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Tigers' trio notches career firsts in win

Alcántara (home run), Funkhouser (win), B. Garcia (save) each have reasons to celebrate
@beckjason
September 6, 2020

Sergio Alcántara hit nine home runs in 2,611 Minor League plate appearances. He needed just two pitches Sunday for his first Major League homer. “I fainted,” Tigers bench coach and acting manager Lloyd McClendon said when asked for his dugout reaction. “When I woke up, he was in the dugout.”

Sergio Alcántara hit nine home runs in 2,611 Minor League plate appearances. He needed just two pitches Sunday for his first Major League homer.

“I fainted,” Tigers bench coach and acting manager Lloyd McClendon said when asked for his dugout reaction. “When I woke up, he was in the dugout.”

His Tigers teammate, Grayson Greiner, has four hits since Aug. 19. Three of them are home runs, including a go-ahead loft just out of Eddie Rosario’s grasp over the left-field fence at Target Field that fueled a three-run eighth inning for a 10-8 win on Sunday.

Box score

Thus, on an afternoon when top pitching prospect Casey Mize’s search for his first Major League victory continued through four innings against a Twins lineup that made him labor again, youth was still served. Former Tigers starting prospect Kyle Funkhouser’s transition to hard-throwing late-inning reliever culminated in his first Major League win, capped by Bryan Garcia’s first big league save.

“Obviously, when I originally thought about my first win, I thought I'd be a starter and it would go a little bit differently,” said Funkhouser, a former first-round Draft pick. “But hey, I'm glad to be here, glad to get that first win and glad to be improving and just pitching well and giving the team a chance.”

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For the first half of the game, the Twins looked like they would grind through a tired Tigers pitching staff and run away with an early lead. Minnesota worked Mize for 83 pitches over four-plus innings, shrugging off a splitter that had been Mize’s wipeout pitch. Three more fifth-inning runs off Rony Garcia built a 6-2 Twins lead.

At that point, McClendon -- filling in while manager Ron Gardenhire battles a stomach bug -- was thinking about how to fill innings as much as how to erase the deficit.

“That was probably my thought process: We have to make sure that we get through this game,” McClendon said. “If we get a chance to win it, that would be great. But with the number of guys that were out today, obviously, it was a little tedious.”

The mentality in the dugout stayed upbeat.

“It does say a lot about the guys in that dugout,” Greiner said. “We were down 6-2, but nobody was hanging their head in the dugout. I thought that was a big reason we continued to chip away.”

In the bullpen, Funkhouser was wondering aloud who would get their shot at a win.

“The bullpen guys, it's sometimes kinda tough,” he said. “You need runs at the right time and kind of need things to line up your way a little bit [to get a win]. But just the way the game was going, 6-2, I was telling Garcia, 'Man, we're going to get some runs. It's going to be one of us, one of the younger guys.'"

Detroit’s lone bright spot then was Alcántara’s third-inning homer off a 1-0 pitch from 40-year-old Twins starter Rich Hill. The drive to left made Alcántara the eighth Tiger ever to homer in his first big league at-bat, the first since pitcher Daniel Norris at Wrigley Field in 2015, and the first Tigers position player since Reggie Sanders in 1974.

Willi Castro’s two-run homer in the sixth inning started Detroit’s rally, then his seventh-inning RBI single tied the game. With Gregory Soto, Buck Farmer and Jose Cisnero all on rest, on came Funkhouser, who was in line to join Detroit’s rotation last summer until injuries stalled his season.

Funkhouser made the Opening Day roster as an innings-eater but has found bigger situations with a velocity jump. He used a 97-mph fastball to fan pinch-hitter Josh Donaldson before stranding the go-ahead run on second base in the seventh.

“It seems like when he was a starter, he would try to get a feel for his pitches early and not really let it eat [at full velocity] right away,” Greiner said. “Now he's letting it eat. He's in the 95-97 [mph] range with a lot of sink.”

Once Greiner’s wall-scraper, Jonathan Schoop’s RBI triple and Miguel Cabrera’s RBI single moved the Tigers in front, Funkhouser stayed on for the eighth, shrugging off a Rosario solo homer to hold the lead.

Garcia, a former Stopper of the Year award-winner at the University of Miami, has been viewed as a potential closer ever since Detroit drafted him in 2016. With the bullpen depleted, Garcia got his chance, pitching around a leadoff single to leave the potential tying run at the plate.

Funkhouser, Garcia and Alcántara all received clubhouse celebrations afterward. They’ll have to divvy up mementos.

“Trying to get the lineup card authenticated, but with Garcia getting his first save, we might have to fight over it,” Funkhouser said. “It's a great feeling. Wins and losses are a little bit overshadowed now, but I'm just happy we won the game more than anything, happy I threw the ball pretty well again, and just try to build off it.”

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