MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers clinched their fifth consecutive season under .500 on Tuesday. Their 82nd loss will be remembered most for a pitch up and over the backstop, the screen and several rows of seats at Target Field.
Technically, the pitch everyone will remember from Tyler Alexander in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Twins didn’t count. Willians Astudillo had called time out in the second inning as Alexander was into his delivery. Alexander doesn’t want to stop in mid-delivery, but he also doesn’t want to give a hitter a free look at a pitch, so he has developed a habit of following through without actually pitching. Thus, Alexander fired a ball up, up and away.
“I've done it since college,” Alexander explained. “I had a teammate in college, Preston Morrison, and I thought it was hilarious when he would do it. And he told me one day that it served a purpose, kind of like a free change of eye level.”
The pitch briefly registered as a 67.5 mph changeup on Statcast. It landed in the stands for a fan to catch like a foul ball.
“Normally, I throw it at the backstop,” Alexander said, “but tonight I threw it into the stands.”
Alexander got a new ball, still with a 1-2 count, but his next pitch was a fastball that sailed by catcher Dustin Garneau. That one did count as a wild pitch, though nothing came of the runner that advanced.
Alexander had another trick delivery on a late time-out call when he flipped a ball behind his back and towards third base with Brent Rooker at bat in the fourth inning.
“I tried to flip it to the catcher behind my back,” Alexander said. “It kind of hit my butt a little bit, so it didn't go as far as I wanted it to.”
Bizarre deliveries aside, Alexander was effective. He had given up hits to four of his first six batters when he threw the ball into the stands with Astudillo at the plate. He didn’t give up a hit over the rest of his six-inning performance. His lone run allowed was essentially manufactured by Byron Buxton, who drew a four-pitch leadoff walk in the third inning, stole second and advanced on fly balls from Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver.
“They did a good job of manufacturing that run,” said Alexander, who walked a leadoff batter for just the third time all season. “I walked the fastest guy on their team on four pitches to start the inning. I’ve been mixing the uncompetitive walks in lately and I’m working on that a little bit, trying not to do that, especially not to Buxton. That was a bad night to do it.”
Two seventh-inning runs off José Ureña, including Miguel Sanó's 30th home run of the season, proved critical once the dormant Detroit offense awakened in the ninth. RBI singles from Akil Baddoo and Jonathan Schoop put the potential tying run on base against Twins closer Alex Colomé in the ninth inning before he struck out Robbie Grossman to end the game.
It marked the Tigers’ third consecutive one-run loss, but all three featured late-inning Detroit rallies that fell short.
“It’s not ideal,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We haven’t gotten into games very quickly. … We’ve got to get into games better if we want to win some of these next five.”
Considering the Tigers’ 9-24 start to the season, simply having a chance at a .500 record in the final week was nearly inconceivable. They remain eight games over .500 since that start, which gives them hope that their streak of losing seasons will end next year.
“We’ve been chasing that all year,” Alexander said. “We’ve grown a lot as a baseball team. We’ve gotten a lot better. We have a long way to go, but, yeah, that’s been our goal as the season’s gone on. Definitely a big turnaround from what we’ve had in the past, and I think we’re trending in the right direction.”