If the Tigers needed a reminder of the value of putting the ball in play, this series at Fenway Park was it. Their 12-9 loss to the Red Sox in Thursday's rubber match ended up becoming an example of Murphy's Law.
It wasn't pretty; the teams combined for a dozen pitchers, six errors, eight unearned runs, four wild pitches and just two 1-2-3 innings, both from Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi. But if the Tigers are going to dig out of their early-season hole as they return home from a 2-7 road trip with a 9-23 record, they're going to have to find some sort of beauty in the details, much of it starting with bat on ball.
"I thought our at-bats were pretty good this whole series," manager A.J. Hinch said. "I know we walk out of here losing two of three, but our bats started to come alive a little bit. Our game plan's tightened up quite a bit from where we've been to where we are now. Our whole offensive profile was much better as the series went along. So that's encouraging, because we can do a few things offensively if we give ourselves a chance inside the strike zone. Obviously we want to continue that as we go home."
Four of the Tigers' runs either scored or reached base on infield hits. Three of those infield hits came after an 0-2 count, two from Jonathan Schoop. Two ground balls from JaCoby Jones, who has struggled for contact most of the season, resulted in errors, one of which set up another run. Jeimer Candelario posted his second consecutive three-hit game, hours after his go-ahead three-run homer Wednesday night, despite only one ball Thursday with an exit velocity over 90 mph, according to Statcast.
It was a small-ball formula that defied the high-strikeout tendencies of the past few weeks and had the Tigers poised for a series win until the Red Sox turned the table. Detroit allowed seven unearned runs, including all four in the deciding eighth inning. Candelario and shortstop Niko Goodrum, the surest-handed of Detroit's infielders, made two errors each, including an eighth-inning miscue from Candelario that plated the go-ahead tally with two outs in the eighth and extended Boston's rally for Alex Verdugo's two-run single.
"We just didn't complete the plays," Hinch said. "We obviously had a lot of miscues today that gave them extra opportunities. It wasn't a clean defensive game really on either side."
The Tigers created opportunities with the kind of offense the Royals used mercilessly against them during the last homestand. When Goodrum raced down the line to an unoccupied first base on a fifth-inning ground ball to the right side as Candelario scored, Detroit had its third consecutive game with at least six runs, something it hadn't done since sweeping the Astros in Houston from April 12-14. Candelario's RBI single the next inning meant the Tigers posted double-digit hits in three consecutive games against the same opponent in a series for the first time since Sept. 13-15, 2019, against the Orioles. Once Wilson Ramos sent a ground ball through the left side to score Robbie Grossman in the eighth, Detroit not only had a season-high nine runs, it had its fifth lead change of the day.
Goodrum's ensuing bloop single into short left was the Tigers' 13th hit of the day, also a season high. Just two of their 14 hits went for extra bases, both doubles. They swiped as many bases in this three-game series (seven) as they did over 27 games in April, and now have nine steals in May.
"This is probably the most baserunners we've had over the last couple weeks," Hinch said before the game. "We probably could've started this a few weeks ago had we had the opportunities. … We can't just sit around and expect us to go base to base and optimize our offense."
It wasn't optimal, but it was pragmatic. The Tigers can't swing hard and miss as often as they had been. They came to town batting just 18-for-140 with 65 strikeouts over their previous five games, to go with a Major League-low .195 batting average. While their nine strikeouts still weren't optimal, including two costly inning-ending strikeouts from Jones -- one with the bases loaded in the eighth -- the Tigers ended a five-game streak of double-digit K totals, and they tied their lowest total since April 22.
It went for naught in a crushing loss Thursday. If they're going to recover, it has to continue.