The Tigers waited four days to play a baseball game again. Then a football score broke out.
As JaCoby Jones corralled Adam Frazier’s fly ball to center in the bottom of the 11th to wrap up Detroit’s 17-13 win over Pittsburgh, the sense of relief was evident through the social distance in the waning hours of Friday night at PNC Park. Two of baseball’s lower-scoring teams traded leads seven times, both setting season highs in runs, before Carson Fulmer -- the eighth Tigers pitcher of the night -- retired the Pirates in order to end a four-hour, 33-minute contest.
“Crazy stuff happened in that game,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I guess that’s why we all love to play it.”
The Tigers scored more runs than they had posted over the previous eight days combined. Granted, they were off for half of those days when their four-game series against the Cardinals was postponed. Their 17-run total was their highest since a 19-9 win over the Mariners on April 25, 2017.
Nobody in Detroit’s lineup that night in Seattle three years ago is still with the organization. Andrew Romine was one of four Tigers with three hits; his younger brother, Austin Romine, had two RBI singles on Friday, including an 11th-inning insurance run.
It was the Tigers’ first taste of Major League Baseball’s revised extra-inning rules for this season, placing a runner on second base to begin each additional frame. They would’ve rather not gotten to that point. Joe Jiménez struck out Pittsburgh’s first two batters in the bottom of the ninth and had an 0-2 count on his next two batters before Bryan Reynolds and Phillip Evans singled to set up Frazier’s homer and a 12-12 game.
“He had a good fastball going,” Gardenhire said of Jiménez, “and there were a couple times we were sitting there going, ‘Just bury the slider, bounce it in the dirt. Throw that hard slider and they’re going to chase.’ He just misfired with it enough. It’s one of those things; closers go through it.”
The two sides traded single runs in the 10th -- Detroit on Dawel Lugo’s opposite-field, two-run single, Pittsburgh on Cole Tucker’s sacrifice fly off Bryan Garcia. With C.J. Cron opening the 11th inning on second base, Gardenhire went to his bench for pinch-runner Harold Castro, but he let Jeimer Candelario -- 2-for-21 entering the game -- swing away.
“He’s already out there. We might as well take three shots to try to get him in,” Gardenhire said.
Candelario poked a single just inside the right-field line to put Detroit ahead for good. Romine’s single and Niko Goodrum’s two-run double provided the cushion.
“We never gave up,” Candelario said. “We work hard. We have that mentality that we want every game. The other team makes adjustments. We make adjustments. They come back. We come back. We never give up.”
Unlike the first 10 games, Detroit didn’t rely on the long ball. The Tigers scored more runs on bases-loaded walks (three, all in the fifth inning) than they did on homers (Cron hit a second-inning solo shot). Goodrum hit a pair of two-run doubles and walked in another run in a five-RBI performance. Candelario had three singles and three RBIs.
"They pounded the ball. We pounded the ball," Gardenhire said. "It was all fun to watch, as long as we won."
For four innings, the Tigers looked like a team that hadn’t played in five days. Cron’s homer was Detroit’s lone damage against starter Chad Kuhl, whose most formidable foe was his pitch count. Matthew Boyd struggled with pitch command again, resulting in a 4-1 Detroit deficit after four innings.
Once the Pirates went to the bullpen, the Tigers batted around twice in three innings. Just four of their 10 batters put the ball in play in a four-run fifth inning that included three bases-loaded walks. By contrast, they churned out five hits in a six-run seventh. In the middle of that inning, Bucs manager Derek Shelton was ejected, resulting in Pirates bench coach and former Tiger Don Kelly making his managerial debut against his longtime team.
Iván Nova faces the Pirates for the first time since he pitched for Pittsburgh when the Tigers and Bucs continue their series Saturday with a 4:05 p.m. ET game at PNC Park, live on MLB.TV. Nova pitched for the Pirates from 2016-18, and he owns a 13-8 record with a 2.75 ERA at PNC Park.