things, separating the Tigers from the next step in their development. Simply getting to that point shows some of the talent and tenacity already in place.

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