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Tigers rally in ninth, fall short in extras

Greene allows his first runs of the season as Detroit slips back to .500
@beckjason
April 17, 2019

DETROIT -- The Tigers finally found the late rally they had been seeking for the last few games. Then, they fell on the first runs their closer had allowed all season. As a fourth consecutive loss sent Detroit back to .500 (8-8) for the first time in two weeks, Tigers

DETROIT -- The Tigers finally found the late rally they had been seeking for the last few games. Then, they fell on the first runs their closer had allowed all season.

As a fourth consecutive loss sent Detroit back to .500 (8-8) for the first time in two weeks, Tigers players could be excused for feeling like something is bound to go wrong. And there was plenty to feel that way about in Tuesday’s 5-3 defeat to the Pirates, from Shane Greene's hanging slider that Starling Marte drove over the fence in left-center for a go-ahead two-run homer in the 10th, to Pablo Reyes' second-inning grounder that left Miguel Cabrera weighing a throw to an uncovered second base or a throw behind him to first as a run scored. Even Jung Ho Kang’s two-run homer in the fourth inning left starter Matthew Boyd blaming himself for shaking off catcher Grayson Greiner.

The outlook from Christin Stewart, whose leadoff double in the ninth ignited the game-tying rally, was that the second guesses mean they’re close.

“It’s always tough losing those games for sure,” Stewart said, “but we battled back. I love the fight in this team. We’re in every game. I just love that about us. We have a never-say-die attitude.”

The Tigers' last three losses have been by two runs or less, as have six of their eight wins. Their stingy-pitching, low-scoring trends have resulted in close baseball since they went scoreless into extra innings on Opening Day in Toronto. But just as so many of their wins have turned on small margins, Tuesday was an example of how easily they can go the other way.

“We pitched good. We had our chances out there to score a few runs, just didn’t go our way tonight,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Good ballgame, and we had plenty of chances. So did they. That’s all you can say about that game. It’s a tough loss for us.”

Detroit’s wins have been close enough that Greene has recorded a save in every one, something no Major League closer had done in a team’s first 12 games. He hadn’t pitched since the last win six days earlier, and he would not have pitched Tuesday had Jeimer Candelario not followed Stewart’s double with an RBI single off Bucs reliever Keone Kela. A wild pitch moved Candelario into scoring position, but Kela retired the bottom of the Tigers' lineup in order to send the game into extra innings.

Greene (0-1) entered for the 10th with two hits allowed and seven strikeouts in eight scoreless innings on the season; he added another strikeout of Erik Gonzalez following Jason Martin’s pinch-hit leadoff single. An Adam Frazier groundout moved Martin to second before Greene hung a slider to Marte, who sent it 406 feet to left-center with an exit velocity of 108.6 mph.

Even if the offensive struggles aren’t having an impact on Detroit’s attitude, they’re impacting strategy. Knowing how difficult runs could be off Pittsburgh right-hander Trevor Williams, third-base coach Dave Clark sent Gordon Beckham home on Greiner’s ground-ball single through the left side in the third inning, testing Pirates left fielder Reyes with nobody out.

The play was close enough that the Tigers weighed whether to challenge plate umpire Chad Fairchild’s out call.

“We couldn’t even tell if he was out or safe,” Gardenhire said. “Yeah, we could’ve stopped him there, and he may have stayed there. And he could’ve been safe on that play just as well as he could’ve been called out. It’s tough, but if you’ve never been out [coaching] third base, you don’t know how hard it is. And when you’re not scoring runs, you try to force the issue. And that happens sometimes.”

Said Beckham: “We said we were going to try to force the issue, and we did. He made a good throw, so what are you going to do? Inches away from probably winning that game.”

Detroit went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position Tuesday. All five hits came from its younger hitters -- two from Candelario, and one each from Stewart, Greiner and Niko Goodrum. The veteran top third of the order went 2-for-15 overall.

Boyd did his part to keep the Tigers in it, tossing seven quality innings with seven strikeouts. He raced to cover first base on Reyes’ grounder as Cabrera moved behind him for the ball and looked toward second.

“He didn’t think he had a play going back behind him to first base,” Gardenhire said. “He looked to second thinking that might be his best shot. … He chose to eat it and not make it worse.”

Individually, they’re small plays. But the way the Tigers are going, their games are turning regularly on small margins -- exciting when they win, frustrating when they lose.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.