DETROIT -- The boos echoed around Comerica Park as Miguel Cabrera took ball four in the fifth inning. They started at ball three when he walked in the seventh. The Angels were more concerned about a close game than the Tigers slugger’s attempt at his 500th home run.
“We were just trying to sell tickets for tomorrow,” Angels manager Joe Maddon joked.
The final margin didn’t reflect what was a low-scoring battle of bullpens into the ninth. But it reflected the fine line between pitching around with walks and pitching into trouble because of them.
“An ugly end to a frustrating night,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
Maddon is no stranger to pitching around Cabrera. He had Cabrera intentionally walked in three consecutive games in 2010 while managing the Rays, all three times loading the bases with two outs and rookie Brennan Boesch batting behind him. Each time, the Rays retired Boesch to strand the bases loaded.
Tuesday was different. Maddon insisted the walks this time weren’t intentional, and Detroit’s lineup has a more established hitter behind him in Jeimer Candelario. Still, Cabrera's fifth-inning free pass brought back memories, as Angels rookie reliever Austin Warren tried to work out of a jam in his eighth big league appearance.
Warren, pitching in front of family members in attendance, entered with a runner on first and two outs. Jonathan Schoop’s single extended the inning and brought Warren into the path of Cabrera’s quest for history.
While Cabrera’s family stood in anticipation of a potential historic homer, Warren’s family stood nervously in hopes he could avoid being on the other end of such a highlight.
Warren’s four-pitch walk loaded the bases for Candelario, who hit the next pitch to center for an inning-ending out. Two innings later, veteran reliever Steve Cishek -- who has held Cabrera hitless in five career meetings -- walked him with two out and nobody on before striking out Candelario.
Cabrera’s quest for his 500th homer will continue Wednesday against two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who fanned Cabrera twice and plunked him once in three meetings on June 17 at Angel Stadium. But the Tigers will take whatever offense they can get against the All-Star starter, who has allowed one home run over 32 innings in his last five starts.
Neither Tigers starter Casey Mize nor Angels counterpart Dylan Bundy lasted five innings, surrendering two runs each. Mize battled command with four walks and a wild pitch, but avoided disaster with help from four strikeouts. The game essentially became a battle of bullpens from there before Adell made Soto pay dearly for loading the bases in the ninth.
Kyle Funkhouser, Joe Jiménez, Michael Fulmer and José Cisnero combined for four scoreless innings of relief with seven strikeouts before Soto entered the ninth.
Even when Soto is on, he can walk a fine line between commanding the strike zone and flirting with it. Tuesday’s outing veered toward the latter.
A one-out walk to Jared Walsh and a single to former Tiger José Iglesias put Soto in trouble against Brandon Marsh, who nearly put the Angels ahead two innings earlier with a 427-foot drive to right-center that stayed in the park with fan interference for a ground-rule double.
Undeterred, Soto spotted back-to-back two-seamers on the corner for an 0-2 count before getting Marsh to chase a 1-2 sinker off the plate.
Up came Mayfield, who swung and missed at a first-pitch 98 mph fastball to put Soto ahead. From there, however, Soto struggled to find the corners, culminating in a 3-2 fastball well up and out of the zone to load the bases.
“A couple pitches got away from him up and arm-side,” catcher Grayson Greiner said. “That was a big at-bat.”
Soto fell behind on Adell with a slider, but spotted a sinker to get back to even. His 1-1 sinker, however, wandered over the plate. Adell went a 416-foot drive out to the left-field seats, where fans spent much of the night hoping Cabrera could pull a ball for 500. Instead, they got Adell’s first career grand slam.
“His stuff is so good, sometimes you can get away with that pitch,” said Greiner, who caught Ohtani stealing in the second inning. “Adell put a good swing on it there.”
Don’t expect the homer to linger with Soto, whose ability to move on from tough outings helps him almost as much as his power arsenal.
“He’s a back-end reliever, closer, whatever we want to call him,” Hinch said. “He’s as tough mentally as we’ve got. He’ll want the ball tomorrow.”