For Manning, 3rd time a charm vs. White Sox

Tigers righty, on final 2021 start: 'I made it pretty personal for me'

October 3rd, 2021

CHICAGO -- The last time a Tigers pitcher made three consecutive starts against the same opponent, Jim Slaton and Milt Wilcox both faced the Brewers thrice in 13 days in the summer of 1978. Wilcox shut out the Brewers with nine strikeouts in the first meeting, then gave up five earned runs on nine hits in each of the next two outings. Still, the win was big in a year when Wilcox told former Detroit Free Press writer Jim Hawkins that he could “no longer afford to be mediocre.”

As finished off five scoreless innings against the White Sox on Saturday with a nasty curveball to fan Leury García for his career-best seventh strikeout of the night, the sentiment could’ve been similar. Like Milt and Milwaukee, Manning faced Chicago three times in 13 days. Unlike Wilcox, Manning saved his best outing for last, even if it ended up in vain once the White Sox rallied off Detroit’s depleted bullpen for a 5-4 Tigers loss at Guaranteed Rate Field.

As he walked back into the Tigers' dugout on the right side of a duel with Lucas Giolito, Manning looked like the towering, strong-armed prospect who had earned top billing alongside teammates and . He looked nothing like the young man who allowed eight home runs over his first three outings for Triple-A Toledo four months ago and had an 8.07 ERA as a Mud Hen before he made his Tigers debut in June.

“I think I always was able to pitch here,” Manning said. “I think I had to prove it to myself. I worked my whole life to pitch here. That’s something I can check off my list, and now it’s just trying to be the best player I can be.”

On Saturday, Manning looked anything but mediocre. And as he heads into his first offseason as a big leaguer, he has plenty to build upon.

“We needed him to take a step forward,” manager A.J. Hinch said, “and we need him a part of this team moving forward. He’s a really good young pitcher. He learned a lot. It was trial by fire a little bit when we called him up, and he took the challenge head-on, had some peaks and valleys, learned a lot. He’s got a great opportunity to look back on a successful season.”

Chicago had roughed up Manning for nine runs over 8 1/3 innings in his previous two starts, but his toughest opponent was arguably his command, having walked eight batters compared to five strikeouts. He’d felt out of sync, an issue that sounded like he might need an offseason to fix.

Instead, Manning attacked the Sox on Saturday. His fourth pitch of the night was a 98 mph fastball to Luis Robert, followed by a 96 mph pitch for a called third strike. His eighth pitch of the evening was another 98 mph heater, this time to José Abreu.

“I made it pretty personal for me,” Manning said. “I know I got beat up a little bit last time and it was mostly my fault.”

Said catcher : “He just faced them back-to-back outings before, so I think it was more, ‘Here’s my best stuff, and I’m going to go out on my shield.’ That was the best I’ve seen him all year.”

Manning retired Chicago’s first seven batters before walking Adam Engel. He fanned García at 97 mph, but after a Tim Anderson two-out single brought the crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field to life, Manning quieted them with a slider past Robert to end the third inning.

Manning needed to keep pace with Giolito, who didn’t allow a hit until singled to lead off the fourth. Once Grossman swiped second base for his 20th steal of the year and scored on ’s two-out single, Manning had a lead to protect, which he did by mowing through the middle of the White Sox lineup in the fourth.

Manning’s hardest-hit ball was a 3-2 changeup that Yoán Moncada sent to the right-field fence for a double to lead off the fifth inning. With the tying run in scoring position, Manning had arguably his best work, striking out Gavin Sheets, getting a first-pitch flyout from Engel, then dropping the curveball on García.

That was enough for Hinch, who wanted Manning to end his season on a positive note. Three runs off Dallas Keuchel helped keep Detroit in front once the Sox rallied off in the seventh, but the Tigers couldn’t withstand Moncada’s two-run homer off in the eighth.