With this short season making a rapid turn into the stretch drive, the Tigers needed to hold serve in Friday’s doubleheader. Unfortunately, their lumber slumbered through both seven inning contests, and they dropped a pair to the Minnesota Twins to slip well back in the wild card chase.
The tone was ominous from the start in game one. The Tigers mounted a threat in the top of the first when Jonathan Schoop and Miguel Cabera singled back-to-back with one out. Schoop advanced to third on Cabrera’s single, but was stranded as Jeimer Candelario struck out and Willi Castro grounded out to third.
Matt Boyd took the mound in the bottom half of the inning, and promptly surrendered home runs to Jorge Polanco and Josh Donaldson, the first two hitters he faced. We’ve seen this show before, and it’s not worth the price of admission.
However, to his credit, Boyd settled right in, and despite Polanco lofting a high changeup just over the wall, didn’t go away from the offspeed stuff. Instead, he turned things completely around, dominating the Twins the rest of the way. He allowed just two more hits, didn’t walk a batter, and punched out eight to carry the Tigers through six strong innings of work.
The offense just couldn’t get anything going against Randy Dobnak, only recently plucked from Independent League obscurity by the sharp-eyed Twins. They managed just two hits after the first inning, and were pounding Dobnak’s sinker into the ground all game long. Jeimer Candelario led off the seventh, and final, inning—2020 doubleheader rules in effect—with a line drive single, and got into scoring position on a wild pitch. Unfortunately, another pair of ground ball outs and a strikeout put a bow on this one for the Minnesotans.
Game two seemed much more promising until the late innings. In a tough spot for both clubs, as they play five games in four days at Target Field, the Tigers really needed a win here. Tyler Alexander did his part and gave the Tigers another good outing, working through a little traffic to toss four frames of one-run ball. He punched four Twins’ tickets along the way, and made a couple of big pitches when needed to snuff potential rallies.
The Tigers backed him up a bit as well. After Alexander surrendered a run in the third, Victor Reyes got things started in the bottom half of the frame—the Tigers were the home team in this one—with a two-out single back through the box. Jonathan Schoop followed with a slicing fly ball to right field that Twins’ right-fielder Brent Rooker misplayed into a triple. Reyes scored in the process, and Miguel Cabrera lined a single into right-center to plate Schoop. The Tigers had their first lead of the day.
After Alexander departed, Bryan Garcia spun a quiet fifth inning, getting Nelson Cruz to ground into an inning ending double play after a leadoff single by Polanco. Meanwhile former Tigers farmhand Caleb Thielbar was keeping the Tigers’ bats in check with lefty funk and steady doses of his slow curve.
The Tigers tried to build on their one-run lead with the top of the order up to bat. Reyes singled to right field, and after Schoop struck out, Cabrera dumped another single into center field as Reyes alertly hustled first to third. That was as close as they’d come to scoring as again the middle of the order couldn’t get it done. Candelario popped out, and Willi Castro grounded into a force play to end the threat.
It should be noted at this point, that both teams were rapidly getting fed up with home plate umpire Chris Segal’s strike zone by this point. The Tigers appeared to be getting the worst of it, but the inconsistency was rather maddening all around. Of course, pitchers locating and catchers presenting the ball well helps, which became painfully apparent later on in the game.
Buck Farmer had little trouble setting the Twins down in the sixth, while the bottom half of the frame saw the major league debut of Derek Hill for the Tigers. He was greeted rudely by veteran reliever Tyler Clippard, who put the youngster away on four pitches. Jorge Bonifacio grounded out, and Grayson Greiner followed with a deep fly ball that Byron Buxton hauled in near the wall in centerfield. Still, the Tigers led 2-1 with just three outs required to split the double-header.
It wasn’t to be.
Gregory Soto got the call, and once again struggled under the pressure of a save situation. He was wild against Ehire Adrianza to start the inning, missing badly with a couple of pitches to issue the dreaded leadoff walk. He settled down facing Josh Donaldson, but the former AL MVP fought off a couple of tough fastballs with two strikes and worked the count full. Greiner called for a fastball at the bottom of the zone, and Soto took a deep breath before painting what appeared to be a perfect heater right to Greiner’s glove. Unfortunately, Greiner stabbed at it, carrying the ball out of the strike zone and Segal understandably called it ball four. Jorge Polanco lined a 2-2 heater into right centerfield, and we had a tie ballgame.
Jose Cisnero, seemingly the easy best bet for new Tigers’ closer, came on with no outs and two on, and punched out Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz back-to-back. Willans Astudillo lined out to second base, and the bleeding was halted, temporarily.
The Tigers went very quietly in the bottom of the seventh, sending us to extra innings with the runner on second rule in effect. With the bullpen depleted, deposed closer Joe Jimenez entered the game with Astudillo on second base to begin the eighth. Jimenez was fine, although the contact was still a little loud. A one-out Marwin Gonzalez grounder back through the box allowed Astudillo to race around third and score the go-ahead run. Pretty frustrating to get three outs on seven pitches, allow just a routine single, and still give up the lead, but them’s the rules.
Trevor May came on in the bottom of the frame looking to close it out, and had no trouble. Cabrera, Candelario, and Castro each struck out, and suddenly the Tigers’ six game winning streak is becoming a distant memory.
The Tigers slip back below the .500 mark with the losses. They hold a 17-19 mark and have lost three straight. The situation is getting dire, as the Toronto Blue Jays nipped the Boston Red Sox on Friday for their third straight victory. Their lead over Detroit in the wild card standings is suddenly three and a half games with just over three weeks left in the regular season.
With their improbable push for a playoff spot fraying, the Tigers will now turn to the kids. Tarik Skubal will take the ball on Saturday, while Casey Mize will duel veteran lefty Rich Hill on Sunday. If the club has any magic left to offer, now is the time.