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Royals 3, Tigers 2: Fulmer blows his first save to spoil a fine Mize outing

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Casey Mize was great, but poor defense and a walkoff homer doomed them.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Wearing their legacy Negro League uniforms, the pin-striped Detroit Stars had the Kansas City Monarchs on the ropes all game long but never landed the knockout punch. In the end, the Monarchs weathered the storm, kept it close, and walked it off against Michael Fulmer.

The Tigers got right to work in this one. Professional leadoff man Robbie Grossman drilled a double to right field to start things off against KC’s Matthew Boyd impersonator, lefty Kris Bubic. After Jonathan Schoop lined out to center field, three straight singles from Jeimer Candelario, Miguel Cabrera, and Eric Haase pushed two runs across. Niko Goodrum then walked to load the bases, but Wilson Ramos popped out on the first pitch, while JaCoby Jones whiffed on an fastball down the middle on 0-1, and then took a fastball for strike three.

Frustrating, but Casey Mize had a two-run lead to work with. A.J. Hinch wisely put Jake Rogers behind the plate—with Hinch’s patented and innovative three catcher alignment in play—and the duo cruised through an easy first inning. The Tigers couldn’t do any damage in the second despite Grossman getting on base again with a walk, but it mattered little as Mize carved through the heart of the Royals order with a nasty four-pitch mix. The splitter made an appearance, as Mize got Kelvin Gutierrez to swing over two of them to strike out, while Ryan O’Hearn was frozen on a curveball for strike three to end the inning.

Bubic started to settle in here, and things got a bit more pitcher’s duel-ish for a time. The Tigers went quickly in the third, and so did the Royals. Mize continued to spot everything beautifully, working the Royals over with all four pitches. Nascent pest Nicky Lopez gave Mize a tough eight-pitch battle to end the third, but finally rolled over a fastball to Miguel Cabrera at first to wrap the frame with Mize’s pitch count at just 32.

In the fourth, Mize finally saw a bit of adversity. After two quick outs, Andrew Benintendi battled through a long AB and drew a walk. Mize got ahead of Salvador Perez, and jammed him with a nasty fastball running up the barrel. This produced a little knuckling bliner that Niko Goodrum tried to play on one hop, but totally handcuffed himself, producing another in a bizarre string of errors for the shortstop over the past few weeks. It was ruled a single, spoiling the no-hit bid, but that was pure home cooking from the scorekeeper. However, Mize got a break when a ball skipped away from Rogers for a moment. Benintendi broke for third and Rogers pounced on the ball quickly and threw a dart to get him at third. Extra points on the assist to Candelario, who blocked Benintendi’s hand path with his foot, forcing a swim move from the Royals outfielder that gave an extra beat in which to drop the tag on him.

The Tigers threatened again in the top of the fifth, with Schoop and Candelario singling to start the inning. Cabrera smoked a ground ball to shortstop Lopez for a double play, and Eric Haase followed with another hot grounder to Lopez to end the threat.

Mize just continued to follow Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter’s mantra of getting ahead first pitch, and mixing your whole arsenal in to avoid the ambush. He also kept the pressure on the Bubic with quick innings, like the bottom of the fifth, in which he needed just four pitches to dispatch the Royals in a half inning that lasted under two minutes. Bubic started the sixth feeling that heat, walked Goodrum to lead off the inning, and was finally yanked by Royals’ manager Mike Metheny for RHP Tyler Zuber in relief. Zuber would also walk JaCoby Jones in the inning, but a pair of strikeouts and a ground out from Grossman ended the threat.

After getting another quick out to start the sixth, Mize finally got into a little bit of trouble. He yanked an 0-2 curveball off Nicky Lopez’s knee, and then appeared to hit Whit Merrifield with an 0-1 fastball. As replay showed, Merrifield offered at the pitch, and it appeared to hit his bat rather than his fingers, then deflected off his foot. Adding to the confusion was the fact that Merrifield was holding his side throughout the debate that followed. Swinging and then suddenly trying to get out of the way at the last moment apparently pulled something? We don’t know. We also don’t know what Mike Matheny said to the umpiring crew, but we can certainly interpret the tone. Matheny understandably got himself tossed, Merrifield flew out to right field, and Carlos Santana got nothing but air on a 95 mph fastball up to strike out and end the inning.

It’s worth noting at this point that Mize was through six innings at this point, with only 73 pitches spent. We should have been going into no-no watch, but instead the Tigers were rebuffed by the official scorekeeper, who apparently hates no-hitters, fun, and all that is good and decent in the world. It wasn’t a hit, folks, but here we are again.

Jonathan Schoop led off the seventh with a double, and moved to third on a wild pitch, but the Tigers couldn’t score him. Candelario grounded out, then Schoop broke for home on contact as Cabrera ripped a grounder to a pulled in Lopez at SS. Schoop was a dead duck, and Haase struck out to end the threat.

Mize finally got into a bit of actual trouble in the bottom of the seventh. The Royals had had trouble with the fastball all game long, and so they looked for softer fare here and Benintendi and Perez each slapped singles to begin the inning. Mize got Gutierrez to ground to third, with Candelario only able to get the out at second, and Benintendi moved to third.

At this point, with Mize at 86 pitches, Hinch came out with the hook. It was a bit of a surprise, as was the fact that he turned to Gregory Soto against a right-handed hitter in Hansel Alberto. Clearly Hinch was looking for a grounder to turn a double play on, but Soto is a lot more likely to wild pitch in a run in that scenario. It nearly played out that way, as the fifth pitch of the AB was a sinker that set Alberto’s feet dancing, and fortunately hit home plate umpire Brian Gorman to avoid a run scoring. Ultimately, Alberto lined out to right field, Benintendi tagged and scored, while Gutierrez overslid the bag at third and a strong throw from Grossman in right, and persistence from Candelario diving to get the tag when he realized Gutierrez had too much momentum to hang on. The call was challenged but upheld, and the inning ended with the Tigers still clinging to a 2-1 lead.

Mize’s final line: 6.1 IP, ER, 3 H, BB, 6 SO, or superb once again.

The Tigers collected 21 LOBsters on the day, and it was hard now to worry it was going to come back to bite them. Still, with Jose Cisnero and Michael Fulmer set for the eighth and ninth, odds were very much in the Tigers’ favor holding a one-run lead. Cisnero, for his part, blew the Royals away quickly with no trouble. As for Fulmer? Well he’s enjoyed the unique rush of closing out games over the past month, but today he felt the flipside of being a closer, the pain of the blown save.

It happened quickly. Whit Merrifield drilled a grounder to Candelario, who was in watching for the possible bunt. He couldn’t quite handle it—seriously what is going on with the Tigers infielders recently?—and Merrifield reached as the tying run. Carlos Santana then blasted a two-run shot to center field, and just like that the Royals won the game, and the series.