ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tigers were hoping for -- no, they needed -- Matthew Boyd to be strong on the hill Sunday at Tropicana Field. A pair of short starts to open the series against the Rays and a 13-inning game Saturday meant the already shorthanded bullpen was hurting, and
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tigers were hoping for -- no, they needed -- Matthew Boyd to be strong on the hill Sunday at Tropicana Field. A pair of short starts to open the series against the Rays and a 13-inning game Saturday meant the already shorthanded bullpen was hurting, and with the next off-day more than a week away, there was only so much the relievers could do.
When Boyd hit 41 pitches in his first two innings, it didn’t give much hope for allowing the rest of the Tigers’ arms a breather. But the lefty soon revealed that he had plenty of gas in the tank.
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Boyd gave the Tigers seven strong innings, allowing one run on just two hits and two walks while striking out nine. He could not, unfortunately, control what happened after he hit the showers as the Tigers fell to Tampa Bay, 5-4, on a walk-off hit for the second time in as many days.
“Boyd was really good,” Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It was a big performance by him and I’m disappointed we couldn’t get him the win. Getting into the second half of the game and getting seven [innings] was fantastic. We had [Buck] Farmer and [Joe] Jimenez on the mound; we’re supposed to win that game. Just didn’t happen.”
The Tigers’ starting pitchers allowed just one run on four hits during the three-game series.
What might be even more impressive than the result was the fact that Boyd was pitching with a huge distraction: His wife, Ashley, was due to give birth so soon that Boyd left immediately after his start to join her in Seattle. It didn’t slow the left-hander any in the meantime, though, nor did it stop the resurgence of Boyd’s slider, a dominant pitch early in the season that he had struggled with lately.
He appeared to have lost feel for the slider during his past two starts, during which he yielded seven home runs in eight innings. Although it wasn’t there right away on Sunday, either, it took just two innings for Boyd to settle back in with it.
The result was an average exit velocity well below the 95-mph minimum for a hard-hit ball, a firm grip on the Rays throughout the game, a break for the bullpen and a solid chance for the Tigers to claim a series win and split the season series with the Rays.
On Sunday, 13 of Boyd’s 18 swing and misses came on his slider, which he threw 41 times in 107 pitches. It was a corner turned that was highlighted by his final pitch of the sixth inning, a 93-mph slider that hooked around Travis d’Arnaud’s bat for the swinging strike three Boyd had sought to rekindle.
“Finally, later in that second inning, we finally found a release point we were looking for, and we were able to get the fastball in, which kind of made the slider even better,” catcher John Hicks said. “He definitely had the depth on it today. The past couple of outings, it had gotten kind of sleepy. Today, it had the depth that it had early in the year, and it was a really good pitch for him.”
Boyd was obviously pleased, but no fist pump followed or any sort of exclamation as he strode confidently toward the dugout, just a simple nod to his batterymate Hicks to acknowledge a job well done … and more work to do.
Whether in a showing of faith in the left-hander’s performance or a sign that the pickings were indeed as slim as advertised in the bullpen, the Tigers had no one warming up after Boyd completed the sixth frame at 96 pitches. Both sides seemed intent to let the veteran roll until he hit a bump. Boyd hadn’t even sniffed trouble in a while, retiring nine consecutive Rays after d’Arnaud opened the fourth inning with a double.
And roll on he did, using his final 11 pitches on two flyouts and a strikeout to sit down the side in order.
But despite Boyd’s showing, it wasn’t meant to be.
“We competed with a team that’s in a playoff race. We were in that atmosphere, which was great,” Gardenhire said. “Unfortunate that today, we couldn’t finish it off and win a series. It was in our hand, in our grips, we just lost it a little bit.”
Farmer threw back-to-back wild pitches and allowed a one-out, two-run home run to Tommy Pham in the eighth to bring the Rays to within 4-3 before coaxing a pair of groundouts.
Trouble started early in the ninth. A Gordon Beckham throwing error allowed d’Arnaud to reach to lead off, then Jimenez walked Willy Adames before ringing up Kevin Kiermaier on a popup bunt. Michael Brosseau -- who was responsible for Tampa Bay’s walk-off hit in the 13th inning on Saturday night -- then singled to load the bases, and Ji-Man Choi drove a hard grounder up the middle that just missed Beckham’s glove and scooted into the outfield to end the game.
“[Ground ball] took a crazy hop up the middle. If it takes a normal hop, we probably get two [outs] right there and win the game,” Beckham said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t go the right way for us.
“We’re talking 2 or 3 inches up the line. If it’s a little closer, it’s an out. That’s how small the margins are in this game.”
Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.