Skubal recovers after scare, Carpenter slams, but Tigers’ rally fizzles in loss to Cubs

Detroit News

Detroit — Tarik Skubal lying on his back on the Comerica Park mound with his arms behind his head trying to will away the pain.

That will be the indelible image from the Tigers’ 6-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the series finale Wednesday afternoon.

“It hurt him,” manager AJ Hinch said. “You don’t see players on their back on the field very often.”

Skubal was drilled in the left thigh by a line drive in the fourth inning, a sizzler that left Yan Gomes’ bat at 102 mph.

“I just couldn’t feel my leg,” Skubal said. “Just that initial shock wave that kind of gets into it. I didn’t feel great about it when I was first laying there. But as I calmed down, I realized I would be OK.”

It was emblematic of how the Cubs were hitting him early and also of Skubal’s resoluteness. He showed, again, you can knock him down, but you won’t easily knock him out.

“As a starting pitcher, you only get to play once every five days,” said Skubal, making his ninth start since returning after flexor tendon surgery. “So, when you’re in that moment, you don’t want anything to take away from your time to go out and play. It would take a lot for me not to go out there and compete.

“I never thought I was going to come out of that game.”

Hinch wasn’t so sure when he came running out of the dugout.

“I didn’t know where he got hit,” he said. “But, when I got out there, he said, ‘That’s why you do squats.’ I knew he was going to be OK.”

That attitude was also emblematic of the Tigers’ compete level, personified by Kerry Carpenter’s hero bolt, a game-tying grand slam in the sixth inning.

“Those singular at-bats he can put together when the game is on the line, they generally include swinging at strikes,” Hinch said. “And the deeper the count goes, like, a homer is a possibility every time he swings. And even when he does it, you’re still kind of surprised. You are still wowed by it.”

Carpenter’s first two at-bats against Cubs starter Jameson Taillon didn’t look very comfortable. He looked overmatched the first time against Taillon’s cutter-sinker combination. The second time up, he chased a two-strike curveball.

“He was throwing everything pretty well and not missing too many spots,” Carpenter said. “It was hard to pick it up out of his hand, for some reason.”

Carpenter wasn’t alone. Taillon was doing that to all of the Tigers’ hitters. He didn’t allow a hit through five innings and took a 4-0 lead into the sixth. But, the Tigers started chipping away.

Singles by Andy Ibanez, Jake Rogers and Akil Baddoo loaded the bases with nobody out. Taillon nearly pitched his way out of it. He struck out Riley Greene and got Spencer Torkelson on a shallow fly to left.

That brought Carpenter to the plate. He’d seen 11 pitches in his first two at-bats, so when Taillon fell behind, 3-1, with the one strike being with a elevated cutter, Carpenter set his sights.

“I just wanted to get there on time and be ready,” Carpenter said. “I knew he was probably going to go back to that part of the plate with whatever he was going to throw, probably something hard.”

He got a cutter, center-in, and clobbered it into the plants atop the wall in right-center field. It was his 20th home run of the season, his ninth this month and his first career grand slam.

Kerry Bonds. Kerry Barrels. Kerry Clutch.

“It was fun because it brought our team back into the game,” said Carpenter, who has reached base in 20 straight games and is hitting just under .400 in that stretch. “That was the most fun part about it. That and seeing the guys in the dugout. That’s my favorite part, celebrating with the guys.”

After Skubal took the shot in the thigh, he got stingy. He allowed just one hit and retired nine of his last 10 hitters and worked through the sixth. The four runs and seven hits on his ledger are a little deceiving. Although they hit a couple of his fastballs hard early, the average exit velocity on 17 balls put in play was 87 mph.

“I think there was a lot of soft contact,” Skubal said. “They found some holes. It’s not like I changed my game plan. They just started hitting it where our guys were. But, give them credit. That’s the art of hitting, being able to hit it where guys aren’t.”

The ending turned out to be anti-climactic, at least from the Tigers’ perspective.

The Cubs’ deciding run in the top of the eighth was set up by an infield hit that was initially scored an error, an uncontested stolen base and a walk. The run was delivered by a two-out, two-strike single by Gomes, off reliever Beau Brieske.

The Tigers misplayed a ground ball by Ian Happ. Third baseman Matt Vierling lunged in front of shortstop Zach McKinstry, effectively shielding him from the ball. Brieske then didn’t hold Happ at first, and he stole second base without a throw.

That set the stage for Gomes.

“The Cubs did a good job of hitting with two outs,” Hinch said. “But just about every run was scored when there was a walk involved. They found some holes, but they found the holes because the lineup kept moving with the walks. That was frustrating. We extended some innings that gave them opportunities.”

Three walks and three stolen bases all directly impacted the Cubs’ runs.

“They’re all kind of frustrating when you lose,” Carpenter said. “Today was tough. But, we fought and we gave ourselves a good chance.”

The game was delayed 34 minutes at the start by a rainstorm that blew through the area.

Twitter/X: @cmccosky

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