Tigers 5, Guardians 4: Cardiac cats hang on to win

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The Tigers took down the Guardians 5-4 on a damp, chilly Wednesday evening in Detroit, but it didn’t come easy. After building a small early lead, the Tigers added on runs and it was well that they did. A long, scary ninth inning had to be overcome before this victory went into the books.

Olson allowed a Jose Ramirez single in the top of the first but stranded him there without issue. Wenceel Pérez led off against RHP Tanner Bibee by pulling a double down the right field line. Colt Keith stayed red hot, roasting a Bibee offering up the left center field gap to the wall and roaring around the bases to end up on third with an RBI triple. Matt Vierling lifted a fly ball to right field and Keith tagged and scored to make it 2-0.

Olson set the Guardians down in order in the top of the second. In the bottom half, Justyn-Henry Malloy did his thing, drawing a walk with one out. Akil Baddoo chased a high fastball for strike three, but Jake Rogers pulled a changeup through the left side of the infield and while Malloy was held at third, Rogers saw an opportunity and pushed his luck to take second base on the play. Unfortunately, a solid Pérez fly ball to left died short of the wall and we were on to the third inning.

Olson allowed a one out single to catcher Bo Naylor, not to be confused with first baseman Josh Naylor, and that brought up the dangerous Steven Kwan. Kwan got a changeup that hung up a bit and pulled a line drive down the first base line for a double. A first pitch curveball that also stayed up was pulled deep into the right center field gap. The ball bounced over the wall for an automatic double, and the game was tied with Jose Ramirez at the dish.

Olson got Ramirez to ground out to first, moving Martinez to third base. Josh Naylor hit a little tapper in front of the plate, and Jake Rogers easily threw him out to end the inning.

The Tigers didn’t like that one bit. Bibee stayed away from Keith to lead off the inning and walked him. Matt Vierling got a hanging curveball in a 2-2 count and smoked it 426 feet to left field for a two-run shot. 4-2 Tigers.

So Olson had a brand new lead, and his teammates just asked that he take better care of this one than the old lead. Olson got two quick outs, but in a 2-2 count he tried to spot a fastball on the outer edge away from left-handed hitting Daniel Schneemann but the outfielder was looking away and Olson hadn’t down much to back lefties off the plate. Schneemann lifted an opposite field shot that just carried out for a solo home run. 4-3 Tigers. Olson struck out Brayan Rocchio to end the inning but he just wasn’t very sharp in this one.

Opening the bottom half of the inning, Malloy foul tipped a Bibee fastball right into the back of home plate umpire Jansen Visconti’s hand as it rested out in front of him on his left thigh. It didn’t look too good and it wouldn’t be surprised if there was a fracture or break as the foul tip didn’t take much juice off the fastball’s velocity. Visconti was clearly in a ton of pain and had to leave the game. The umpiring crew had to go to a three-man alignment.

Catchers keeping their throwing hand in front of them nowadays is a bit of a controversial topic, but teams want them ready to throw. There really isn’t a reason for an umpire to not keep their hands out of the way, but we still often see them crouching with their hands on their knees or thighs. Probably fortunate this doesn’t happen more often. Either way, it delayed the game for 10 minutes or so as the umpiring crew got adjusted. First base umpire David Arrieta took over behind the plate and then Bibee needed time to warm back up mid-inning.

Malloy wasn’t able to take advantage of the break in Bibee’s rhythm. He grounded out and Baddoo and Rogers struck out to end the inning.

Olson made a pretty big mistake by walking the nine-hitter, Bo Naylor to open the fifth. With Kwan, Martinez, and Ramirez coming up that’s not something you want to try and get away with too often. He did this time, as Kwan grounded one sharply to Keith for a 4-6-3 double play. Martinez popped out, and it was the Tigers turn to try and build on their lead.

Bibee struck out Pérez and Keith pulled a one-hopper to first base for the second out. Vierling was hit by a changeup that sailed on Bibee to get Riley Greene to the dish with a runner on. Greene smoked a line drive up the right field gap but Angel Martinez did a good job cutting it off and getting it back in to the shortstop Rocchio. Rocchio was moving away from second base toward left field to pick the relay on a hop, so you could see why Joey Cora didn’t expect such a quick turn and throw home, but it wasn’t even close. Vierling was out by about 15 feet. Great work.

Olson got Ramirez to ground out, as the Tigers, and I’m scared to type this, continued to keep the Guardians star in check. Josh Naylor lined a single to right field but David Fry bounced into a 6-4-3 double play to send it to the bottom of the sixth.

Not Olson’s best work. His command just wasn’t particularly sharp, but other than the third inning he was solid as usual, without much hard contact allowed. 6.0 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, BB, 3 K on the outing.

Bibee walked Gio Urshela to set the Tigers up for success in the inning. Zach McKinstry lifted a fly ball to the wall in right field, but Schneemann caught it and fired a strike to cut down Urshela trying to tag and take second. Malloy struck out to end the inning. Great throw from Schneemann. The Tigers kept challenging the Guardians to make plays, and the Guardians unsurprisingly kept making the plays.

Tyler Holton took over in the seventh, and Andres Gimenez greeted him with a solid single to right field. Schneemann was pulled for pinch-hitter Tyler Freeman to face the southpaw. Holton fired a perfect strike at the bottom of the zone in a 1-2 count, but it was called a ball and Freeman then lifted a deep fly ball to left field. Fortunately, it fell just short of the warning track and into Akil Baddoo’s glove.

Holton punched out Rocchio, and Guardians manager Stephen Vogt turned to right-hander Jhonkensy Noel to hit in place of Bo Naylor. They didn’t have a runner in scoring position with Gimenez still at first, but a hit would again turn the lineup over and bring up Steven Kwan in an RBI situation. Holton fed him a bunch of changeups after missing with strike one, then missed with a cutter to make it 2-2. Another cutter in got Noel to shatter his bat and ground out to short. Good work from Holton there.

Bibee got the first two outs but he was at 104 pitches. Vogt came out to talk to him with Wenceel Pérez at the dish, but Bibee was adamant he was good to go against the switch-hitter, so Vogt decided not to go to a lefty and turn Pérez around to his weaker right-handed side. Bibee won out, carving up Pérez with a good breaking ball for a swinging strike three.

Holton stayed in the game and got Kwan to ground out to open the eighth inning. A.J. Hinch then came out to get him, turning to Alex Faedo against Martinez. A 1-1 fastball was scorched on a line to center field, but Riley Greene raced in and made a beautiful diving catch to deny a hit. Ramirez smoked a hot grounder to Urshela’s backhand at first, and the veteran infielder made a slick play going down to one knee to pick it and record the last out of the inning. After some of the baserunning fails, it was nice to see them make some good plays and pick up their pitcher.

Lefty Sam Hentges took over for the Guardians, and Hinch pulled Keith for Andy Ibáñez to try and get the lefty masher into a game and take advantage of the matchup. The veteran held a .973 OPS against lefties coming into the at-bat. If you were watching the game, you may have questioned this move, and then you stopped as Ibáñez lifted a home run into the home bullpen. 5-3 Tigers.

Vierling struck out, but Riley Greene was next and after a lot of loud outs against the Guardians, he was hungry. A Hentges slider got scorched to right field for a double. Urshela grounded out, and so Hinch went to Javy Báez against the lefty, and to get his glove into the game with the lead. Javy grounded out, and it was on to the ninth.

Hinch stuck with Faedo rather than going with Jason Foley, and that was a little curious. Faedo has much better numbers against lefties so that was obviously the reason, but Faedo doesn’t have much experience closing games either.

Anyway it didn’t work. Faedo walked Josh Naylor, and now I was extra curious why Foley wasn’t in against the right-handed hitting David Fry. Faedo fell behind 3-0 to Fry and then got a real gift of a call on a high fastball. He fired a 95 mph heater in for a whiff, then came back with another fastball 3-2 and Fry fouled it off. A slider missed down, and Faedo had walked the first two hitters. Gabriel Arias took over to pinch-run for Fry to add speed on the basepaths, and Andres Gimenez came to the dish.

Faedo pulled a fastball into the dirt for a wild pitch, and now it was runners on second and third and no out. Gimenez lifted a sacrifice fly to left, and Arias tagged and moved to third. And now, Hinch decided he wanted a ground ball and turned to Jason Foley against right-handed Tyler Freeman, bringing the infield in hoping to cut down the tying run trying to score from third.

Foley got ahead 0-2 and Freeman grounded one to Urshela at first. Gio fired home and they trapped Arias in a pickle and tagged him out after the speedy baserunner kept things alive long enough for Freeman to take second base on the play.

And so, we were down to the final out. Hinch gave an intentional walk to the left-handed hitting Brayan Rocchio—suddenly Hinch seems to have accepted giving out a free pass when called for—to let Foley tacked weak hitting catcher Austin Hedges. A wild pitch that was probably a passed ball got the runners to second and third, and good grief this was proving a stressful inning without even a hard hit ball.

In a 2-2 count, Foley dropped a perfect slider in for strike three, and the home plate ump missed it. Fortunately, Hedges grounded one to Javy Báez, who fired wide of first base. Fortunately, Urshela made a great spinning swipe tag to get Hedges and finally put this one to bed.

That was way too stressful. 5-4 Tigers earns them a split and a chance to take the series from the Guardians on Thursday afternoon at 1:40 p.m. ET. RHP Jack Flaherty returns to the mound to take on right-hander Spencer Howard.

Box Score

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