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Tigers 6, White Sox 5 (10 innings): These fellas just won’t quit

A back-and-forth battle saw the Tigers lead for most of the game, then fall behind, then tie it up in the ninth and win it in the tenth. Oh, and we had a grand slam, too!

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

A four-game weekend series between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers concluded on Sunday: the Tigers had won two not-terribly-close games and the visitors had won in a laugher on Friday. Sunday’s game saw a couple of lead changes, both bullpens giving up runs, and an exciting finish in a 6-5 Tigers victory in ten innings in which they came from behind with two outs standing between them and merely a series split.

It seems that pretty much every game I cover these days features an Eduardo Rodriguez start, and today was no exception. After his run of six sensational starts in a row, he came back down to Earth for his next two, going five innings and surrendering four runs each time (although, this past Tuesday, two of the four runs were unearned). During his hot streak, his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABiP) was .211, but for his last two it was a whopping .433; for context, league-average is about .294. So, he was pretty lucky, then he was very unlucky. How about today... do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya, Eduardo?

Dylan Cease, who had a fabulous 2022 season with a 2.20 ERA and a whole bunch of strikeouts, is having an up-and-down 2023 so far. He’s right on his career average of nearly 4 walks per nine innings — weirdly high for a pitcher of his calibre — but his strikeouts per 9 innings are down measurably (11.1 last year, 9.2 so far this year; still high, but that’s a drop). In May, all his previous starts lasted roughly five or six innings, and with the exception of his May 13 start against Houston, he’s struggled. A cursory glance at overall stats doesn’t really explain why; the percentage of pitches thrown as strikes has only been 61%, but his walks have actually been down lately. Maybe Brandon can explain why, with seam-shifty-whatevers or atmospheric inversions or debt ceilings or something.

However, Cease came into today with a career ERA of under 2 against the Tigers in 13 previous starts, so... who knew what you were going to get? In the end, Cease only went four innings and didn’t do particularly well, which is about all a Tiger team could ask for.

Tim Anderson led off the first with a double to the left-field wall on the second pitch of the game, and was wild-pitched over to third with one out. However, a strikeout and a routine groundout left Anderson stranded at third.

In the bottom of the second, the Tigers got their first two batters on via a Spencer Torkelson walk and a Nick Maton bloop single. Akil Baddoo and Eric Haase then struck out, but Matt Vierling walked to load the bases with two outs, leaving things up to the hotter-than-heck Zack Short. He gave it a ride to the left field fence... and it was caught on the warning track, just getting underneath a knuckle-curve from Cease and thereby missing out on a grand slam.

Romy Gonzalez, the #9 hitter for the White Sox, hit a one-out, first pitch, screaming line drive solo home run to left field for a 1-0 Chicago lead. Man, that ball got outta here in a hurry.

Zach McKinstry, who’s also hotter-than-two-rats-doin’-it-in-a-wool-sock these days, led off the third by doubling to right, and Riley Greene followed with a walk, the third of the Tigers’ day. After a Javier Báez strikeout, McKinstry and Greene executed a double steal with Torkelson at the plate, moving the runners up to second and third. But then Torkelson struck out on a TERRIBLE called third strike, pitch #7 below.

To quote GOB Bluth, “Come on!

Maton followed with a walk — Cease’s fourth on the day — and that brought Baddoo to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. Could he succeed where Short failed in the first?

Well, they don’t call him “Mr. Excitement” for nothing.

Cease was gone after four innings and just over 100 pitches, which is very unusual for the Tigers, but not the 2023 edition. Maybe they’ve actually turned the corner here, people!

In the top of the sixth, a one-out single and walk put a pair of runners on, but Rodriguez got out of the inning by coaxing a 5-4-3 double-play grounder out of Jake Burger, and the jam was successfully escaped-from. Rodriguez’s final line: 6 innings, 5 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 65 strikes out of 100 pitches. I’ll take that.

Will Vest took over in the seventh, and after a walk and a pair of singles off Torkelson’s glove, the bases were loaded with one out as Vest was dispatched in favour of José Cisnero. Eloy Jimenez then hit a jam-job blooper to short left field, scoring two and narrowing the Tiger lead to 4-3. Luis Robert hit a grounder to shortstop and the throw home wasn’t in time to get Anderson, tying the game at 4. A sacrifice fly to left field pushed Chicago into a 5-4 lead. Nary a hard-hit ball in the bunch.

Could the Tigers come back again, like they did the day before? Greene sure did his part with his glove. Love the cap-tip from Burger there.

Tyler Holton worked the eighth and ninth innings without much suspense (other than the Greene catch above), and Joe Kelly was brought on for the save after Kendall Graveman, despite only requiring six pitches in the bottom of the eighth, didn’t come back out for the ninth. Kelly had a long outing on Saturday which turned out well for the Tigers, so how would Sunday go?

Not too shabby, as it turns out.

Greene hit a one-out triple to right-centre, and Báez hit a grounder to shortstop that Anderson bobbled; Greene broke immediately towards home and Anderson’s only play was to first base. Greene scored, tying the game at 5 and we’d have some Bonus Baseball on a Sunday afternoon.

Alex Lange was brought in to pitch the tenth inning, and he had the curveball and changeup working, getting several swinging strikes on pitches outside the strike zone. He struck out Andrew Vaughn and Yasmani Grandal, then got Burger to fly out softly to left field, leaving the Manfred Man where he started on second base.

Jonathan Schoop led off the bottom of the tenth with a long fly ball to deep centerfield, which was caught for the first out but advanced Torkelson, the Tigers’ ghost runner, up to third base. Baddoo was intentionally walked, and Eric Haase, who’d been 0-for-4 on the day, hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Torkelson and handing the Tigers the 6-5 victory.

How would this game have ended if Greene hadn’t stolen that home run? I’ll leave that with ya. Have a great long weekend, America.

Worst Way to Lose a Championship Game?

If this isn’t it, it’s darn close. THROW THE BALL TO FIRST TO COMPLETE THE STRIKEOUT!

Completely Unrelated to Today’s Game

If you haven’t seen Dorktown/Secret Base’s documentary on Rickey Henderson, holy moly, you really should. Some of you kids out there might be too young to remember Prime Rickey, but he was absolutely a force and a freak of nature (in the best possible baseball way). This tweet today reminded me of it:

Stats and Notes

  • Riley Greene’s May, coming into today: 98 plate appearances, 32 hits and 10 walks (.429 OBP), 9 doubles and 3 home runs (.568 SLG). Mind you, his BABiP for that stretch was an astronomical .483, so there’s likely a lot of luck involved.
  • Get this, though: so far this season, his batting average has been higher against left-handed pitching (.298 against lefties, .291 against righties). He has significantly more power against righties — all five of his home runs were against them — but he’s certainly holding his own against southpaws.
  • I don’t particularly like the term “southpaw,” but I was getting sick of writing some variation on “lefty” in that bullet-point. So that’s what you get.
  • From 11 games and 46 plate appeareances from May 14 through 27, Zach McKinstry had 11 hits, 12 walks, 2 hit-by-pitch and a sacrifice fly. That adds up to an on-base percentage of .544, which is how he scored 9 runs in those 11 games.
  • On this day in 585 BCE, the Battle of the Eclipse took place between the Medes and the Lydians, in what is now Turkey. The two groups had been at war for six years, and at this battle a total solar eclipse occurred (which was predicted by a Greek philosopher-scientist, possibly the first ever eclipse prediction). Since this was such a freaky occurrence, both sides decided it was time for a truce, and the war was over. FYI, there’s going to be a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, visible in eastern North America — plan ahead, people!