On a night that started on a real down note as Matthew Boyd was scratched with ongoing elbow trouble, Tyler Alexander gave the Detroit Tigers a heck of a spot start and an explosion of home run power in the late innings carried the Tigers over the Rays.
Much credit is due to Alexander in this one. Again and again, the lefty has functioned as spackle for A.J. Hinch, plugging holes wherever asked, often with no warning. He came through with a fine outing against the best team in the American League.
Alexander got into trouble right out of the gate, allowing a one-out single to Wander Franco and then a double from Nelson Cruz. Franco appeared to pull a hamstring going first to third, and was replaced by utility man Joey Wendle. However, Alexander was up to the task. After walking Yandy Diaz to load the bases, he punched out Brandon Lowe swinging through a good changeup, and then punched out Jordan Luplow whiffing on a nasty cutter. So far so good, but pitching through that kind of traffic is highly unsustainable against the Rays.
As it happens, Alexander settled right in. He got three quick ground ball outs in the second inning, pitched through a little traffic in the third, but really didn’t run into a problem until Kevin Kiermaier tripled to lead off the fifth. Alexander got Manuel Margot to bounce one back to him for the first out of the inning, but Wendle came through with a single to plate Kiermaier. Alexander had done plenty on short notice, and A.J. Hinch went to the pen for Kyle Funkhouser, who pitched around Nelson Cruz a bit, and then retired Yandy Diaz on a grounder and struck out Brandon Lowe to snuff the threat.
In the bottom half of the fifth, Eric Haase got into a hanging breaking ball and put the Tigers on the board with his 21st homer of the season. There was no doubt when it left the bat.
Eric Haase’s 21st home run with Dan Dickerson’s call. pic.twitter.com/ER1V9gQ4ED— Rogelio Castillo (@rogcastbaseball) September 11, 2021
Alex Lange came on in the top of the sixth and did a nice job. He gave up a single to center field from Jordan Luplow, but punched out Austin Meadows and Francisco Mejia. Kevin Kiermaier grounded out to shortstop and that was it for the Rays.
That was also the end for starter Michael Wacha, which was just as well for the Tigers. J.P. Feyereisen came on and was rudely greeted by a triple from Akil Baddoo. Jonathan Schoop struck out, Robbie Grossman drew a walk, and Miguel Cabrera then struck out for the second out of the inning. Grossman stole second base, but it was of no import, as Jeimer Candelario crushed a fly ball off the wall in straightaway center field for his major league leading 40th double of the season, scoring Baddoo and Grossman, and the Tigers led 3-1.
The Candy Man’s triple with Dan Dickerson on the call. pic.twitter.com/q1pxBSEKIH— Rogelio Castillo (@rogcastbaseball) September 11, 2021
Of course, this is the Tampa Bay Rays, so you can never rest easy. They quickly got to work in the top of the seventh against Jose Cisnero. The Tigers’ highly effective right-hander got the first two outs with no issue, but really was battling his command. Nelson Cruz singled, and Diaz and Lowe drew back-to-back walks. Ji-Man Choi ripped a line drive into the left center field gap just out of reach of a diving Derek Hill, and all three runs scored. Choi’s blow made it 4-3 Rays, and briefly took the wind out of the fanbase’s sails.
Rays’ manager Kevin Cash turned to Pete Fairbanks in the bottom of the seventh, and Niko Goodrum greeted him with a ground-rule double into the right field corner. Willi Castro slapped a little bliner into right-center that dropped in, but Goodrum didn’t get a good read on it and had to hold up at third. Hinch turned to Harold Castro to pinch hit for Hill, and he was unfortunately rung up on a tough strike three call.
Pitch 7 was the called third strike on Heated Harold Castro. pic.twitter.com/Evf8BqUOrt— Jason Beck (@beckjason) September 11, 2021
There was an interlude while Fairbanks called out the ground crew to repair a hole in the mound. Then there was another interlude as an 0-1 pitch to Jonathan Schoop tailed way inside. Schoop claimed the pitch had nicked him, and we had a challenge that didn’t go Schoop’s way. Perhaps a little gamesmanship after Fairbanks iced him with the ol’ mound repair gambit. Anyway, Schoop then turned on a slider up and away and ripped it into the Tigers bullpen for a grand slam, and we rejoiced.
Michael Fulmer came in the top of the eighth and got into a little trouble as Kiermaier and Margot each singled. Big Mike dialed up the turbo sliders to bury Joey Wendle on a pitch that nearly hit him. Nelson Cruz chopped a high-hopper back to the mound and Fulmer showed off his vertical to snare the ball and throw him out to end the inning.
Leading 7-4, the Tigers faced Shawn Armstrong in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Candelario, but Haase and Goodrum walked, setting the stage for what has to be the most prodigious blast of Victor Reyes’ career.
Dan Dickerson’s call of the longest home run in Comerica (has to be) by Victor Reyes. pic.twitter.com/aGx1xtCzFr— Rogelio Castillo (@rogcastbaseball) September 11, 2021
Now up 10-4, Gregory Soto was told to stand down in the bullpen, and Hinch went to Derek Holland instead. Akil Baddoo made a nice running catch at the base of the out-of-town scoreboard on a long drive from Diaz, but Brandon Lowe grounded out, and Choi was frozen on a sinker for a called strike three, and a Tigers victory.
Miggy keeps hitting
Cabrera didn’t factor in the scoring tonight, but he did add two more singles. This one in the fourth gave him nine straight plate appearances with a hit, setting a new record for a Tigers’ hitter post-league expansion in 1961.
Jack Morris returns from exile
The Tigers color commentator was suspended back on August 20th for a remark he made with a mock Japanese accent during a Shohei Ohtani plate appearance. Morris apologized and underwent some cultural awareness training in the interim. Tonight he returned to the broadcast booth, making a statement on Bally Sports prior to the start of the game.