Tigers 5, Twins 4: Flaherty dominates but poor defense required late inning heroics again

Bless You Boys

Jack Flaherty spun a really good game, and the Tigers bats continued to heat up on a chilly night in the Twin Cities. However, the defense continued to leak runs like a sieve, and the Tigers needed ninth inning heroics from Wenceel Perez to earn a 5-4 victory on Friday night.

Both offenses came out hot in this one. Mark Canha led off in this one with Riley Greene getting the day off, and he grounded out. Wenceel Perez struck out, but a two-out double that was scorched to right field off the bat of Kerry Carpenter set the Tigers up. Spencer Torkelson bounced a spinner out to second base and Edouard Julien had to go a little ways into the hole to corral it. By then he had no chance to get Torkelson, but did have Carpenter dead to rights trying to race around from second to score. Instead a poor throw saw Carpenter slide in safe with the first run of the game. Unfortunately, Torkelson tried to take second and was cut down by Christian Vasquez. Aggression is a double-edged sword.

Jack Flaherty got a pair of quick outs in the bottom half, but Alex Kirilloff got a fastball just above the knees on the inner half in a 2-2 count and ripped it to the wall in center field for a double. Flaherty got ahead of Trevor Larnach 0-2, but again threw a fourseamer down and in catching way too much of the plate. Larnach crushed it for a two-run shot.

Flaherty and the Tigers have developed his fourseamer this spring, improving his induced vertical break to make it play well up in the zone. But it feels like there are some old sinkerball habits in Flaherty that cause him to miss down in the zone too often. Hopefully that improves, because both pitches were meat. He struck out Byron Buxton to end the inning.

The cold may have claimed a victim in Gio Urshela, who pulled up lame on a ground ball to lead off the second. He would leave the game, and the hip fracture he suffered last summer couldn’t help but come to mind. Fortunately the initial prognosis was right hamstring tightness. The Tigers went quickly, but Flaherty bounced right back to strike the side out swinging in the bottom of the second with some really good sliders and knuckle curves in the mix.

With one out in the third, the Tigers got a break and capitalized on it. A lengthy battle between Joe Ryan and Parker Meadows ended in a walk on a fastball clearly in the strike zone down and away. Meadows promptly stole second as Canha chased a high fastball, and Wenceel Perez dumped a single into left field to plate the Tigers second run. Perez then stole second as well, and Kerry Carpenter paddled a single through the left side of the infield as the speedy Perez scored with no trouble. 3-2 Tigers.

Flaherty held serve with a pair of strikeouts in the third, but the Tigers quickly went in order in the fourth with Matt Vierling having taken over for Urshela at third base. Flaherty was rolling by this point, however. Two more strikeouts around a Larnach single in the bottom of the fourth sent the Twins back to the drawing board.

Both teams went in order in the fifth, and for once Flaherty didn’t record a strikeout. By then Flaherty already had eight of them, however, with no walks issued. And his offense kept in going in the sixth.

Wenceel Perez hit a towering fly ball to right field that fell at the base of the wall as the speedy utility man raced around the bases with a triple. Kerry Carpenter got jammed by a Ryan heater up and in but again fought off a tough pitch and served it into left field for an RBI single. 4-2 Tigers. Torkelson singled, and for some reason the Tigers had Vierling try to bunt them up 90 feet. Instead, Vierling popped out to Ryan, but that was the end of the right-hander’s outing. Kody Funderburk came on and got Colt Keith to ground into a double play to end the inning.

Flaherty’s velo declined as the outing progressed and probably the cold took its toll. He entered the sixth with just 70 pitches thrown, but the fastball dropped down to 91-92 mph and he walked Julien to lead off the sixth. The cardinal error precipitated a bunch of nonsense as usual.

Ryan Jeffers lifted a low driving fly ball into shallow right center field. Both Meadows and Perez in right field were calling it and nearly collided. The ball dropped for an error on Perez and now Flaherty had runners on second and third with no outs. To his credit, he handled it beautifully. He dialed the fastball up to 93 mph against Kirilloff, striking him out with a pair of nasty knuckle curves. He hit 96 mph in dusting Larnach. And it looked like he’d gotten Byron Buxton on a high fly ball to left that dropped onto the warning track. Unfortunately, Carpenter was playing left field, an unusual position for him, and he overran the baseball. It dropped for a “double” and two runs scored.

Perez often plays center field, and he and Meadows both cover a lot of ground. But that’s the second time in a week that Perez called a ball that was the center fielders’ responsibility and in both cases he failed to make the play. Better recognition of who he has to the right of him is going to be required. One has to imagine that George Lombard and Joey Cora both are going to be taking these errors out on the team in both infield and outfield practice. Can’t have it. After a really good start defensively, they’ve thrown away at least two games in the past week. The question was whether this would make number three.

Flaherty finished with 6.0 IP, 4 R, 2 ER, 4 H, BB, 10 K. We will take that all day. The breaking stuff was outstanding all night, with Flaherty adding and subtracting depth and sweep on both the slider and the curve.

The Tigers got a single from Carson Kelly but no more in the seventh. Canha was called out after back-to-back fastballs were called strikes. The first was clearly a ball away. The second may have caught the edge of the zone. Either way, you can’t give a pitcher both, as Canha calmly informed home plate umpire Lance Barrett before heading to the dugout.

Will Vest took over in the bottom of the seventh. Willi Castro greeted him with a single, and Vazquez dropped a sacrifice bunt to move him to second. Vest punched out Kyle Farmer for the second out, and A.J. Hinch went to Andrew Chafin to get Julien out and end the inning. Rocco Baldelli countered with right-handed hitting Jose Miranda, but Chafin turned the Twins away, getting a fly out to Meadows to send it to the eighth still tied 4-4.

With one out in the top of the eighth, Kerry Carpenter smoked a single to right and then took second on a Griffin Jax wild pitch. Spencer Torkelson ripped a single to left, but hit too hard for Carpenter to score. Jax dialed up a bunch of well located cutters to strike out pinch-hitter Riley Greene and then got Keith to ground out to first to squander the scoring chance.

Andrew Chafin was cooking and set the Twins down pretty easily in the bottom half. And so yet again we had a tight game entering the ninth inning. The Tigers should be used to this by now.

However, Zach McKinstry flew out and Carson Kelly struck out to start the top of the ninth, and that left it up to Parker Meadows. The center fielder appears to have put his struggles at the plate behind him in recent days, but he was facing a tough lefty in Caleb Thielbar. Meadows came through, pulling a single into right field. That brought Canha to the dish again after an ugly day at the plate with three strikeouts already.

Thielbar tried to pick off Meadows and threw it away. Parker easily had third base, but the ball got stuck under the wall in foul territory, and so they brought him back to second base. The Twins elected to walk Canha to face the rookie Perez. That did not work out for them.

Perez got a fastball at the knees over the middle of the plate and roasted a single back up the middle to score Meadows. Redemption. Kerry Carpenter had a chance to blow it open, but he struck out because the Tigers only play one run games, apparently. Cardiac Cats, indeed.

So, it was up to Jason Foley. And so we were in good shape. He walked Willi Castro with two outs, but catcher Christian Vasquez flew out to left to end it. Foley earned his sixth save, and the Tigers can look for a series victory on Saturday afternoon.

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