The Tigers built a 6-0 lead only to blow it on Friday night in Kansas City. A pair of three-run shots powered the Royals to a 9-8 victory, and a chance at a series sweep on Sunday.
Early on, the Tigers looked like they might run away with this one. The Royals didn’t get a runner to second until the third inning, when Nicky Lopez hit a sinking liner to right center and a diving Derek Hill just couldn’t squeeze. Lopez cruised into second, but Casey Mize then blew Whit Merrifield away on three pitches, closing with a whistling two seamer that nearly hit a swinging Merrifield. Carlos Santana gave him a good battle, but Mize got him swinging over a slider to end the inning.
Meanwhile, the Tigers offense was putting up plenty of runs.
Miguel Cabrera started the Tigers first rally in the second inning with a line drive single to right. Jeimer Candelario drew a walk as Carlos Hernandez struggled to throw strikes, and while Harold Castro grounded into a would-be double play, Hernandez whiffed on the catch covering first and Cabrera broke for home and scored with a completely unnecessary slide mixed in for fun.
Hernandez’ strike throwing issues really came to the fore in the third inning. He walked three of the first four Tiger hitters, with a Jonathan Schoop ground out moving Derek Hill and Akil Baddoo to second and third. Cabrera lofted a fly ball to right field to sacrifice Hill home from third, and Candelario came to the dish. A five pitch AB ended with a Hernandez changeup at the bottom of the zone getting absolutely hammered over the wall in straightaway center for a three-run shot, and a 5-0 lead.
In the fifth, Baddoo and Schoop singled to start the inning, but they only added one run, on a Cabrera sac fly to right that took O’Hearn to the warning track.
The drama entering the bottom of the fifth inning centered around how long AJ Hinch would let Mize go. After limiting his workload over the last few weeks, they planned to begin stretching him out in this one, but what form that would take was unclear. As it turned out, Mize really did cruise through four innings, and started the fifth at 62 pitches.
Overall, Mize still didn’t have the splitter going in this one, and it’s been a long time since we’ve seen that pitch be a big weapon for him. He’s been getting it done with fastball-slider and excellent command, but when his command slipped in the fifth, things took a quick turn for the worst.
Hunter Dozier and Michael A. Taylor started the inning with singles on center cut fastballs. Mize got up 1-2 on Nicky Lopez and then missed with three straight fastballs, the last of which Lopez pulled into right field for a single to score Dozier. Mize bounced back, again wiping out Merrifield on three pitches. Carlos Santana got a bit of a cement mixer first pitch and hit it almost 400 feet into Akil Baddoo’s glove in left center field. However, another fastball over the middle to Salvador Perez got absolutely pulverized 452 feet to left center, and Mize’s good outing went up in smoke.
Harold Castro led off the sixth with a single, but was stranded.
Joe Jiménez took over from Daniel Norris, who cleaned up the fifth for Mize, and set down Jorge Soler, Ryan O’Hearn, and Hunter Dozier in order, getting Dozier swinging for a strikeout. The Tigers went meekly in the top of the seventh against hard throwing lefty Jake Brentz, and then a slim lead finally crumbled.
Hinch turned to Kyle Funkhouser, which has generally been a great idea for about six weeks. Tonight things didn’t go so well. Funkhouser went through Taylor on three pitches, looking good as ever, but then the control wavered. Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield each singled, bringing Carlos Santana to the dish. A 1-1 changeup dropped perfectly on the bottom edge was ill handled by Grayson Greiner for a ball. Funkhouser missed low with a fastball but then went upstairs for a foul tip. The 3-2 pitch was a a 97 mph sinker down the middle and Santana crushed it. 7-6 Royals.
Things didn’t end there either. Perez singled, Funkhouser lost the plot, walking Benintendi, and he was rescued from an absolute thunderbolt up the right center field gap off the bat of Soler by the speed of Derek Hill. Hinch had seen enough, and turned to Ian Krol. Why? Yes I’m not sure either.
The next three hitters were all right handed and do most of their best work against lefties. Krol does not do his best work against right handers. Not sure if it was a test or what. I guess every outing is, in a sense. And so, Hanser Alberto mashed a two-run triple that one-hopped the wall in center field just over Hill’s outstretched glove. Krol walked Dozier, but got Taylor to fly out to Grossman in right to end the inning.
The Tigers got a Candelario walk and no more in the eighth, and Buck Farmer threw a scoreless bottom half despite a dropped ball behind him. Farmer also dusted Merrifield on three pitches in the inning. It was not Whit Merrifield’s night. Farmer closed the inning in style, blowing Benintendi away with high heat.
That brought us to the Tigers last chance. And it was odd knowing that it would be against Greg Holland, with Wade Davis in reserve. Bad memories, folks. Things did go much better than in the old days, but it wasn’t enough.
Hinch pinch-hit Eric Haase for Greiner, and again, the pride of Westland delivered with a screaming double to right field. Derek Hill lifted a deep fly ball to move Haase to third, but it didn’t matter. Akil Baddoo unloaded on a 1-0 fastball and crushed it right field for a two-run shot. 9-8 Royals. Things were getting interesting. Baddoo magic was in play.
Jonathan Schoop grounded out, but Holland then fell apart completely, throwing eight straight balls to put Grossman on second and Cabrera at first. Mike Matheny had seen plenty, and turned to Davis. Candelario took two pitches for balls, but Davis battled back and ultimately got a tough checked swing called strike on a breaker down to end it.
Not a good ending by Casey Mize. Not a good performance from Funkhouser. Offensively and defensively, they played a pretty good game once again. Tarik Skubal will take the ball Sunday afternoon looking to avoid the sweep.