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Tigers 3, Blue Jays 1: Báez drama overshadows Detroit’s win

This was a much-needed win, but the baserunning blunders came to a head as Javy Báez got himself benched.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers’ 3-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night will be remembered less for the result and more for the fate of Detroit’s well-paid, highly-criticized shortstop, Javier Báez.

Báez — who entered Thursday’s game on a 4-for-40 skid this season — was demoted to the six spot in the lineup. He responded and hit a ball high and hard into left field in the top of the second inning during his first at bat.

Instead of breaking hard out of the box, he watched it and nonchalantly tossed his bat aside, seemingly assuming that the ball was leaving the yard. He was wrong, and he had yet to round first base by the time the ball caromed off the left field wall out of Whit Merrifield’s reach, bouncing into the outfield. He then had to kick into a sprint to get to second base for a double. It’s possible he could have gotten himself a triple had he sprinted on contact.

But it wouldn’t have mattered. With one out, Akil Baddoo hit a fly ball into center field, and Báez ran from second base as if there were two outs. He was easily doubled up, ending the threat and the inning.

He played shortstop the next half inning, but cameras on the Blue Jays’ broadcast caught manager AJ Hinch taking Báez down into the clubhouse for a discussion afterwards. When they resurfaced, Báez untucked his jersey, dumped his sunflower seeds onto the ground, grabbed his glove and retired back into the clubhouse, out of sight for the rest of the game.

It likely signaled something of a boiling point for Hinch and the Tigers. Báez famously struggled for most of the 2022 season, and he’s been even worse so far this year. The shortstop was hitting .100 with a .263 OPS and negative-24 OPS+. The aforementioned double was his first extra base hit of the season.

Báez was replaced by Jonathan Schoop for the rest of the game.

About the rest of the game...

Tigers’ right-hander Spencer Turnbull hurled his best start of the season after missing all of 2022 to recover from Tommy John surgery. Despite the wackiness — for lack of a better term — going on around him, including a downright atrocious strike zone from home plate umpire Mike Estabrook, “Red Bull” allowed just one run in five innings, scattering six hits. He also struck out six Blue Jays hitters.

It wasn’t particularly stress-free though. The strangest sequence of the game (at least defensively) came in the bottom of the fifth inning while protecting a 2-1 advantage, which was earned via a Zack McKinstry double.

With George Springer on first base, Bo Bichette hit what looked to be a routine double play ball, but it struck the leg of second base umpire Erich Bacchus, resulting in a dead ball. Instead of getting at least one out, and quite likely an inning-ending double play, Bichette was ruled safe at first and Springer was awarded second.

Turnbull proceeded to get Vladimir Guerrerro Jr. to pop out in foul territory, Daulton Varsho to ground out, and then struck out Alejandro Kirk to escape the oddly-constructed threat to conclude his night.

Two innings later, Detroit had a golden chance to build on their one-run lead. McKinstry, Jake Rogers and Nick Maton all reached base to start the seventh inning, but Tyler Nevin, Riley Greene and Matt Vierling — who pinch-hit for Kerry Carpenter against a lefty — all failed to get the bullpen an insurance run.

But Rogers picked his guys up in the eighth inning. With two on and two out, the slick-stached catcher ripped a double into left field, driving in Spencer Torkelson, who had doubled earlier in that frame.

Considering what had transpired just one night prior, everybody with an allegiance to the Tigers hoped for the largest possible lead to bullpen-proof the game.

The sixth and seventh innings went by without a hitch thanks to Chasen Shreve and Jason Foley, respectively. Jose Cisnero pitched the eighth and bounced back from a pair of bad outings, paving way for Alex Lange to pitch the ninth with a two-run lead.

Lange, who many thought should have pitched the ninth as well as the eighth in Wednesday’s night loss, put the bottom third of Toronto’s lineup away with ease to seal the win.

It snaps a six-game losing streak and salvages one game from the series after the Blue Jays took the first two.

Miggy’s retirement parade continues

With this series being the only time the Tigers visit Toronto this season, Miguel Cabrera scratched another city off the “list of final visits” for his career.

Toronto was a special one; not only do they employ former Tiger and well-documented best friend of Cabrera in Victor Martinez, but it’s also the place in which the legend hit his 500th career home run.

The Blue Jays sent him off accordingly.

Next up: the San Francisco Giants (5-7) visit Comerica Park for a three-game set starting Friday, April 14.