June 29, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Astros 6, Tigers 4

Tigers' loss mars otherwise laudable 7-2 road trip

Houston — Was the glass three-quarters filled after Sunday's game or one-quarter empty? Your choice.

If you’re thinking it was three-quarters filled, then you’re focusing on the 7-2 three-city trip from which the Tigers are returning — the sweeps in Cleveland and Texas instead of the two games they lost at Minute Maid Park.

That’s the view the Tigers immediately took, of course, after a 6-4 loss to the Houston Astros.

“We came in the clubhouse,” Nick Castellanos said, “and Miggy (Cabrera) immediately said ‘so what that we lost? It was a great trip.’ ”

But if you insist on grumbling, then Sunday’s loss is in your wheelhouse because there was a lot that backfired, a lot that didn’t go well, a lot to irk those who think players should never get a day off.

First, though, how did the Tigers lose?

They lost because Drew Smyly wasn’t sharp in a start that lasted only 2.1 innings. He’d been sick and was sent back to the hotel Saturday, but neither used that as an excuse nor wanted it to be seen as one.

“I didn’t bring it, they did,” said Smyly, tersely unhappy with a performance that began with the Astros scoring three times in the first.

The Tigers also lost because two intentional walks backfired even though the reasoning behind them was sound.

The thought both times was to have a left-hander pitch to Jon Singleton, a left-handed hitter who strikes out a lot normally — but much more than a lot recently.

In fact, Singleton had struck out 25 times in his last 48 at-bats, and also in his first three at-bats of this game, when manager Brad Ausmus called for the intentional walk of George Springer that loaded the bases for Singleton with two outs in the sixth.

The strategy backfired, however, when Tigers’ lefty Patrick McCoy walked Singleton to force in a run — giving the Astros a 5-2 lead.

Castellanos’ two-run triple in the eighth cut the Astros’ lead to 5-4, but Singleton’s single in the bottom of the eighth after a second intentional pass to Springer made it a 6-4 game.

“Obviously that’s the risk,” Ausmus said of McCoy’s walk of Singleton. “The second time, he just geared up for a 2-0 fastball.

“You try to make the decisions that are the best to help you win the game, but they are not always going to work.”

The questions emerging from the game, however, begin with whether Austin Jackson’s first game back at leadoff will lead to another after he struck out four times and hit into a double play.

Ausmus said he’s not decided that yet.

“He scuffled, but because it’s just one game, I don’t know if that will end him hitting leadoff.”

Does that mean it probably won’t?

“What I’m saying,” Ausmus said, “is that I don’t know if it will. I haven’t done the lineup (for Monday). I haven’t gotten that far.”

The other question needing to be asked about the game — why didn’t Ian Kinsler start? — was answered the same way after the game as before.

Even hot hitters need a day off once in a while.

“But he was clearly our best option off the bench,” Ausmus said.

Kinsler could have pinch-hit for Andrew Romine in the seventh, with runners at first and second and one out, but Ausmus let Romine hit. Despite an earlier single that led to the Tigers’ first run, Romine struck out this time and the threat fizzled.

Kinsler eventually pinch-hit for Alex Avila in the eighth, with Castellanos at third as the tying run, but lefty Tony Sipp struck out Kinsler to end the inning.

“I thought about (using Kinsler in the seventh),” Ausmus said, “but my thought process was that if I did (use him as a pinch-hitter) and if Kinsler didn’t end up getting his day off, I’d rather use him later in the game.

“So he actually hit when he would have been the winning run instead of only the tying run. The truth is it worked out perfectly, our best hitter on the bench coming up with a chance to win the game.

“That’s how you want to draw it up.”

What didn’t help early in the game was late coverage by shortstop Eugenio Suarez on a throw to second from first as Jose Altuve stole second and eventually scored the first of the three Astros’ runs in the first.

“We’ve already talked to him about that,” Ausmus said. “He has to get there quicker than he did.”

It was an absolute great series for Altuve (9-for-14), who became the first major-league player since 1917 to record multiple steals in four consecutive games.

It was also an absolute forgettable 1-for-25 series for the combination of Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

But you know what?

“There’s not a club on the planet,” Ausmus said, “that wouldn’t take 7-2 on the road.”


Tigers relief pitcher Patrick McCoy wipes his face after walking in a run with the bases loaded in the sixth inning Sunday against the Houston Astros. The Astros won 6-4. / Pat Sullivan / Associated Press