MINNEAPOLIS — Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch has never seen anything like this before.
“That was an ugly ending,” Hinch said.
A line-drive single from Miguel Sano clipped Robbie Grossman’s glove and rolled to the right-field wall with two runners on base and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Tigers aimed to protect a one-run advantage.
“Just out of my reach,” Grossman said. “Got the ball back in and obviously we saw what happened.”
The Tigers found a new way to get walked off, with a series of defensive miscues and a game-changing error. They lost Tuesday’s three-game series opener, 5-4, to the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
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Both runners got late starts as the relay throw — from Grossman to second baseman Jonathan Schoop — went to catcher Eric Haase near home plate. When Haase got the ball, Trevor Larnach and Gio Urshela seemed destined to both occupy third base. As Haase ran toward third, he decided to throw the ball to third baseman Jeimer Candelario, occupying the base, but the ball sailed over Candelario’s outstretched glove and into left field.
Haase’s throwing error allowed the tying and winning runs to score.
“Never had a good grip,” Haase said. “Frickin’ grabbed a big ol’ mud ball and just sailed it. Base running mishap by them. I was going to run the guy back, tag both. There would be no one at home, so I just tried to pitch it. I just sailed it.”
“Just try to keep encouraging them,” Hinch said. “I didn’t say anything to the group. I’ll work my way into the dining area and sit down with some guys. We got to pick ourselves up and get back to the ballpark tomorrow. It was a cold night. We did a lot of good things. It didn’t end our way. It’ll be hopefully better tomorrow.”
Gregory Soto, the Tigers’ closer, backed up Haase at home plate on the relay throw from Grossman.
Soto controlled the area around home plate for the entire play. He walked the first two batters he faced on eight straight pitches before Max Kepler’s strikeout set the stage for Sano with one out.
“We play hard, that’s the thing,” Tigers shortstop Javier Báez said. “We got out of control with the ball, but things happen. It doesn’t bother me because we’re playing hard. We were trying. It’s not like somebody was being lazy. Things happen. I think that ball was a little wet, too.”
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Before the wild last play, the Tigers (6-10) needed some magic. Detroit has dropped four of five series this season, and the slow-to-start offense — amid chilly April temperatures in the Midwest — is to blame.
The key to the offense’s ignition revealed itself with one out in the eighth inning.
Báez drilled a three-run home run to center field.
“That was a big swing by him,” Grossman said. “We just gotta finish off the game.”
“A big, productive night,” Hinch said. “Unfortunately, we spoiled it.”
The 415-foot line drive from Báez, which had a 108.6 mph exit velocity, gave the Tigers a one-run lead against the Twins. He hit right-handed reliever Emilio Pagan’s second-pitch splitter in a 1-0 count.
Báez finished 2-for-3 with four RBIs and one walk in his second game since returning from a thumb injury.
Before Sunday’s return, the 29-year-old hadn’t played since April 12. His other home run in 2022 occurred April 11 against the Boston Red Sox, breaking a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning.
“I thought he swung the bat well,” Hinch said. “He drew the walk early, homered late. He did everything he could to carry us tonight. It’s obviously good to see him swinging with some freedom.”
The Twins scored their early runs courtesy of Kepler, a left-handed hitter, against Tigers left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. Kepler, who has recently struggled in lefty-lefty matchups, hammered an RBI double in the second inning and a two-run home run in the fourth.
Kepler’s hits put the Twins ahead 3-0.
“Eduardo did a good job,” Hinch said. “He had a couple of pitches that he probably wants back, obviously the changeup to Kepler. He was off the barrel quite a bit, gave up a couple jam hits.”
Offense starts slow
Before Twins right-handed starter Chris Paddack departed from his start, the Tigers squandered an opportunity to pile up runs.
Derek Hill and Grossman opened the sixth inning with back-to-back singles. Austin Meadows, the Tigers’ best hitter this season, grounded into a double play. Báez put the Tigers on the scoreboard with an RBI double off the right-field wall.
The Twins removed Paddack after Báez’s double, replacing him with righty reliever Tyler Duffey. The next batter, Miguel Cabrera, grounded out to end the top of the sixth inning.
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Cabrera also struck out swinging with Meadows standing on third base in the fourth inning. In the second, Candelario grounded into a double play after Spencer Torkelson’s single to center started the inning.
Paddack allowed one run on five hits and one walk with six strikeouts in 5⅔ innings, throwing 60 of 87 pitches for strikes. He made hitters uncomfortable by mixing and locating his three pitches: 37 four-seam fastballs (43%), 30 changeups (34%) and 20 curveballs (23%).
All three offerings were electric.
Rodriguez vs. Correa
As for Rodriguez, he did enough to keep the Tigers in the game.
He retired Byron Buxton, MLB’s hottest hitter, three times. He struck out Carlos Correa, a fellow member of last offseason’s free-agent class, three times with an array of pitches.
The 29-year-old gave up three runs on four hits and two walks with six strikeouts in six innings. He has made four starts since inking a five-year, $77 million contract in November.
“He went deep enough into the game,” Hinch said. “We weren’t doing much offensively early in the game. It was a good performance by Eduardo.”
Rodriguez has completed six innings in consecutive outings, burning through 98 pitches Aug. 20 start against the New York Yankees and 102 pitches Tuesday against the Twins.
The Tigers have combined for four runs in those 12 frames.
Correa could have joined Rodriguez and the Tigers, but he waited to sign his contract until after MLB’s lockout and ended up inking a three-year, $105.3 million deal — with opt-outs following each season — with the Minnesota Twins. (The Tigers, instead, locked up Báez on a six-year, $140 million contract.)
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Entering Tuesday, Correa was 6-for-10 with one double, one RBI, five walks and two strikeouts in 15 plate appearances against Rodriguez. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in the latest matchup.
Rodriguez punched him out with a changeup in the first inning, fastball in the third and cutter in the fifth. The at-bat in the first inning lasted five pitches, with Rodriguez using three consecutive changeups.
The next two at-bats between Rodriguez and Correa lasted three pitches apiece. He threw one slider and two four-seam fastballs in the third, then two fastballs and one cutter in the fifth.
After Kepler’s RBI double in the second inning, the Twins had a 1-0 advantage and two runners in scoring position. Rodriguez limited the damage by retiring three batters in a row: Sano (strikeout), Ryan Jeffers (groundout) and Gilberto Celestino (lineout).
He struck out Sano looking on three pitches.
For his 102 pitches (65 strikes), Rodriguez used 43 fastballs, 28 changeups, 16 cutters, eight sinkers and seven sliders. He generated five swings and misses — three fastballs and two changeups — and 26 called strikes.
Of his 26 called strikes, 15 were fastballs.
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