On a day which finally felt like summer — the temperature climbed to a balmy 68 F (20 C) by the late innings — the Tigers beat the Royals 5-2 in ten innings on Brandon Dixon’s walk-off three-run home run.
Spencer Turnbull was called upon to right the ship after Saturday’s lousy showing, but in the first couple of innings the Royals chipped away, getting on the board in the second with a double and a pair of singles with none out. But after everyone’s favourite play — an early-innings sacrifice bunt — and a lineout to left, Turnbull bore down and struck out Whit Merrifield to end the threat after a solitary run had scored. Merrifield returned the favour and made a great play in the next half-inning, robbing Harold Castro of a hit.
Let’s talk a little more about Merrifield, shall we? Because he has a very weird career so far. A ninth-round pick out of South Carolina in 2010, he kicked-around the minors for six full seasons before seeing some major-league action in 2016, acquitting himself decently with a .716 OPS in half of his age-26 season... which earned him a brief demotion to AAA the next spring.
He stuck with the Royals for the rest of 2017, and all he did in 2018 was lead the American League in hits and get some MVP votes. He’s been a pain in the neck against the Tigers, too: his slash line for his career against Detroit is a sparkling .341/.364/.570, for a .934 OPS. His 73 hits against Detroit is the most he has against any team. You gotta hate the guy. But you also gotta respect the guy.
JaCoby Jones (and his new, slightly open stance) led off the bottom of the third with a double to left, Jeimer Candelario followed up with a walk, and Nicholas Castellanos squeezed a single past third to score Jones and put runners on the corners with none out. Miguel Cabrera then struck out swinging — was that the fault of other guys in the lineup too, Miggy? — and Niko Goodrum whiffed as well because he can’t lay off the high stuff. Ronny Rodriguez grounded out to end the threat, and that was that.
Both starting pitchers settled-in after that, but Jones and Candelario led off the bottom of the fifth with a pair of walks. A Castellanos flyout to not-so-deep centre had Jones smartly advancing to third, and a ground-ball single up the middle by Cabrera drove in Jones to put the Tigers up 2-1 and gave them runners at first and second with one out.
...and then the subtleties of the infield fly rule kicked in. With Candelario and second and Cabrera on first, the infield fly was in effect. Goodrum hit a gently-arcing soft liner to Merrifield at second; Merrifield let the ball clank off his glove and fall to the ground. As soon as he did that, first-base umpire Marvin Hudson put up his right hand to signal Goodrum’s hit was a fly ball, making Goodrum out by definition.
The rule states that, once the infield fly is declared, runners can advance at their own risk; Candelario was confused off second, thinking the dropped liner meant Goodrum wasn’t out, and he tried to advance to third (as he had Cabrera behind him). Merrifield threw to third and got Goodrum out for an unusual double play. Seems like something Ian Kinsler would have done — and indeed did try more than once, if memory serves.
Turnbull got into a bit of trouble in the top of the sixth: with two out and a runner on first, Ryan O’Hearn hit a line drive off Turnbull’s glove which couldn’t be turned into an out, putting runners on first and second with Kelvin Guitierrez up, who has been solid so far this year. On a 2-1 count, he couldn’t hold up a check swing on a cutter; the same thing happened on the ensuing 2-2 count, on another cutter. Does this constitute “striking out the side”? Apparently there’s quite a bit of debate about that. (I say it doesn’t.)
Ronny Rodriguez doubled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and Harold Castro worked a walk to put a pair on. Grayson Greiner then chased a fastball away to strike out, and a walk to Jordy Mercer loaded the bases and ended Brad Keller’s day. Scott Barlow — probably no relation to Lou — struck out Jones and Candelario.
Turnbull came out to start the seventh at 91 pitches, perhaps owing to the marathon bullpen effort from the day before. He crisply got through the inning in 11 pitches with a groundout and a pair of flyouts, and his ERA was lowered to a delightful 2.31.
Joe Jiménez came on for the eighth: strikeout, strikeout... and a Hunter Dozier home run to right to tie the score at 2. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Shane Greene came on in a non-save situation, which has meant non-optimal Greeney the past couple of seasons, and got the first two on a strikeout and groundout. Cam Gallagher hit a grounder to short and Mercer’s throw to Cabrera was high, allowing Gallager on; he gave way to pinch-running specialist Terrance Gore, who then stole second. A walk to Billy Hamilton put speedy runners on first and second and brought the always-dangerous Merrifield to the plate. On a full count, though, Merrifield grounded to second to allow Greene to wiggle out of the jam he didn’t really create in the first place, but also didn’t really help himself initially out of.
A 1-2-3 ninth meant a little Bonus Baseball for the fans. Daniel Stumpf came on in the tenth, and Brandon Dixon, who came in as a pinch-hitter in the 8th for Castro, ran a heck of a long way to make a fantastic play to snag an Alex Gordon fly ball in left:
Castellanos led off the bottom of the 10th with a slow grounder to third that Gutierrez couldn’t handle. After a Cabrera strikeout, Goodrum pulled a Castellanos and did the same thing to put runners on first and second with one out. Ronny Rodriguez struck out, and then Dixon did his thing.
Statistics and Miscellany
- Coming into today’s game, the Tigers were hitting .228 with a .619 OPS with runners in scoring position, which is 14th in the American League. Texas, by contrast, leads the AL with .288 and .882.
- This was the first time in his major league starting career that Spencer Turnbull has pitched into the 7th inning. The line: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
- Today is Paws’ 24th birthday.
Tiger Farmhand Pitching Line of the Day
Another day, another solid starting outing from a hot prospect.
Matt Manning: 7.0 IP, 3 H, BB, 9 SO or great again. The Bowie Baysox could use some therapy after their time in Erie.— Brandon Day (@Fiskadoro74) May 5, 2019