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Tigers 6, Astros 4: From Swept, To Sweep

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Wow. That game sure wasn’t stressful at all. I sure am glad we have a lockdown bullpen, just like the good ol’ days.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit has completed their bounce-back from a miserable series versus Cleveland by sweeping the Astros in their own ballpark. Tigers win, 6-4.

A Pair of Three-Run Innings

Two three-run innings put Detroit over the edge in this one. The Tigers second-inning rally began with Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. hitting Renato Núñez to open the frame. Jonathan Schoop then drew a five-pitch walk to set the table for Akil Baddoo, boy wonder. The best way to describe what happened next is to take this excerpt from writer Brady McAtamney in the Bless You Boys staff group chat:

7:38 PM: Time for Akil to go yard

7:41 PM: That works too

One Baddoouble later, Detroit had taken a 1-0 lead. From there, Jonathan Schoop scored on a sharp grounder by Niko Goodrum, and Harold Castro grounded out before Robbie Grossman knocked in his fourth run of the year. At the end of the second inning, Detroit led 3-0.

Through the first four pitches of the fourth inning, it was hard to tell which direction McCullers was going in. His first pitch of the inning, a hanging 92.8 MPH sinker to Jonathan Schoop, left Schoop’s bat at a game-high 109.8 MPH exit velocity. But then he got Baddoo out on three pitches, and early-April Akil Baddoo is essentially what would happen if you combined all the best aspects of Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle into one player. Next, Niko Goodrum drew a walk, but then Harold Castro struck out. At this point, it looked like the rally might end.

But then, McCullers plunked another batter. This time, it was Robbie Grossman. At this point, Dusty Baker had enough of McCullers and opted to pull him and bring in sidearmer Joe Smith. Jeimer Candelario and possible future home run derby candidate Wilson Ramos promptly made the Astros pay with back-to-back singles. 6-0 Detroit.

An Encouraging Start from Michael Fulmer

Meanwhile, after losing his rotation spot to open the season, starting pitcher Michael Fulmer seized the day in his first start since Julio Teheran landed on the 60-day injured list by starting the game with ten straight outs. The fastball was topping 97 mph, and the slider was dirty. Fulmer even shaped it like a cutter on a few occasions, sweeping it away from right-handed hitters across the top of the zone at 91 mph. In short, the Fulminator was back, if still in need of time to build up his pitch counts.

Fulmer’s command became more sporadic in the fifth inning, and while he managed to saw off Carlos Correa and Ronnie Dawson’s bats, he also allowed a two-run home run to nine-hole hitter Jason Castro. Because of this, Fulmer’s fifth inning was somewhat reminiscent of his 2020 campaign, in which he would frequently lose command and become very susceptible prone to the long ball. Ultimately, Fulmer struck out Myles Straw to end the fifth inning, and finished his first start back in the rotation with five innings pitched, three hits allowed, two earned runs allowed, and two strikeouts to pair with one walk. He now sits at a 3.00 ERA after 12 innings, though he is allowing 2.25 home runs per nine innings.

Pandora’s Box

Now, this game was not a smooth ride from start to finish. Michael Fulmer’s tumultuous fifth inning likely disturbed the peaceful balance and zen that the Tigers had achieved in their first two games of this series, as Daniel Norris immediately stumbled into trouble in the sixth inning. Norris allowed a walk and two consecutive singles to kick off his short-lived outing, which brought up the tying run in Kyle Tucker in a 6-3 ballgame. Once Norris got the left-handed-hitting Kyle Tucker out, Hinch really decided to play with fire by bringing out Buck Farmer as his stopper, despite Farmer’s struggles to open the season. It took Farmer just two pitches to get Carlos Correa to ground out, but it took another nine for him to finally get Abraham Toro to fly out. Once the dust had settled, the sixth inning Daniel Norris and Buck Farmer 1-2 combo only allowed one run.

In the seventh inning, Alex Lange made things look easy after allowing a lead-off single to Ronnie Dawson. He struck Jason Castro out on three pitches while getting Castro to whiff at a 96.5 MPH four-seam fastball followed by an 82.9 MPH slider. He made Myles Straw ground out after just two pitches with identical sequencing: first the four-seamer, then the slider. Finally, two four-seamers started Aledmys Diaz off with a 1-1 count before Diaz fouled off an 83 MPH Lange slider and struck out on an 83.9 MPH slider to end the inning.

But of course, that Fulmer fifth inning must have opened Pandora’s box, as Gregory Soto’s eighth inning was nearly as eventful as Daniel Norris’s wild ride in the sixth. Manager A.J. Hinch turned to Soto with the heart of the Houston lineup coming to the plate, and of course, the inning started with Jonathan Schoop literally dropping the ball at first base and allowing Michael Brantley to reach. Yuli Gurriel then drew a walk to once again bring the tying run up to the plate in Kyle Tucker. Tucker failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity for Houston once more, popping out on the infield fly, but Carlos Correa made things interesting by knocking a single to load the bases. With the winning run stepping up to the plate in Abraham Toro, Soto tossed three straight sliders and got Toro to ground into an inning-ending double play.

For a second straight inning, Houston could not decipher the sliders coming out from the Detroit bullpen. Seemingly every time a Tigers pitcher was in trouble, pitching coach Chris Fetter made a quick visit to the mound, and a flurry of sliders down in the zone followed.

Houston’s Last Stand

And then, of course, there was the ninth inning. Hinch now turned to José Cisnero, who is also off to a rough start on his 2021 campaign (not as rough as Norris or Farmer, but not nearly as good as his abbreviated 2020 season). After issuing consecutive walks to Ronnie Dawson and Jason Castro, followed by a single by Myles Straw, Cisnero left the game having loaded the bases and getting nobody out for Bryan Garcia.

Garcia is also off to a poor start this season, and Hinch has not had a lot to work with in regards to bullpen management through the first two weeks of the season. So, with the winning run coming to the plate with nobody out, bringing in Garcia was not ideal. Fortunately, Garcia was able to struggle through to the end of the game. His night began by striking out Almedys Diaz on a borderline strike-three pitch (it looked a bit low, but who’s going to complain?). Next, Michael Brantley flied out after a five pitch at-bat. But then, of course, he walked Yuli Gurriel and, in turn, walked in Ronnie Dawson. 6-4 Detroit.

Now, the winning run stood on first base, and the tying run was represented Myles Straw, a speedster standing on second. Once again, Kyle Tucker came to the plate. Four pitches (three changeups and one sinker) later, Tucker had punched out, bringing his LOBster fest total to 9 on the evening, and the Tigers emerged victorious.

Meanwhile in the AL Central...

Carlos Rodón threw the second no-hitter of this young season, a 112-pitch beauty versus the Cleveland Baseball Team. Rodón was two outs away from a perfect game before tapping Roberto Pérez on the foot with a backfoot slider, but continued on to lock down the no-hitter despite a dramatic final at-bat versus lefties killer Jordan Luplow. The White Sox broadcast called him “one shoelace away from perfection.” Additionally, when asked where his mind was at during the postgame interview, Rodón answered, “Uh, on the toe ball?”

Rodon has been through an awful lot in terms of injury issues, so we’ll put aside our White Sox animosity and tip the cap on one heck of a performance.

Tweet of the Game

Up Next...

The Tigers will continue their early-season west coast trip with a four-game series against the Oakland Athletics.