Triple play deflates Tigers in loss to Astros
Detroit — Usually when one swing changes the course of a baseball game, it's some kind of dramatic hit.
Not this time.
The one swing, by Ian Kinsler, produced three outs in the fifth inning, which not only killed a potential game-breaking rally, it also seemed to energize the Astros, who went to beat the Tigers, 3-2, Saturday before a crowd of 40,153 at Comerica Park.
"Is it deflating?" third baseman Nick Castellanos said. "Yeah. But it's part of the game. Any time you have two runners on and they turn a triple play, that's the definition of a rally killer."
Especially at the time it happened.
The Tigers seemed poised to break open a close game against rookie pitcher Lance McCullers. They had already scored a run to take a 2-1 lead and they had two on, no out with Kinsler coming up.
This was McCullers' second major league start and he was reeling. He failed to cover first base on ground ball to first by Jose Iglesias earlier in the inning and the Astros botched a potential double-play ball before Kinsler stepped in.
But on a 2-1 pitch, Kinsler rolled over an inside breaking ball and hit it hard on one hop to third baseman Jonathan Villar. Villar stepped on the bag, then threw to second baseman Jose Altuve, who stepped on the bag and relayed to first in time to complete the triple play.
"Nothing you could really do about that," said Kinsler, who had never hit into a triple play before, at any level. "Just a one-hopper right the top of the bag. It was a perfect ball for a triple play. Not a good way to end an inning."
It was the first triple play hit into by the Tigers since 2009 against Texas, a line drive triple play off the bat of Gerald Laird, started by, of all people, Kinsler. The last time the Astros turned a triple play, 2004, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was their catcher.
"It's a good play and everybody wants to talk about it," Ausmus said. "But that triple play did not make or break that game for us."
Make or break? Maybe not. But it absolutely changed the game's complexion.
The Astros, given life, immediately took the lead, scoring two runs off starter Kyle Lobstein in the top of the sixth — and to further deflate the Tigers, all the damage came with two out.
"I was falling behind hitters, trying to make too good a pitch," said Lobstein, now 3-5 on the season. "I was trying to be too perfect instead of attacking the hitters."
Preston Tucker, Chris Carter and Jason Castro singled to score the tying run and chase Lobstein.
Then, with Al Alburquerque on in relief, Marwin Gonzalez singled to score the go-ahead run.
"That was probably my worst stuff so far this season," said Lobstein, who walked three and gave up seven hits. "You obviously don't want to be walking guys. I can't succeed walking guys and throwing that many balls. It's not usually going to work out well for me."
The Tigers bullpen kept it a one-run game. Alburquerque, who struck out four straight batters, Tom Gorzelanny and Blaine Hardy, all put up zeros. But the Tigers bats were rendered listless, first by McCullers, and then by four relievers.
The Tigers managed one hit after the fifth and the last 11 batters were retired in order.
"In a perfect world, we'd put up 10-15 runs every game," catcher James McCann said. "But that's just the name of the game. Sometimes you go through stretches like that and it's our job as an offense to limit those types of days."
Anthony Gose's double to the wall in center drove in the Tigers' first run. But after the fifth, the loudest ball hit over the last four innings was by Rajai Davis. He pinch-hit for Gose against left-handed pitcher Joe Thatcher leading off the eighth. He hit a fly ball to the fence in left that Colby Rasmus went back and caught on a leap.
It didn't seem to have home run distance, though.
"I thought at first (it was going out)," Davis said. "But he definitely got it in on me a little — just enough."