The Tigers have not had much luck against the Oakland Athletics since ousting them from the postseason in two classic series way back in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately, things didn’t change on Tuesday night. Tarik Skubal was hit hard, and the offense couldn’t string a rally together, losing 9-3 to open the three-game set.
Skubal allowed a leadoff double to Josh Harrison in the first inning, but shut down the A’s attempts to score him. He was then gifted a one-run lead when Robbie Grossman launched his 20th homer, a career high, off A’s starter Cole Irvin in the bottom of the first.
In the second, Skubal walked a pair, but struck out Sean Murphy, and got Elvis Andrus to ground out to escape the jam. Those walks illustrated the ongoing issue with Skubal’s complicated delivery. When he’s on, he looks downright unhittable, but when he gets out of whack, the walks and meatballs start adding up quickly, prolonging innings and forcing him to pitch out of trouble too often. Sometimes he’s able to self-correct quickly, and other times he can’t quite put it together. Against a very disciplined team like the Athletics, that’s a recipe for some big innings, and they ultimately got to Skubal in the third.
With one out, Skubal allowed back-to-back doubles to Starling Marte and Matt Olson, with Marte scoring the A’s first run. Skubal got Yan Gomes to fly out, but then grooved a first pitch fastball to Matt Chapman and paid for it with a two-run homer to make it 3-1 Athletics.
In the bottom of the third, the Tigers racked up two quick outs. Derek Hill stepped to the plate and hit a liner into center field for what appeared to be a routine single. However, Hill’s speed is anything but routine. Instead, the center fielder flew out of the box and raced all the way into second base just ahead of the tag. That set up Jonathan Schoop for an RBI chance, but the struggling infielder could only weakly bounce out to Irvin on the first pitch.
Skubal allowed another walk, his third of the outing, in the top of the fourth, but was otherwise unscathed. The Tigers then got to work putting together their best rally of the game to that point. Miguel Cabrera started it with a one-out walk. Jeimer Candelario and Eric Haase followed with singles to load the bases. Unfortunately Willi Castro quickly bounced to third and Matt Chapman stepped on the base and then gunned Castro out by a hair at first.
This was disappointing, sure. But things would get worse.
In the fifth, Skubal got ahead with two strikes to both Marte and Olson, but instead of putting them away, gave up singles instead, with Marte moving first to third on Olson’s knock. Gomes brought in Marte with a sacrifice fly and it was 4-1 Athletics. Matt Chapman smoked a 420-foot shot to straightaway center that Hill snared against the wall for the second out. Unfortunately, Mark Canha then hammered one to left that did leave the confines, and it was 6-1 Athletics.
Skubal’s final line was a classic bad night for him: 5 IP, 6 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 6 SO, 2 HR.
The Tigers showed some fight in the bottom of the fifth, but just could not sustain a rally. Dustin Garneau led off with a solo shot to left, his first as a Tiger, and one batter later, Hill followed in suit, lifting his second homer in as many days to left field to make it 6-3 Athletics. Beyond that the offense pretty well slept through the remaining four frames.
The Tigers got two more baserunners on in the inning, and Bob Melvin turned to Delvis Guerra in place of Irvin to face Candelario. Unfortunately, Candy smoked a liner right to Chapman at third, and that is the wrong guy to hit one at.
Kyle Funkhouser took over from Skubal in the sixth, and pitched through a little traffic to record a scoreless frame. Michael Fulmer had no trouble in the seventh, going 1-2-3 quickly. Still the Tigers weren’t getting anything going offensively. They went quickly in the sixth, and made two more quick outs in the seventh until Jonathan Schoop grounded a ball into the hole at shortstop for an infield single. That brought up Robbie Grossman, but he pulled one right into the shift for the final out of the seventh.
Derek Holland came on for the eighth, and if the game wasn’t quite out of reach, it quickly got there. Holland allowed a Pinder single, and then got Sean Murphy, who lined out sharply to Willi Castro in left. Elvis Andrus followed with a double, and then Harrison laced a single to left that scored both Pinder and Andrus, with Harrison thrown out trying to advance to second. Holland escaped with no more trouble, but it was now 8-3 Athletics.
The Tigers responded by going 1-2-3 against reliever Andrew Chafin as Cabrera and Haase struck out, and Candelario popped out. This one was pretty much set for the books, but first, Holland had to allow one more run. Matt Chapman launched one 426 feet into the visiting bullpen in the top of the ninth to pad the score a bit more. Suffice it to say that things could’ve been worse. Other than Funkhouser and Fulmer, the A’s were vaporizing baseballs all night.
Willi Castro led off the bottom of the ninth with a grounder through the left side of the infield for a single. Other than Garneau’s homer in the fifth, that was the first time the Tigers’ leadoff man in an inning reached base. This time up, Garneau flew out to left. Zack Short struck out, but Hill rifled a single back through the box for his third hit of the game. Castro advanced to third on the single, and Hill quickly took second on defensive indifference, but Schoop once again weakly grounded out to end the game.
Tarik SKubal now holds the Tigers rookie strikeout record
Tarik Skubal's strikeout of Matt Chapman is Skubal's 147th K this season, breaking Tigers rookie record previously held by Spencer Turnbull. (Yes, Skubal still counts as a rookie this year.)— Jason Beck (@beckjason) August 31, 2021