Rogers grand, but Tigers sunk again late

July 12th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the fourth consecutive day at Target Field, the Tigers held down the Twins’ offense early. For the second straight afternoon, Detroit took a four-run lead. For the fourth consecutive day, the Twins rallied late. This time, they did it twice, scoring 11 runs in five innings off Tigers relievers as Detroit fell, 12-9, in the 10th inning on Sunday afternoon at Target Field.

’ go-ahead grand slam in the top of the ninth inning -- the first by a Tiger since John Hicks on Sept. 14, 2019 -- seemingly bailed out a rough day for Tigers relievers and powered Detroit to a 9-8 lead. However, Ben Rortvedt’s solo homer in the bottom half off tied it before Jorge Polanco hit a three-run walk-off homer in the 10th.

The four-game series sweep sent the Tigers into the All-Star break with a 40-51 record and a reminder of the work still to go in their youth movement. For all the promising talent in the lineup and starting rotation, the bullpen remains a work in progress.

“This was a tough series,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We got it handed to us, and we found ways to lose, and that’s not comfortable. But our team’s in a good place. I know we need the break, especially after a messy series here in Minnesota. We get four more against them at home [next weekend after the break]. We’ve got to put together a better game plan and better execution.”

The run distribution for the series was startling. While Tigers pitchers allowed just two runs from innings 1-5 this series, they gave up 28 runs from the sixth inning on, including 11 on Sunday. One of those was an unearned run that began the 10th inning on second base.

“I feel for those guys,” Rogers said. “They worked their [tails] off. I know they’re trying to do their best out there, and I’m with them.”

What had been a 4-1 Tigers lead behind five strong innings from starter disappeared through command woes from the three relievers who followed. , and walked six of the 12 batters they faced, throwing a combined 32 strikes and 32 balls. A run-scoring wild pitch and three consecutive RBI singles off Tigers All-Star brought Minnesota in front in the seventh, then two more runs off built what seemed like a cushion in the eighth.

“We just didn’t throw strikes,” Hinch said.

The Tigers rallied in the ninth off Twins closer Taylor Rogers. ’s leadoff single, ’s pinch-hit double and ’s walk loaded the bases for Jake Rogers, no relation. His 421-foot drive to center field was a much-needed jolt for Detroit.

“I was sitting heater, sitting dead-red, hoping he was going to lay it in there,” Rogers said. “[Taylor Rogers is] a heckuva pitcher out of their 'pen, so I was just trying to get something early, hopefully, a heater.”

With Detroit’s relief corps depleted in part from Saturday’s bullpen start and partly from heavy usage over the previous few games, Holland stayed on for the ninth. Hinch said afterward that he had ready for the 11th inning before he’d have to go to a position player. Holland rebounded from Rortvedt’s homer to send the game into extras, but after intentionally walking Nelson Cruz and retiring Alex Kirilloff, he couldn’t finish off Polanco on an elevated fastball.

“The walks and two-strike hits, we gave them a lot of opportunities,” Hinch said. “They made contact. They put up really good at-bats. Their discipline was good. But when they’re disciplined enough to draw walks and get some two-strike hits, that was the blowup. ...

“This whole series is defined by us not executing as well as we normally do, and not keeping them in the ballpark. We gave up a lot of homers this weekend.”