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Dixon foils Royals in 10th with catch, walk-off HR

Turnbull (7 strong IP) helps put Tigers in position to win rubber game
@beckjason
May 5, 2019

DETROIT -- Brandon Dixon reached near-elite sprint speed on Sunday for a diving catch in the top of the 10th inning to prevent a likely double. His more rewarding trek in the bottom of the inning was a stroll around the bases to punctuate his first career walk-off home run.

DETROIT -- Brandon Dixon reached near-elite sprint speed on Sunday for a diving catch in the top of the 10th inning to prevent a likely double. His more rewarding trek in the bottom of the inning was a stroll around the bases to punctuate his first career walk-off home run.

Not a bad inning for somebody who entered the game a couple innings earlier. The 5-2 win was one the Tigers badly needed after losing a lead in a pitching duel at Comerica Park.

“We’ve just got to find a way,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Until we really start clicking offensively, we just have to find a way to win ballgames.”

Box score

Sunday’s way was unique. Spencer Turnbull gave Detroit a chance with a career-high seven innings of one-run ball, resting a bullpen that threw 7 2/3 innings on Saturday. He outpitched some mistakes in the process, including a miscommunication in left-center field on a double that set up the only run he allowed in the rubber game of the series.

Turnbull left with a lead, but a slim one. A baserunning misread by Jeimer Candelario to try to advance on a late infield fly rule call that second baseman Whit Merrifield dropped on purpose led to an inning-ending double play following Miguel Cabrera's go-ahead single in the fifth.

“I couldn’t hear it,” Candelario said. “I saw him drop that ball and then I went. That’s good that it happened so I can learn from it.”

Hunter Dozier’s home run off Joe Jimenez, his first hit allowed since Tim Anderson’s walk-off homer for the White Sox in Chicago on April 26, tied the game in the eighth. Dixon pinch-hit for Harold Castro in the bottom of the inning and he struck out on three pitches from Jake Diekman.

It could’ve been a disaster for the Tigers. But the seventh inning Turnbull provided, an inning Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson deliberated over with his pitch count, saved Buck Farmer and Daniel Stumpf for extra innings. They paired up to retire the middle of the Royals’ lineup in order in the 10th, with a little help from Dixon.

“I thought I had a play,” Dixon said of Alex Gordon’s fly ball down the line. “It just kind of kept fading on me. Those are tough because you have to cover a lot of ground and they just keep going away from you. I knew I was going to lay out at some point for it. If that bounces, he probably gets a double out of it.”

Dixon covered 107 feet, topping out at 29.9 feet per second, according to Statcast. The threshold for elite sprint speed is 30.

The usual twist of fate is that the guy who makes the highlight play in one inning steps to the plate to lead off the next. Dixon’s spot was due up fifth in the bottom of the 10th, but it came around thanks to two infield singles off Ian Kennedy (0-1). Third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez couldn’t grip Nicholas Castellanos’ chopper leading off the inning, then he had no play on Niko Goodrum’s dribbler with one out.

Kennedy struck out Ronny Rodriguez and was a pitch away from doing the same with Dixon, putting him in an 0-2 count. Dixon took an 0-2 fastball off the plate, then had to contend with a 1-2 curveball.

“I was just trying to protect the outer half, trying to put a ball in play,” Dixon said. “He just threw a breaking ball that kind of popped. I saw it out of the hand and stayed on it. …

“Honestly, I didn’t think it was going out just by the right fielder’s reaction. I knew I hit it well, but he was kinda jogging back. I was thinking, ‘Oh man, maybe I didn’t get it as well as I thought.’ And then I saw him jump up for it.”

The next sight Dixon remembers was his teammates waiting for him at home plate as he rounded third. One water jug was looming. Another was on the way.

“Seeing everyone gathered at home plate, I think that’s the most exciting part,” Dixon said. “I think I got hit at some point. But it’s all fun.”

After a blowout loss a day earlier, the Tigers needed some fun.

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