The Twins changed everything from walk-up music to scoreboard graphics to give a feeling of home to the Tigers, who were technically the home team for the second game of their seven-inning doubleheader on Friday. The effects did nothing to dampen the pressure, but it added to the surreal feeling of extra innings with Detroit getting last at-bats at Target Field.
For the first time in four years, the Tigers are playing September baseball with playoff implications. And as much as they’re trying to maintain the fun feeling they’ve had all summer, playing with nothing to lose, they’re still in games where every situation is magnified, especially in a shortened season.
“It’s tough to swallow,” Jonathan Schoop said. “But they scored off Soto, one of the best.”
Detroit was swept in the doubleheader despite holding Minnesota to five runs in 15 innings. The Tigers scored just twice, both in the third inning of Game 2. Schoop’s triple past a diving attempt from rookie right fielder Brent Rooker scored one run and set up the other on Miguel Cabrera’s 2,848th career hit -- tying him with Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson for 48th on Major League Baseball’s all-time list.
As Trevor May struck out the middle of the Tigers’ lineup in order with automatic runner Schoop on second as the potential tying run in the eighth, the frustration was understandable.
“We scored two runs all day. That’s not going to help you win too many games,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We tried to hang in there with our pitching. We threw everybody out there we possibly could. We tried to get to the end there and Soto didn’t have it today, so everybody had to throw.
“It’s just one of those things. They got big hits and we didn’t.”
The Tigers have lost three in a row since their six-game winning streak moved them over .500. Friday’s losses were particularly painful, both low-scoring duels that turned quickly. Detroit is 1-3 on its current road trip, and the win came with mixed emotions after JaCoby Jones’ season-ending left hand injury on a hit-by-pitch.
Gardenhire referred to this kind of stretch going into the trip, a stretch that would test the Tigers but provide an early taste of late-season baseball to a young ballclub. How they respond from here is key.
“This is a good stretch,” Gardenhire said Tuesday. “Who knows, it could turn ugly. But we have to maintain the same atmosphere around this clubhouse. We've still got some young players that we're going to try to get this thing built into their heads -- how to win ballgames.”
That youth will be on display as the Tigers try to rebound in the remaining three games of this series. Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize will start the next two, each making his fourth Major League start.
Hours after the Twins led off with back-to-back home runs off Matthew Boyd and held on to take the opener, they rallied late off what has been a formidable Tigers bullpen for most of the season despite flux at the closer spot. Detroit carried a 2-1 lead into the seventh with four scoreless innings from spot starter Tyler Alexander, a strong fifth from rookie Bryan Garcia and a scoreless sixth from Buck Farmer.
Soto, who took over as closer last week, has flirted with command struggles before. This time, he lost Ehire Adrianza and pinch-hitter Josh Donaldson from comfortable counts, walking both before Jorge Polanco lined a sinker into center field to tie the game.
“Soto, we know there’s a possibility he could misfire, but we count on him because of his big arm to be able to do that,” Gardenhire said. “He just misfired a little bit today.”
The Tigers wanted to avoid using Jose Cisnero due to a sore hamstring, but they had little choice as Soto labored. He stranded runners at the corners, including the go-ahead run at third base, by retiring the middle of the Twins' lineup in order, including strikeouts of Miguel Sanó and Nelson Cruz. But Sergio Romo’s perfect seventh took the game to extra innings, where Gonzalez’s one-out grounder through the middle off former Detroit closer Jiménez put Minnesota up for good.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any frustration,” Alexander said. “We fought hard. It’s not like we made any mental errors out there. That’s the game of baseball.”