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Tigers 5, White Sox 4: Off-the-wall finish as Tigers prevail over White Sox on opening day

Detroit couldn’t manage much on offense until the later innings, but plated runs when it counted.

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

On a typical cold early April day in Detroit, the story early on was two starting pitchers struggling to control their offerings to varying levels of success. It would take more than the magic of Craig Monroe’s suit to bless the hometown team on opening day.

With Eduardo Rodríguez making his 4th career start but first as a Tiger in Comerica Park hopes were high. As often occurs in cold weather, the left-hander showed noticeable difficulty with his changeup and location. That resulted in an opening two innings where the White Sox scored three and Rodríguez threw roughly 300 pitches. Lucas Giolito showed similar difficulty, but he found more help from the Detroit offense.

After Robbie Grossman worked a leadoff walk in the first, Javier Baez — as he is wont to do — swung at a few pitches roughly shoulder height on his way to his first K of the year. This is what Baez does so patience is required. Later in the second Baez shows why he’s really making that money as he ranged to his right to nab a groundball in the hole and fire it over to Spencer Torkelson — who showed some solid glove work for the second time in the game — for a nice out. The Pale Hose would close the second with two two-out runs in the second to post a three-run lead going into the bottom of the frame.

Things would settle in for the next few innings with the most excitement coming from a Jack White visit to the broadcast booth and an adventurous sliding catch by Akil Baddoo to end the top of the 4th. The fifth inning began with righty Drew Hutchison replacing Rodriguez who left with three earned runs, two walks, two strikeouts, and 83 pitches over four innings.

Hutchison found himself immediately in trouble surrendering a double to Pollock and giving up single on a tough comebacker from Luis Robert. With two on and no one out, Hutch would settle in getting a groundout from Jose Abreu, a pop out to shallow right from Grandal, and another comebacker from Eloy Jimenez that he handled for the third out of the inning, escaping with no runs. The Pale Hose also went to the bullpen for the fifth, bringing in lefty Bennett Sousa. Suffering an abdominal strain, Giolito exited after 62 pitches with a final line of zero earned runs, six K’s and no walks.

The Tigers threatened to get things going in the sixth with Robbie Grossman starting the bottom half of the frame taking first on a hit-by-pitch and Austin Meadows working his second walk of the day to put two on with none out. Following those two, Javy Baez would just miss the game-tying home run, hitting a long out to the left-field warning track off the end of his bat. The Sox brought in Kendall Graveman to face Jeimer Candelario, and after dealing with some technical issues with the PitchCom equipment, Candy would work the count full before ripping a one-out single through the right side of the infield to score Grossman and put runners on the corners with one out and a 3-1 game. Miguel Cabrera then grounded one to shortstop, and after what looked like a fielder’s choice out at second to score Meadows, the umps called interference on Candelario’s slide into second and ruled Miggy out at first, ending the sixth with the Tigers scoring just one run.

Alex Lange came in to start the seventh for Detroit and with the exception of AJ Pollock — who ended with a three-hit day — easily handled the side, closing out the top half with a strikeout of Jose Abreu. Graveman followed in the bottom setting them down in order, closing with a strikeout looking for Spencer Torkelson.

Jacob Barnes toed the rubber to start the eighth for the Tigers and took just 12 pitches to efficiently dispatch Chicago’s four, five and six hitters in his Tigers debut. The Sox started the bottom of the eighth with Aaron Bummer on the mound, and Eric Haase stepped in to pinch hit for Tucker Barnhart with hopes of igniting a stagnant offense. Haase thought he worked a leadoff walk, but the home plate umpire — who oversaw an interesting strike zone for most of the day — did not agree and rung him up for an out.

Robbie Grossman followed with a soft line-drive single and Austin Meadows worked a walk to bring Baez up again with a chance to impact the game. Baez came out swinging, tipping the first pitch into the catcher’s glove for a strike. He would follow by watching strike two down the pipe for an 0-2 count. Baez would work a few more pitches before roping a line drive single into left field to load the bases for Jeimer Candelario. In a 2-2 count, Candelario would watch ball four, and as he started toward first, he was erroneously rung up for strike three by the still frustrating home plate umpire.

That left things up to Miguel Cabrera. Tony La Russa turned to Liam Hendricks to finish the inning. Cabrera then inched closer to hit number 3,000 with a soft line single into center that scored two and tied the game. Jonathan Schoop followed Miggy and took a pitch off his left hand which would load the bases again. Akil Baddoo followed, chopping a ball down the third baseline to the waiting glove of Jake Burger who stepped on third for the final out of the inning.

The game began with a blue-haired dude playing the national anthem and the ninth would also begin with a blue-haired dude on the mound as Gregory Soto came out of the pen to hold the tie. He would fail. After setting the leadoff hitter down, he gave up an absolute bomb to left field off the bat of Andrew Vaughn. The inning would end on a double play, but the damage was done with the Sox sitting on a 4-3 lead.

Torkelson led off the bottom of the ninth with a swinging third strike and a loud F-bomb. Eric Haase, well, he brought his boomstick to the plate for the ninth inning and he showed Liam Hendricks how it works parking a 98 mph fastball into the left-field seats.

Grossman followed with a strikeout and then our newly minted Detroit Tiger Austin Meadows tagged a ball to triple territory giving Detroit a man on third with Baez stepping to the plate.

In one of the weirder finishes you’re gonna see in a ballgame, Baez crushed a pitch to right field which was seemingly bobbled before being caught by AJ Pollock, but given the opportunity to get it right, the umps got it right, ruling that the ball — channeling it’s inner Michael Jackson — went Off The Wall before it was caught. Baez hit a loud, weird, long single. Meadows scored. Tigers win. I love baseball.

It was a day of great defense and late offensive heroics. After a shaky start by Rodriguez, the middle relief did a really nice job keeping the club in it, and they cashed in at the end. Let’s do it again tomorrow. We will see you at 1:10 pm when Casey Mize squares off against Dylan Cease.