The Tigers got into a deep hole early in this one, but fought their way back to a deadlock before losing it in the bottom of the ninth 5-4 in Minnesota.
The Tigers had their chance to open the game on a good note and get their rookie starter some breathing room, but it did not happen. After Robbie Grossman and Jonathan Schoop flew out, Miguel Cabrera singled back through the box and Javier Báez doubled to left. Unfortunately, Harold Castro lined out to left to end the threat.
There was a fair amount of hard contact, but as has so often been the case this season, nothing to show for it. The swings against Chris Archer were encouraging anyway, and proved somewhat prophetic.
As for Rodriguez at first, it did not go well. He got leadoff hitter Byron Buxton to fly out sharply to center field on a 2-0 pitch, but then Rodriguez walked Luis Arraez on four straight pitches, missing up and away wildly with the fastball. Carlos Correa grounded a single through the right side of the infield, and another weak grounder to Báez left him with no time to get Jorge Polanco at first. That brought up Max Kepler with the bases juiced, and after missing up with a fastball and a changeup, Rodriguez dropped a changeup center cut over the heart of the plate, and Kepler smoked it for a grand slam to right field. 4-0 Twins.
Rodriguez settled down and struck out Nick Gordon after a lengthy battle, and Trevor Larnach grounded out to end the inning. However, the way this season has gone, folks could be forgiven for putting the game in the background and moving on with their evening. Still, the Tigers would not go quietly into the good night.
Assisting the Tigers’ efforts, was the fact that Chris Archer is not really the Chris Archer of old, and the Tigers again quickly set the table at the top of the second inning. Willi Castro led off with a walk, and took third on a broken bat single through the right side of the infield from Spencer Torkelson. Eric Haase struck out, but Daz Cameron grounded to Correa at shortstop and beat out the attempted double play turn, allowing Castro to score from third. Robbie Grossman flew out to left field to end another somewhat promising inning with meager returns. Still, it was a run and we’ll take it. 4-1 Twins.
Rodriguez settled down in the bottom of the second. His command was better and he got a pair of quick outs from Gio Urshela and Ryan Jeffers, then punched out Bryon Buxton on a good slider away. The Tigers went quickly into the top of the third, but Rodriguez remained up to the task, though still a little on the wild side. He walked Arraez once again, but got a double play ball smartly turned behind him off the bat of Correa. He wrapped the inning with a nasty fading changeup that drew a whiff for strike three from Polanco.
In the top of the fourth, Harold Castro went down quickly on strikes, but Willi Castro battled through a long at-bat, fouling off six pitches in a 10 pitch plate appearance before Archer hit him with a fastball. Torkelson drew a walk with a 3-0 get-me-over fastball the only hittable pitch of the AB. And here we were again, with two on, one out. Eric Haase flew out to shallow right field, and Daz Cameron whiffed at three Archer sliders to squander another scoring chance.
Rodriguez again racked up a pair of quick outs in the bottom of the fourth, getting Kepler and Gordon on ground balls. Larnach took three straight pitches for balls to start his AB, but a pair of good fastballs and a foul tip into the glove on a changeup sent him back to the dugout as well.
The Twins took what they could get from Archer, going to right-hander Griffin Jax in the top of the fifth inning. Robbie Grossman grounded out sharply to first to start the frame, but Schoop got a slider hanging at the top of the zone and bombed it to the left for his fourth home run of the year. 4-2 Twins. Cabrera grounded out to Correa for the second out of the inning, and Báez lined out to Kepler in right to end the inning, but at least they’d chipped away at the early deficit. The key now was to hold the Twins in place long enough to make a comeback.
That proved difficult in the bottom of the fifth. Rodriguez walked Urshela on four straight pitches to start the inning. He fell behind Ryan Jeffers, but eventually tied him up inside with a fastball and Jeffers popped out to Harold Castro at third. Byron Buxton flew out to straight to Daz Cameron in center field, but Arraez flared a single into left that a somewhat tentative Willi Castro pulled up early on to play it on a hop. Castro threw to third but could not get Urshela, and that allowed Arraez to advance to second. Not good, particularly with Carlos Correa at the dish. Rodriguez fell behind 3-0, but then spotted a fastball down, and with Correa hunting for a fastball, followed it up with a pair of nice curve balls, one for a called strike, and one more just below the zone that Correa rolled over to third base for the final out of the inning.
Harold Castro ground out to open the top of the sixth, and Willi Castro was victimized by a bad strike three call. However, with two outs, a steadily warming Spencer Torkelson smoked a drive to the wall in right center field and had himself a double for his second hit of the game. Eric Haase followed with a solid RBI single to left, and while Daz Cameron grounded out to end the inning, the Tigers had crept within a run. 4-3 Twins.
Elvin Rodriguez ‘day ended after five. His final line was 5.0 IP, 4 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 4 SO. The walks really bit into his effectiveness, but he did settle in and make some pitches when he needed to in order to give the Tigers some innings and a chance to comeback.
Joe Jiménez took over in the bottom of the sixth, facing Jorge Polanco. He got the Twins second baseman to ground out, and Kepler flew out to Willi Castro in left. Nick Gordon was set down on strikes, and the Tigers were back in business needing just a run to tie things up.
The Twins turned to Joe Smith to open the seventh and he struck out Grossman, but Schoop drilled a double into the left field corner. Miguel Cabrera drilled a single to the right and Schoop scored as Kepler’s throw went wide up the line. 4-4 tie. Báez followed with a scorched ground ball through — not literally — Giovanny Urshela at third, and the Tigers were still in business.
Twins manager then made a move, turning to a lefty, Caleb Thielbar to face Harold Castro. AJ Hinch countered with Jeimer Candelario, who was getting a day off, and Candy popped out. Willi Castro followed suit, serving a gentle blooper that Correa handled to end the inning. Still, after the first inning, this one did not look like it would be close and it was good to see the Tigers battle back.
Wily Peralta came on in the bottom of the seventh looking to hold the deadlock. He once again looked great despite opposition from home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez. Peralta got Larnach and Urshela to ground out and then carved up Ryan Jeffers despite a rather tight strike zone.
Now it was time to complete the comeback and take the lead. The Tigers did not get the memo, unfortunately. Torkelson struck out against Emilio Pagan to start the eighth inning. Eric Haase followed with a ground ball single, but Daz Cameron struck out to leave it up to Robbie Grossman who, badly in need of a hit, flew out to left field to end the inning.
Alex Lange took over at the bottom of the eighth, which seemed a bit hasty in a tie game and with Peralta well rested. However, Lange against the top of the Twins order makes sense in isolation. Bryon Buxton went down flailing at a Lange changeup for the first out of the inning. Arraez then tapped a little grounder down the first base line, but Torkelson and Lange canceled each other out as Lange tried to cover the base and Tork picked the ball and tried a diving tag to no avail. A wild pitch sent Arraez to second, but Lange got Correa to fly out to center field. Arraez was able to advance to third on the fly ball, and the Twins needed just a single from Jorge Polanco.
They did not get that single, because Alex Lange nailed the outside corner down with a breaking ball for strike one and carved Polanco up from there with a pair of absolutely filthy changeups to turn away the Twins’ threat.
That sent the game to the ninth inning all tied up and the Tigers needed to make it happen with their 2-3-4 hitters lined up against Pagan. It did not happen. Pagan got Schoop swinging over a nasty changeup of his own, then blew away Cabrera with 97 mph heat right down the middle. Báez grounded out to Correa in the hole, and the Twins came to bat in the bottom of the ninth looking for the walkoff.
AJ Hinch turned to Andrew Chafin, keeping Gregory Soto warming up in the pen in case of a lead, as the Twins featured Max Kepler leading off. Things got scary pretty quickly as Kepler walked in a 3-2 count. You know the rule about walking the leadoff hitter. Kyle Garlick pinch-hit for Nick Gordon, and slapped a line drive the opposite way for a single, with Kepler racing around to third. Chafin popped up Gary Sanchez, pinch-hitting for Larnach, and that left it to Gio Urshela after Chris Fetter came out for a brief conference on the mound.
In a 1-1 count, Urshela drilled a ground ball to Báez’s left with the infield pulled partway in. The Tigers shortstop dove and knocked it down, but there was no play as Kepler completed his orbit of the bases, racing home with the game winner.
Tough loss after the Tigers played a really good game other than Rodriguez’s early struggles. The first inning meltdown from put them in a deep hole early, and though they battled back, it’s another loss in the record books.
The Tigers will send Beau Brieske against Sonny Gray on Tuesday night looking to even the series.
Matt Manning will make one more rehab start for the Toledo Mud Hens on Tuesday before returning to the Tigers’ rotation, presumably on schedule to start against the Guardians at home on Sunday.
Reliever Jose Cisnero is scheduled to start throwing bullpens in Lakeland sometime this week. The right-hander was quite good for the Tigers the past few seasons, but has been out since spring camp with shoulder inflammation.
Riley Greene and Ryan Kreidler played an intrasquad game late last week and will be re-evaluated this week as to their next assignments in their progression back from injury. Franklin Perez, now a year out from surgery to repair a deformed shoulder capsule, has been pitching in intrasquad games over the past few weeks. No word yet on his progress otherwise.