The Detroit Tigers came into Thursday’s doubleheader with St. Louis Cardinals needing to turn around their rapidly fading playoff fortunes. They weren’t able to gain any ground, but after getting walloped again in game one, they fought back in the nightcap to pull out a stirring comeback victory.
Game one was just a mess. A day after getting crushed 19-0 by the Brewers, the Cardinals laid another whooping down, winning going away by a score of 12-2.
Tarik Skubal got the start, and just didn’t have his command. He issued four walks in two innings of work and couldn’t record an out in a disastrous third inning in which the Cards dropped seven runs on them. In Skubal’s case, it’s not a big deal for a rookie under these conditions to have their struggles. More damning was the appearance of former closer Joe Jimenez, who continues to look like a DFA candidate more than even a competent middle reliever.
Jimenez took over after Skubal had already issued two walks and allowed two runs to score in the third. Jimenez did get the first two batters he faced, but even Yadi Molina’s lineout to center field was hit hard. From there, Tyler O’Neill launched a two-run shot to left, Harrison Bader singled, and then Lane Thomas ripped a second two-run shot to left to knock Jimenez from the game.
With far diminished velocity from his peak when he arrived in the major leagues, Jimenez is unfortunately looking a shell of his former self, and the Tigers seem to have no idea what to do to get through to him about his stuff, his mechanics, his command, or his attitude. While he never reached the expectations the “closer of the future” tag comes with, or perhaps curses one with in terms of the Tigers, Jimenez was a very useful and even good reliever at times over the past three seasons. It’s hard to see how things improve right now.
The Tigers struggled against Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty, but did managed to avoid the shutout when Jeimer Candelario cracked his sixth home run of the season in the fourth inning. Miguel Cabrera rode home after leading off the inning with a single. The Candyman had two of the Tigers five hits in the contest.
Game two seemed bound to hold more of the same with Jordan Zimmermann making his season debut. The veteran still had a few tricks up his sleeve, though they largely involved getting contact in the right spot for his defense to bail him out of a couple of jams. Still, he managed three innings with just one run allowed. His inning ended on a drive to right that Daz Cameron hauled in before crashing into the wall for his first highlight as a Tiger. We’ll take it the way things have been going.
Jordan Zimmermann had a very nice major league career as a starter. It’s sad that we never got to see the best of him. While there are some hard feelings in the fanbase because of the contract, and the miserable, injury plagued tenure here, it was fitting that his last start was reasonably solid. We may see him a few times in the bullpen over the final 15 games, but his time in the Tigers’ rotation is finally over.
Tyler Alexander came on in relief and leaked a run in each of the fourth and fifth innings. The Tigers were down 3-0 as Jose Cisnero came on to help the lefty out of a fifth inning jam, and it looked like they were headed for a third straight loss.
However, Jeimer Candelario was having none of it. The red hot first baseman launched home run number seven in the sixth inning to get the Tigers on the board, and that set the stage for one of the more poignant rallies of the season in the seventh.
Sergio Alcantara, playing third base instead of shortstop for some reason, led off the inning by taking a tough 3-2 pitch for ball four on a check swing that was perilously close to going too far. Victor Reyes and Jonathan Schoop followed with singles to center field, and Alcantara raced home on a throwing error on centerfielder Harrison Bader. With runners on second and third after the error, the Cardinals elected to walk Miguel Cabrera to load the bases.
The move made sense, except that it brought Jeimer Candelario to the dish with the game winning run in scoring position. The red hot first baseman delivered yet again, lining a two-run single to center field to take the lead 4-3. And the Tigers weren’t done.
After Willi Castro smoked a liner into the glove of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who doubled off Candelario as well, Jorge Bonifacio stepped to the plate and mashed a two-run shot to left off of Ryan Halsey to give the Tigers some insurance. Bryan Garcia came on to close it out and quickly put the Cardinals away for his second save of the year.
The New York Yankees won on Thursday, so the Tigers remain two games back for the final wild card spot. After the struggles of the past week, they should count their blessings. With 15 games left on the schedule, all against AL Central opponents, the Tigers still have an outside shot, but they’re going to have to take weekend series in Chicago against a very dangerous White Sox club to realistically stay in the hunt.