Walks determined the momentum of Sunday’s game at Comerica Park, pushing the Detroit Tigers to the edge of a cliff — and then it got ugly.
Right-hander Alex Faedo, who has improved his walk rate over the past two seasons, walked four of the 25 batters he faced through 4⅔ innings. Three of the free passes led to runs for the Houston Astros, but Faedo exited trailing by just three runs.
The Astros didn’t stop there.
The Tigers were smoked by the Astros, 17-4, in Sunday’s series finale, dropping back-to-back games after a memorable walk-off home run from Parker Meadows in Friday’s series opener.
“At the end of the day, you lose,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “That’s the toughest part of any day when you lose. It was a tale of two different sides to the game, the first five innings and the last four innings. I hate losing either way, so I guess that’s the short answer.”
The Astros capped their 13-run victory with four runs in the seventh inning, seven runs in the eighth inning and three runs in the ninth inning. Backup catcher Carson Kelly and shortstop Zack Short pitched for the Tigers (59-71) in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to finish the embarrassing defeat.
Right-hander Justin Verlander, a Tiger from 2005-17, controlled his former team in his fifth start since getting traded to the Astros from the New York Mets, though the Tigers worked his pitch count to 98 pitches and had multiple chances with runners in scoring position.
“We worked him pretty tough until he took over the at-bats once we had guys on base,” Hinch said. “You could see him reach back and dial up extra velocity and a better slider. … He made the adjustments when it mattered the most, which is what elite guys do.”
Verlander tossed five scoreless innings on two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts, with 65 of 98 pitches going for strikes.
Verlander relied heavily on his four-seam fastball, which averaged 94.6 mph, while mixing in sliders and curveballs. He also used a few changeups. The Tigers fouled off 32 of his 98 pitches.
“Erratic, obviously,” Verlander said. “I fell behind a lot of guys and put myself in a hole.”
Faedo, opposing Verlander, gave up three runs on seven hits and four walks with two strikeouts in 4⅔ innings, throwing 61 of 95 pitches for strikes. The Astros scored two runs in the third inning and one run in the fourth inning.
The two-run third began with Jose Altuve’s leadoff walk. The walk to Altuve was of the rare three-pitch variety, as the inning began with an automatic ball because of a pitch timer violation on Faedo, called by home plate umpire Andy Fletcher.
With two outs, Faedo jumped ahead 0-2 in the count against Kyle Tucker. He was one strike away from escaping Altuve’s walk, but Tucker bounced back and worked a full count when he refused to swing at three straight down-and-away pitches. Tucker fouled off the next two pitches, both fastballs, before pulling a ninth-pitch fastball — located up-and-in — for a two-run home run to right field and a 2-0 lead.
“Three fastballs in a row to Tucker is tough,” Hinch said. “You got to make sure you’re going to be perfect there. I know there’s a little bit of cat-and-mouse game, but he can hit the fastball. … I think losing some creativity at that moment felt like we missed an opportunity.”
“I’ve faced Tucker since we were little kids,” Faedo said. “I’ve seen him a lot. For some reason, I’ve gotten him to two strikes a lot in my life, and I’ve not been able to put him away. I definitely don’t think it was the wrong (pitch), but I just missed on the wrong side of the plate.”
The Astros extended their lead to 3-0 in the fourth when Faedo walked back-to-back batters with two outs. The first walk, to Alex Bregman, loaded the bases, and the second walk, to Yordan Alvarez, drove in a run.
Tucker, the next batter, stranded the bases loaded with a flyout to left, however.
For his 95 pitches, Faedo used 47 four-seam fastballs (49%), 34 sliders (36%) and 14 changeups (15%). He recorded 10 whiffs — four fastballs, five sliders, one changeup — and 12 called strikes.
“I thought I threw some good fastballs to get some swing-and-miss,” Faedo said. “I thought my changeup was really good to both lefties and righties. I thought my breaking balls were pretty good in the zone and got some soft contact. Out of the zone, they didn’t chase.”
A painful ending
Left-handed reliever Tyler Holton entered in the sixth and allowed more than two runs in a single outing for the first time this season. The 27-year-old surrendered four runs in the seventh inning, as many as he allowed in his previous 21 outings combined.
After a scoreless sixth inning, Holton gave up three hits in a row to Tucker (single), Chas McCormick (double) and Jon Singleton (single) in the seventh. The single from Singleton made it 4-0; Jeremy Peña’s groundout into a double play made it 5-0. Back-to-back solo home runs from Mauricio Dubón and Martin Maldonado accounted for the Astros’ sixth and seventh runs.
Holton, who entered Sunday with a 1.62 ERA, now has a 2.11 ERA over 68⅓ innings in 46 appearances.
Left-handed reliever Andrew Vasquez allowed four runs — one unearned because of first baseman Spencer Torkelson’s fielding error — in the eighth.
The inning plummeted for the Tigers when Peña cleared the loaded bases with a one-out triple to center for an 11-0 advantage.
Peña scored on Dubón’s ensuing single for a 12-0 lead.
The Tigers replaced Vasquez with Kelly, the backup catcher, for the rest of the eighth inning. Kelly surrendered four hits in a row — Yainer Diaz (home run), Altuve (single), Corey Julks (single) and Alvarez (single) — before getting back-to-back outs to strand the bases loaded.
Kelly struck out Jake Myers for his first-career strikeout, in his eighth pitching appearance.
Short made his sixth pitching appearance of the season, the most among MLB position players, in the ninth. He gave up three runs, blowing up his ERA from 1.59 to 6.00 over six innings.
On-base streak lives; Miggy’s moment
Kerry Carpenter was hit in the foot by Verlander’s slider in the second inning.
A hit-by-pitch, especially in the second inning, wouldn’t normally be considered a key moment. In his case, though, the slider to the foot extended Carpenter’s on-base streak to 23 consecutive games.
It’s the longest active on-base streak in the big leagues.
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the second inning after Meadows’ walk and Javier Báez’s hit-by-pitch, but Verlander bounced back by striking out Zach McKinstry on three pitches and Jake Rogers on four pitches.
Entering the eighth, the Tigers had collected just two hits: Riley Greene’s third-inning single and Andy Ibáñez’s fifth-inning single. They doubled their hit total in the eighth, though, as an infield single by Torkelson followed a walk by Greene, and then Miguel Cabrera launched a three-run home run.
The homer cut the Tigers’ deficit to 14-3.
Cabrera launched a third-pitch sweeper from right-handed reliever Phil Maton — the brother of Tigers infielder Nick Maton — for a 391-foot homer to left-center. He has three homers this season and 510 homers in his 21-year MLB career, passing Gary Sheffield for 26th place on the all-time list.
“If you’re going to go home with any semblance of joy after today, it’s a Miggy pull-side homer,” Hinch said. “You see the scoreboard, the RBIs change, the homer number changes. Always love when something positive happens for Miguel.”
McKinstry hit a 435-foot solo home run, his eighth homer of the season, in the bottom of the ninth to cap the Tigers’ not-nearly-enough rally.
The Tigers finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The Astros finished with 25 hits (and six walks) against five pitchers and two position players.