Tigers get signals crossed in walk-off loss

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Houston — With All-Star Jose Altuve up with two outs in the ninth inning and the winning run on third base, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus called on right-handed reliever Alex Wilson in a 5-5 game.

The directive from both Ausmus and catcher Alex Avila was to pitch carefully, try to get Altuve to chase something — if you fall behind in the count, just walk him.

That was not Wilson's mindset.

"Careful, yeah, but you still have to be able to attack," Wilson said. "And I wanted to get ahead."

With Avila set up outside the outer edge, Wilson threw Altuve a first-pitch cutter that was up and sliding over the heart of the plate.


Altuve slapped it into the gap in left-center, scoring Jake Marisnick to give the Astros a 6-5, walk-off win Sunday afternoon.

BOX SCORE: Astros 6, Tigers 5

Talking to Ausmus, Avila and Wilson afterward, it was clear they weren't completely on the same page against Altuve.

Avila: "We were trying to get him to chase something. Probably, if we got behind we'd just walk him. But basically the pitch went in the other direction. I was set up outside, trying to go way off the plate and his cutter came out sideways.

"In that situation, you're either going to walk him or you're going to get him to chase a couple of pitches. And if he doesn't, you walk him."

Ausmus: "We considered walking Altuve (intentionally), but the problem with putting him on is that the guy who has killed us — (left-handed hitting) Preston Tucker — is sitting on the bench waiting to pinch-hit. So you pick your poison. We were trying to pitch him carefully, a (cutter) down and away. We weren't trying to give him anything to hit but the location was missed."

Wilson: "I was trying to attack and get ahead, just like I do with most people. You want to pitch carefully, but you still have to attack. You want to get people out. You don't want to get behind. The goal was to get him out. The next guy on deck was a left-handed hitter (Marwin Gonzalez). The matchup right there was me against Altuve.

"You can be careful, but at the same time, you still work within the zone."

It was a case where one of Wilson's best attributes, his bulldog demeanor, worked against him.

"I was just trying to make good pitches and trying to execute," he said. "I've had some success against Altuve in the past. Unfortunately today I left a pitch up and over the middle."

It was a sudden and deflating ending to a game in which the Tigers rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the seventh inning. Miguel Cabrera, who doubled in the Tigers first run, belted a two-run home run in the seventh off Chad Qualls.

And in the eighth off reliever Will Harris, Tyler Collins (three hits in the game) singled home J.D. Martinez to tie the game.

"Every loss is disappointing," Martinez said. "It felt like we had momentum there. We were able to score late. Unfortunately for us Marisnick got that hit and Altuve showed why he's an All-Star second baseman."

Until the Marisnick triple, the Tigers bullpen had held the Astros in check for 3⅔ innings after rookie starter Matt Boyd had allowed five runs, four in the second.

Colby Rasmus, the only left-hander in the Astros lineup, hit two home runs off Boyd. Yet, with two outs and nobody on in the eighth, Ausmus called on lefty Tom Gorzelanny to face Rasmus.

Rasmus popped out on a 3-0 pitch.

Ausmus then stayed with Gorzelanny to start the ninth, even though due up for the Astros were right-hander Chris Carter, switch-hitter Hank Conger and righty Marisnick.

Here's why:

"Gorzo was in there to keep Tucker on the bench," Ausmus said. "You can bring in a right-hander knowing they're going to pinch-hit Tucker at some point, or leave the left-hander in there against guys you feel he has a good chance to get out and leave Tucker in the dugout."

Tucker hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning at Comerica earlier this season and hit another Saturday to tie the game in the ninth. Ausmus' concern was well-founded.

Gorzelanny got Carter and Conger and it looked like he had gotten ahead of Marisnick — but he didn't get a strike call on a borderline 1-1 pitch.

"Instead of being able to go to an off-speed pitch, we had to go back to the fastball," Avila said. "We still had him where we could get him. We had him diving out to the outside part of the plate. We tried to go fastball inside to tie him up but it leaked over the plate.

"Two mistakes that inning cost us."

The Tigers have only won one series and are 12-17 since the All-Star break.