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Tigers 2, Astros 1 (10 innings): A bunt-off for the win

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It was an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel in Detroit, and Tarik Skubal was fantastic.

Houston Astros v Detroit Tigers Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

A day after the Tigers split a doubleheader with the Houston Astros, the finale of the four-game series was played on a breezy, muggy Sunday in Detroit, as some June Sundays can be around Michigan. The Tigers earned a split of the series as a whole as well, as a safety squeeze by Robbie Grossman in the 10th scored Akil Baddoo (who else?!) for a 2-1 Tiger victory.

The story of the game today was the best outing of Tarik Skubal’s career to date. More on that below, of course.

Seeing as how the Astros have the best record in the American League right now, and a sizzling offense averaging around six runs a game this season... if you take nothing else away from this series (aside from that clunker on Thursday night), take a minute to consider the Tiger pitching staff’s ability to pour some cold water on those hot Houston bats.

Skubal summited the hill for the Detroiters, against Jake Odorizzi for the ‘Stros. Tiger fans are probably all-too-familiar with Odorizzi, as he spent the 2018 through 2020 seasons in Minnesota, including an All Star Game appearance in 2019 in a season in which he went 15-7. Last year’s season was abbreviated for Odorizzi — as it was for the rest of us, of course — with both blisters and a line drive off the chest being the reason, and he signed with the Astros this past off-season as a free agent. Odorizzi’s 2021 season has been a bit up-and-down; he started the season with a pair of lousy starts, but has been better recently.

The aforementioned wind was the Astros’ tenth fielder in the first: Jonathan Schoop barrelled up a fly ball to centre, but Myles Straw hauled it in well in front of the warning track. Grossman followed with a drive to left that looked like it might split the outfielders, but the wind helped Chas McCormick make the catch. Hard hits on both sides, all for naught:

Skubal’s outing today saw him throw some excellent curveballs, including a 73 mph shoulders-to-ankles knuckle-curve that had Abraham Toro completely fooled in the third inning; the following batter, McCormick, struck out on a similar pitch. He polished off Jason Castro on a nasty slider to strike out the side in the third. Delightful.

In the fourth the Astros loaded the bases with one out with a hit-batter, walk, groundout, walk sequence. Carlos Correia hit a sacrifice fly to centre to bring in Jose Altuve, making it 1-0 for the Astros without a hit in the inning. Skubal then got Kyle Tucker to ground out, minimizing the damage.

Skubal hit another batter, Jason Castro, with two outs in the fifth. A wild pitch allowed Castro to take second, and the dangerous Altuve — who’s back to being his old self this year — was at the plate. Skubal got Altuve to strike out on a 96 mph fastball to end the inning and strand a big runner.

Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Daz Cameron singled to right and was bunted to second by Willi Castro. Zack Short struck out, and Jake Rogers got thwarted by the wind again as his hard-hit fly ball to center was the third out. About that bunt...

He makes a fine point.

After six innings, Skubal had thrown 88 pitches, given up one hit and struck out eight. Sure, he’d walked a pair and hit another pair, but he’d limited the damage and got most of the tough outs he had to get. Would he come out for the seventh, something he’d never done before in his major league career? Stay tuned for the exciting answer.

Cristian Javier, who has bounced back and forth between starting and relieving this year, took over in the bottom of the sixth for Odorizzi. Houston’s pitching has been strong this year; to wit, Javier’s ERA this year coming into today was 2.97, his OPS-against was .594, and his WHIP was under 1. And this guy’s in the bullpen?! Yikes.

The ever-patient Baddoo worked a walk to lead off against Javier; coming into today’s game, Baddoo’s on-base percentage was a sterling .371, with 25 walks in 186 plate appearances. Schoop and Grossman struck out; Baddoo stole second with Jeimer Candelario at the plate. Candelario walked on a full-count pitch, but Nomar Mazara grounded out to end the threat.

Skubal did indeed come out for the seventh; he walked Correa to start the inning on a close full-count pitch. Tucker flew out to centre, the first hard-hit ball since the first inning, and Toro got fooled on a changeup for a strikeout. McCormick then lined out to Candelario, and the best outing of Skubal’s career to date was done.

He didn’t panic when he had runners on, and he didn’t let bad calls by the umpire get the best of him. Check this guy’s veins for ice water.

Would the Tigers squander this sterling start by Skubal? (Imagine that was read by an old-timey radio announcer.)

In the bottom of the seventh against Javier, Cameron struck out on a perfect pitch, then Willi Castro and Short walked, on pitches that were nowhere close to being strikes. Rogers popped out, and the lefty Brooks Raley was brought in to face the lefty Baddoo... who came through yet again with a single to right, scoring Castro and tying the game.

“Everyday” José Cisnero came on for the eighth; since mid-May, coming into today, over 19 appearances and 19 innings pitched, his ERA was 0.47 and he had allowed eight hits. Naturally, of course, he gave up a leadoff single to Jason Castro — who was erased on a double-play grounder by Altuve. Straw singled to centre, and at that point, he was 7-for-11 in the series and thus a “pain in the neck.” Straw stole second with Yuli Gurriel at the plate, who later walked. Yordan Alvarez came to the plate, and he eventually looked at a 100 mph fastball for strike three. ¡Si, Cisnero! (Eventualmente.)

Grossman led off the bottom of the eighth with a full-count walk; Ryne Stanek came on to pitch and Candelario singled to right, putting runners on first and second with none out. Mazara flew out to left, and Cameron’s long flyout to the centerfield warning track pushed Grossman to third with two outs. (Would Cameron have had a home run if not for the wind? Perhaps.) Willi Castro followed with a fly-out of his own, and the game would go on to the ninth as a 1-1 tie.

Gregory Soto replaced Cisnero for the ninth, and struck out Correia with triple-digit heat. Tucker grounded out, and Toro flew out.

Ryan Pressly, the Astros’ closer, is having a dynamite year so far with a 1.74 ERA and a 0.903 WHIP; he came on in the bottom of the ninth. Short flew out, Rogers struck out, and Baddoo put a charge into a fly ball to centre but Straw caught it on the warning track.

Time for Manfredball!

Toro was the ghost runner on second to start the tenth, with Soto staying on the mound. McCormick led off with a walk on a borderline ball-four pitch at the belt, which put two runners on. Jason Castro bunted the runners over to second and third, which brought up Altuve; he popped up in foul ground near first, and Schoop did a little two-step to haul in the fly ball as the wind played its tricks. That brought up Straw, and Rogers blocked a bouncing slider to save a run. Soto coaxed Straw into a grounder to Short, which ended the threat.

Baddoo was planted on second base to start the bottom of the tenth, and lefty Blake Taylor took the mound. Schoop grounded out to second, advancing Baddoo to third and bringing up Grossman... who surprised everyone by squeeze-bunting, and Baddoo beat the throw on a head-first slide. Tigers win!

Eric De La Rosa Had Himself a Game in West Michigan

Hey Rob, We Got One!

He was the 668th pitcher to be inspected. What’s that old saying about a blind squirrel finding a nut every now and again?

In Case You Missed It...

I’m no doctor-type, but a “spine strain” does not sound like a fun time for anyone.

A Bunch o’ Bullet-Points

  • Coming into today, Tarik Skubal was averaging 7.4 strikeouts per start since the start of May.
  • It’s a small sample size, but in 21 major-league plate appeareances coming into today, Zack Short walked five times and had five hits (including a double and a home run). You don’t see that every day.
  • On this date in 1931, Charles Bronfman was born. If his name sounds familiar to baseball fans, it’s because he was the first majority owner of the Montreal Expos, helping to bring Major League Baseball to Canada. If his name sounds familiar to booze aficionados, he’s the son of Samuel Bronfman, whose acquisition of Seagram & Sons Distillery of Waterloo, Ontario helped propel it to worldwide fame.