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Twins 5, Tigers 4: A lousy way to lose

The Tigers took the late lead, but defensive confusion and an errant throw threw the game away as well.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers took to the road to tangle with the Twins in an early-season AL Central showdown. The weather was chilly, the hoods were abundant, and a missed catch and a throwing error, on the same and final play in the bottom of the ninth, sunk the Tigers as the Twins came back to win 5-4.

There are crappy ways to lose a baseball game. And this was certainly one of them.

In short: with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth, Miguel Sanó hit a liner to right that glanced off Robbie Grossman’s glove. Because of the uncertainty around whether it’d be caught or not, the runner was held up at third, causing confusion on the basepaths, with two runners briefly on third. The throw came in from the outfield, Eric Haase thought he could trap the runner caught between second and third, but the throw was high into left field, and two runs scored. Ballgame.

The story up to that point, though:

Eduardo Rodriguez took the hill for Detroit. The outcomes in Rodriguez’s three starts this year have been sub-par, especially his second start against his former team, the Boston Red Stockings (3 23 innings, 7 runs but only 2 earned, 5 hits, 3 walks). Obviously he wants to put the train back on the rails, put the truck back on the road, put the... uh... sliding closet door back on that little track-thing? Fine, I’ll stop.

On April 7th of this year, the Twins made a deal with the Padres to acquire Chris Paddack, tonight’s opposing starting pitcher. Paddack spent three years in San Diego’s rotation, and last year was particularly unlucky as he had an ERA over 5, but a FIP of 3.78. (Is the Padres’ defense really that bad?!) His WHIP was a respectable 1.265, he kept home runs largely under control (1.2/9 innings), and his strikeout and walk numbers were also decent.

Not a whole lot happened until the bottom of the second, when the Twins got the first two runners on with a walk to Ryan Garlick and a Gio Urshela single. Rodriguez gave up a double off the right-field wall to Max Kepler, scoring Garlick and making it 1-0 with runners on second and third with none out. But then he bore down and got a Sanó strikeout, a Ryan Jeffers groundout during which nobody advanced or scored, and Gilberto Celestino flew out softly to right. Way to limit the damage, friend.

Austin Meadows led off the top of the third with a double to right-center, advanced to third on a groundout, and it looked like he might be stranded there. And indeed, with a Spencer Torkelson grounder to shortstop, Meadows was, in actuality, stranded right there.

Kepler’s next turn at the plate, with one out in the bottom of the fourth, saw him hit one over the right-field wall, a two-run shot which pushed the score to 3-0.

Meanwhile, Paddack was pretty much having his way with the Tigers’ lineup: through five innings he’d given up a pair of hits and a walk, struck out five, and got the Detroiters to continually beat the ball into the ground.

Derek Hill, leading off the sixth, decided to roll with that idea by laying down a perfect bunt down the third-base line. Also: he’s fast.

Grossman dug out a low changeup and served it into left field to put the first two runners on base... and then Meadows grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Javier Báez did a great job on a full-count fastball away, doubling off the big right-field wall, scoring Hill and putting the Tigers on the board.

That was the end of Paddack’s day, who only really made one or two mistakes all night. He was replaced by Tyler Duffey, who ended the inning with a Miguel Cabrera groundout.

Rodriguez, aside from his wheelings and dealings with Kepler, actually looked quite good, but once again a key mistake left a mediocre line on the board as left the game. He limited hard contact, got a mix of groundouts and flyouts, and became the first Tiger starting pitcher to throw 100 pitches in a game. (Somewhere in Texas, Nolan Ryan shed a single tear.) He ended the sixth with a strikeout of Urshela, and his day was done: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K.

Jonathan Schoop hit a two-out bloop single to right, which dispensed Duffey in favour of lefty Caleb Thielbar. Haase then pinch-hit for Tucker Barnhart — something we’d envisioned happening decently often this season — but a flyout to right ended the inning.

Alex Lange took over for Rodriguez in the seventh, and managed to retire Kepler for the first time in the game. He then struck out Sanó, then Jeffers, and that was an awfully nice inning. Don’t look now, but aside from one lousy outing against the Crimson Socks, he’s had nothing but scoreless outings so far this year. And, despite the frosty weather, Lange had to uphold a certain aesthetic, apparently.

Hill led off the eighth with a single up the middle, setting the table for the top of the order again. Thielbar kept missing high to Grossman, eventually walking him. Meadows fouled off a whole bunch o’ pitches and eventually flew out to center, bringing up Báez. Thielbar gave way to Emilio Pagán, and on the second pitch...

Just like that, the Tigers had a 4-3 lead.

Michael Fulmer took over for Lange in the eighth, and walked pinch-hitter Luis Arraez on four pitches. Speedster Nick Gordon pinch-ran for Arraez, and Fulmer got the dangerous Byron Buxton to fly out to left on one pitch. Carlos Correa, who’d struck out three times already, hit into a fielder’s choice to third; after that at-bat, Correa’s average dropped to .179, and I know it’s still early, but y’know, that’s fun. Anyway, with two outs, Haase made a great block on a changeup in the dirt, preventing Correa from advancing to second, and Fulmer struck out Jorge Polanco with a nasty slider for the third out.

Griffin Jax pitched the ninth for the Twins, and his quiver full of sliders and changeups dispensed the Tigers 1-2-3.

And so, Soto. He followed in Fulmer’s footsteps by walking the leadoff hitter, Trevor Larnach, on four pitches. He did the same to Urshela, putting runners on first and second with none out. He righted the ship against Kepler, finishing a three-pitch strikeout with a 99 mph fastball painted on the outside edge of the strike zone. And then, Sanó.

Me, instead: “Ugh.”

Catchers Take a Knee

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t agree with the philosophy that Minnesota’s coaching staff has about catching: namely, that they want their catchers to crouch with a knee on the ground to better frame low pitches. (To be fair, I also saw Haase do it later in this game, too.) This subtracts from their ability to throw out base stealers, of course — not that the Tigers are running wild on the basepaths so far this year. But it still looks really, really strange and I don’t quite agree with it, not unlike that guy I’d always see around campus when I was in university who wore a fedora with a really big feather sticking out of it.

If You’re Into the Whole Mythology Thing

Notes and Numbers

  • There has been another Eduardo Rodriguez in the major leagues, although the other one spelled his last name with an accent (thusly: “Rodríguez”). He pitched mostly in relief for the Brewers and, briefly, the Royals in the 1970s.
  • The elder Rodríguez, as a pitcher, didn’t come to the plate much in his career, especially since he was in the American League. But on September 3, 1973, as a rookie pitching (and getting the save) in the first game of a doubleheader in Cleveland, he came to the plate, hit a triple, and scored on a throwing error by the Cleves’ second baseman. As Jim Price might say, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
  • Anyone else get today’s Heardle? My wife and I totally didn’t. Listened to the song afterwards and we both knew it, but had no idea who actually sang on it. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but after you give it a shot, you should really listen to the song whose drum break they sampled. That’s some solid funk right there.
  • Happy birthday to several people, including philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, architect I.M. Pei, physicist Arno Penzias, and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins of TLC. (And you, if it’s your birthday today, obviously!)