The Tigers left Tropicana Field on Friday night with a sour taste in their mouths after blowing a three-run lead in the ninth and falling to the Rays in extras.
They left much the same way on Saturday evening, but the 4-3 win had nothing to do with it: Detroit lost Derek Hill to a left knee injury sustained in the fifth inning during an ugly on-field collision.
Hill was still being evaluated after the game, but manager A.J. Hinch confirmed the diagnostic tests were focused on the left knee, adding, “I don’t know how he avoids the IL at this point, just given where we’re at in the season.”
With the Tigers leading, 4-3, Hill dropped a bunt down the first-base line to lead off the fifth inning, then hit the gas racing to the bag as Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough fielded the ball and shoveled it over to Ji-Man Choi. The ball arrived at nearly the same time as both Hill and Choi, striking Hill in the back as he stretched to reach the bag ahead of the throw.
Yarbrough’s toss was rushed and off-target, causing Choi to pull closer to the bag and collide with the speedy Hill. The latter’s left foot skidded across the base, and he appeared to hyperextend his left knee in the process. Choi’s left hand/wrist also made hard contact with Hill’s left shoulder as Hill went flying past the bag and into a hard tumble to the turf. His head struck the ground in the process, sending his helmet cartwheeling another 20 feet beyond.
“You never want to see your team member wind up on the ground like that and hurt,” catcher Dustin Garneau said. “It definitely can suck the wind out of us, and it kind of did for a little bit, because … on the field you see him running around and making great plays, but he’s like that: upbeat in the locker room and the dugout. He’s a huge part of our team.”
As Choi doubled over in pain while trying his best to shake off the apparent injury to his glove hand, Hill writhed on the ground for several moments, with obvious pain etched on his face. The Tigers' medical staff first assessed him, then eventually helped him into a sitting position. After a few more moments of discussion, Hill was able to stand and hobble -- with help -- the two steps to the medical cart that awaited nearby. He was then transported to a wheelchair behind home plate and taken off the field.
“It [stinks]. He’s one of our high-octane guys, especially on the field and in the dugout,” Garneau said. “We’re hoping he can make a speedy recovery … [and] I’m hoping nothing’s really wrong besides just bruises.”
Choi was able to remain in the game after he was checked out by the Rays’ training staff. Hill was ruled out on the play due to batter’s interference.
Hill, Detroit’s center fielder, was replaced by Victor Reyes to start the fifth. Reyes took over in right field, Robbie Grossman shifted from right to left and Akil Baddoo slid from left to center.
It was a heavy blow to both the Tigers and Hill, who was activated on Aug. 21 after spending 10 days on the injured list with a left ribcage contusion following an equally cringe-worthy collision with Baddoo as the two pursued a ball hit to the gap during a 9-4 win on Aug. 10 in Baltimore. Hill emerged from that with no apparent ill effects, hitting .279 with three doubles, two triples and two homers in 20 games since he rejoined the lineup.
“It was tough. It was dangerous to see that,” Jeimer Candelario said of Hill’s injury. “He’s a great player for us. He’s doing a lot of things to help us win ballgames.”
Their teammate’s early exit took the wind out of the Tigers’ sails after what had been a fairly solid start to the game against the American League-leading Rays. Detroit jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead behind Candelario’s three-run homer in the first inning and Garneau’s ensuing solo shot to lead off the second.
The Rays had pulled to within 4-3 by the end of the fourth, though. The Tigers, meanwhile, went down in order from the third inning through the seventh, with Jonathan Schoop drawing a two-out walk in the eighth to represent Detroit’s first baserunner since Baddoo’s two-out single in the second.
The relief corps performed admirably in starter Tarik Skubal’s wake, with José Ureña, Alex Lange, Kyle Funkhouser and Michael Fulmer combining to hold the Rays scoreless on just four hits across the final six frames.