Detroit — Andy Ibanez didn’t do the play wrong. He did exactly what the play calls for. But, by its nature, the contact play is a do-or-die proposition.
On Tuesday night, the Tigers’ died by it in a 6-5, 10-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Comerica Park.
“We’re always going on contact there,” catcher Jake Rogers said. “We’re always going to put pressure on the defense. Just didn’t get it done.”
The Reds, still grinding for a possible wild card spot, took the one-run lead in the top of the 10th when Tyler Stephenson singled home the free runner off right-hander Alex Lange.
The Tigers escaped further damage on a debatable 6-3-4 double-play ball. Shortstop Javier Baez, with runners at first and second, got the out at first and then Spencer Torkelson threw back to second where Ibanez applied the tag on runner Joey Votto.
It looked like Votto might’ve been safe, but home plate umpire Adrian Johnson denied Reds manager David Bell the challenge request because he didn’t put his hand up soon enough to signal the request. He was busy trying to get a pinch-hitter into the on-deck box.
So, the Tigers caught a break there. It was the last one they’d get.
Former Tiger Buck Farmer was tasked with getting the final three outs in the bottom of the 10th. Ibanez, the free runner, tagged and advanced to third base on a fly ball to center field by Torkelson.
The Reds brought their infield in and Hinch sent Akil Baddoo up to pinch-hit for Rogers. Farmer got Baddoo to hit a one-hopper right at second baseman Jonathan India. Ibanez, going on contract, was an easy out at the plate.
“When it’s hit right at him, it is a fairly easy out at home,” Hinch said. “When it’s not, you score. We’re not going on the results. We got unlucky that the ball was hit right at India. If it’s five feet to the left, he’s probably safe. It’s the risk you take.”
Teams put on the contact play to eliminate thinking, to eliminate any hesitation. You go on contact.
“He could have stayed and we’d have a runner at third with two outs and felt better,” Hinch said. “But Carp punched at the end, it wouldn’t have resulted in anything different.”
Baddoo stole second base, but Farmer struck out Kerry Carpenter to end the game and earn the save.
“You either have to be all in or all out,” Hinch said. “When that play doesn’t work, it’s very frustrating.”
The teams combined for 10 runs in the first six innings, five a side. Then, a bullpen-induced silence.
Reds relivers Daniel Duarte, Lucas Sims, Ian Gibaut and Alexis Diaz stymied the Tigers from the sixth inning through the ninth, allowing two base runners, a single and a hit-batsman.
For the Tigers, Will Vest entered with two outs in the fifth and proceeded to strike out four straight hitters – India, pinch-hitter Will Benson, Spencer Steer and Hunter Renfroe. Lefty Tyler Holton followed and set down five straight hitters.
Jason Foley got the final out of the eighth and breezed through the ninth. He did get big help from center fielder Parker Meadows, who stole a leadoff single from Benson with a diving catch in center leading off the ninth.
“We got put in a tough spot where we had to use a lot of arms, luckily it was after an off day,” Hinch said. “We just tried to navigate their lineup to keep it close and give ourselves a puncher’s chance and we did. Every time I went to the mound, I meant to go to the mound and I got to pick a matchup we liked.
“And those guys delivered. They threw the heck out of it.”
The Tigers staggered the Reds and lefty starter Brandon Williamson, with three quick runs in the first inning.
Making his first start in two weeks after batting Covid, Williamson left a changeup up over the plate and Ibanez ladled it into the Tigers’ bullpen in left field for his 11th homer of the year.
Torkelson, Rogers, Carpenter and Miguel Cabrera followed with singles, the last two knocking in runs, and the Tigers had a fast 3-0 lead.
They left Williamson standing, though. He was at 29 pitches when he ended the inning striking out Zack Short and getting Baez on a soft fly to left, stranding Carpenter at third.
The Reds, with an assist from some shoddy Tigers’ defense, ran off five unanswered runs against lefty Joey Wentz.
Torkelson, especially, had a rough inning at first base in the top of the second. First, he couldn’t hang on to a high throw from third baseman Short (error on Short). Then he bobbled a ground ball by Votto. Instead of throwing to second and possibly starting a double-play, he had to take the out at first.
That’s when the fissures started for Wentz. He walked Elly De La Cruz and gave up an RBI single to No. 9 hitter, lefty-swinging TJ Friedl. Torkelson cut off the throw from right-fielder Carpenter and had Friedl trapped between first and second.
Instead, he threw to third, too late to get De La Cruz. With runners at second and third, India singled and tied the game 3-3.
Wentz got the first two batters out on the third and then walked lefty-swinging Votto. De La Cruz singled and Bader, on a broken-bat bloop in shallow right, plated both with a double.
It took Wentz just 13 pitches to get through a clean first inning. But when he left with two outs and two on in the third, five runs (two earned) already in, he was at 69 pitches.
“He battled a lot of different things,” Hinch said of Wentz. “Getting out of the first was good and then it looked like everything spiraled a bit. We did him no favors with the errors and the walks. It always seems like in Joey’s crooked-number innings there’s a walk or a miscue and he has a hard time controlling the inning.
“It was a frustrating night for him. He’s really hard on himself. We’re going to stick by him and support him, but obviously, we need better.”
Williamson went the other way. He settled in after his 29-pitch first and breezed into the fifth having dispatched eight straight hitters. Then Matt Vierling stepped in to lead-off the fifth and Williamson was back in labor mode.
Vierling battled him for 13 pitches, fouling off six straight 3-2 pitches, before drawing a walk. Ibanez followed by lining a double to left, scoring Vierling from first base.
Ibanez scored on a two-out single by Carpenter off reliever Fernando Cruz and the game was tied 5-5 going into the sixth inning.
Vierling nearly untied the game in the top of the seventh. After reliever Lucas Sims spun him around with two high-and-tight pitches, he dug back in and drove a pitch 408 feet to center field. In Comerica Park, though, that’s just a long out.