Tigers claw back into opener, but can't come up clutch

July 29th, 2022

TORONTO -- The way has heated up at the plate lately, his latest big hit seemed imminent.

He worked Yimi Garcia for nine pitches, battling every offering the Blue Jays reliever has in his toolbox. In a three-pitch span, Haase fouled off a 96 mph fastball up and in, a 90 mph slider diving off the plate, then another 95 mph heater up top. That’s the plate protection of a contact hitter, not a power hitter searching for effective at-bats after posting a .495 OPS through the first two months of the season.

Then again, Haase's job as a catcher this season has included getting plenty of young pitchers out of command woes. So if any Tigers hitter could think along with Garcia through this situation, it was him.

“We had to go off the beaten path a little bit there,” Haase said. “He had trouble finding the strike zone, so I kind of wanted to be patient. And then he started filling up the strike zone with everything he had, so that all kind of went out the window. Just trying to stay alive, put something going forward.”

For a split-second, it looked like he might do more than that. Haase burst out of the box as his opposite-field drive soared deep to right in a sign of hope, but the slowing strides George Springer took at the edge of the warning track in right-center took away any that he had.

In the end, it was a battle that arguably neither side won, which seemingly fits the Tigers’ season. Haase’s sacrifice fly drove in a run, but that’s all the Tigers mustered from a bases-loaded, nobody-out opportunity in a two-run game. A day after they overcame three unearned runs for a comeback victory, two more unearned tallies off errors -- one of them coming after Haase’s sac fly -- proved to be the difference in a 5-3 series-opening loss on Thursday at Rogers Centre.

Haase walked away having turned in a productive at-bat on Detroit’s unproductive night.

“We came back and had a huge chance, bases loaded, no outs,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “You'd like to get a little bit more, obviously. Haase had a great at-bat and was inches away from making it really interesting. But I look back and I see two errors that led to part of their scoring.”

Having only managed just a Willi Castro solo homer off Yusei Kikuchi and a Jonathan Schoop solo homer off Tim Mayza to that point, the Tigers' rally against Garcia was a product of timely hitting. Victor Reyes slugged a leadoff double off the right-field wall, then Robbie Grossman’s blooper fell in a collision between shortstop Bo Bichette and left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Seven consecutive pitches out of the strike zone -- four to walk Javier Báez, then three to give a 3-0 count to Miguel Cabrera -- put Detroit's chances of winning at nearly 50 percent, according to Statcast. Cabrera took a strike on 3-0, then hit a fly ball that Springer charged in on in a way that left Reyes no chance to tag up from third.

Enter Haase, whose production this summer has turned him into the cleanup hitter against lefty starters.

“It's hard to be selective in that at-bat,” Haase said. “Guessed wrong on a slider and I fought a two-seam right off my knuckles. After that, I thought he was pretty confident with his heater. Didn't seem like he had a good grip on his breaking pitches, so after that I kind of dug in a little bit, looking for a heater. He just kept making good pitches, getting his heater at the top of the zone, and I kept fouling it off. Finally got on top of one and got it forward.”

Asked if he thought the ball had a chance to go out, Haase said, “Maybe for a second there, but I was just happy to get the job done either way.”

Said Hinch: “He's been really good obviously this month, and he was in the at-bat, fouling off some really tough pitches, and then just missed a pitch. Now we need that run there, just like you need any run, and there was still an opportunity after that.”

The run led Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider to turn to Jordan Romano for a potential four-out save. He needed just one pitch for his first out and to end the threat, getting red-hot Jeimer Candelario to ground out to second.

What had been a near-even chance to win dropped to a 12-percent chance of victory, sliding even lower after Toronto scored an unearned run in the bottom half and all the way to zero as Romano closed it out in the ninth.