The Tigers built an early lead, but the offense missed it’s chance to blow the game open a bit, and the Twins fought back to take the opener, 5-3.
We got a pretty good pitching duel right out of the gate. J.A. Happ mixed in a few more offspeed pitches than normal and worked both edges of the plate effectively with fastballs. Jeimer Candelario’s double to left in the second inning was really the only notable moment for the Tigers’ offense the first time through the order.
On the other side, Tarik Skubal was dominant. He mixed in heavier doses of sliders and changeups to excellent effect early on, while the Twins were clearly hunting first pitch fastballs. There were even a pair of nasty curveballs for strikes, one of which had Josh Donaldson way off balance. The big lefty worked quickly with no stress, carving through the Twins for four punchouts and no hits allowed through three. The final hitter of the third, Andrelton Simmons, had the first solidly hit ball for the Twins, a hot grounder that spun his opposite number, Zack Short, around but which was comfortably converted to an out after the nice snare.
And then, the Brick Haase, Master Haasenpfeffer, or whichever nickname you prefer, strode to the dish in the fourth after Jonathan Schoop singled to lead off the inning. He did his thing, clanging home run number 13 off the left field foul pole for a two run lead. Haase has 13 blasts in 156 plate appearances so far. That’s about a 55 HR pace for a full season if you’re wondering.
THERE IS NO STOPPING ERIC HAASE— Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander) July 9, 2021
Miguel Cabrera followed with a single, but erased himself tagging on a Jeimer Candelario fly ball to center field, as he came off the base with the tag still applied. Zack Short struck out to end the frame.
Skubal spun a 1-2-3 fourth, but before the no-no alerts began, he got into a 3-2 count to Ryan Jeffers with one out in the fifth and Jeffers turned on a fastball for a solo shot to left. Max Kepler managed a two-out single, but Skubal got Gilberto Celestino on a routine fly ball to right to end the inning with his pitch count only at 65 through five.
Tarik Skubal, 93mph Fastball and 85mph Slider, Overlay pic.twitter.com/cNNrfHAKfC— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 9, 2021
The sixth inning looked like the Tigers were about to blow things open. Jonathan Schoop, Haase, and Cabrera started the frame with three straight singles. Candelario was called out on a 1-2 fastball that was just beneath the zone, prompting a measured outburst of frustration. That may have paid off as Zack Short took a 3-1 pitch at the top of the zone for ball four, forcing in a run. The Tigers looked primed to do damage, but Willi Castro cue’d a fastball back up the box and Jorge Polance made a nice diving play and flipped it to Simmons, who turned it over for an inning ending double play.
And, per baseball regulations, when you squander so much, you tend to pay for it. After Skubal got the first out in the bottom half of the inning, Polanco dropped a perfect bunt between home plate and the mound for a single. Facing the first traffic of the day, Skubal was a little too careful, missing with fastballs in and away to Josh Donaldson to issue a free pass. He bounced back against Nelson Cruz, getting him to roll over to third, but Cruz just barely beat out the double play turn to keep the inning alive. Trevor Larnach slapped a single through the left side to score Polanco before Skubal retired Jeffers on a fly ball to Goodrum in center field.
The Tigers went 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh, so things remained tense in a one-run game. They got even more tense when Miguel Sano led off the bottom half by hammering a fastball down the middle for a solo shot to tie the game. Max Kepler beat out a groundball into the shift, and the next hitter Celestino, grounded to shortstop for another double play attempt that fell short as he beat the ball to first. Even worse, Willi Castro took his foot off second base a hair before the ball hit his glove and the Twins challenged and won, leaving runners on first and second with no outs. With his velo dropping a little and his command fading, that was the end of the night for Skubal as AJ Hinch turned to Jose Cisnero to escape the jam. It did not go well.
Andrelton Simmons dropped a bunt down to move the runners up, Cisnero threw a wild pitch that actually clipped Jorge Polanco’s shoe top as he tried to bail out of the batter’s box, and Kepler raced home. No one but Polanco was aware of the hit by pitch, and he wasn’t talking. Instead they took the run, and then he lifted one out to center field to plate Celestino. Just like that it was 5-3 Twins.
It’s easy to argue that Hinch shouldn’t have given Skubal the inning in the first place, but for the most part he’d cruised, and obviously the Tigers bullpen is pretty taxed among their better arms. When he needed ground balls in the inning, he got them. The Tiger defenders, and the Twins’ speed, just didn’t add up to converting the outs.
The Tigers lineup didn’t have a comeback in them either. They went quietly against Tyler Duffey in the eighth, and with the back of the order up in the ninth, odds weren’t great there either. Taylor Rogers quickly got Candelario on a liner to right field, Short grounded out on the first pitch he saw, and, fittingly, Willi Castro struck out on three pitches to end it.
All in all a pretty frustrating loss, particularly as we haven’t had many of them of late. Skubal was pretty good, but the Twins made him pay for a couple mistakes, and the offense really should’ve done more damage against this version of J.A. Happ.