Houston – The Tigers, again, showed plenty of fight, plenty of want-to. The hole was just too deep.
The Tigers and starter Anibal Sanchez spotted the Astros a 5-0 lead after four innings Sunday. The night before they fought back from a 3-0 deficit and won. This rally died one run too soon.
“I thought the last two games, we were sloppy,” manager Brad Ausmus said, after the 5-4 loss Sunday. “We did a nice job both games coming back, digging ourselves out from an offensive standpoint. But we can play cleaner games than we did yesterday and today.”
On Saturday, bad base running was the issue. On Sunday, it was a throwing error on an overly-aggressive play by Miguel Cabrera that set up the eventual winning runs in the fourth inning.
“He threw because he saw the chance to get an out,” Sanchez said. “You don’t throw because you just want to play around. He thought if he made a good throw, he’d get (Marwin) Gonzalez off base and get me out of the inning.”
Let’s back up:
The Astros did to Sanchez what they’d done to Justin Verlander the night before – they ambushed his fastball right out of the gate. Jose Altuve connected with Sanchez’s second pitch of the game and blasted it out to right field. The Astros scored another on a single by George Springer, a walk to Colby Rasmus and, after Sanchez got the next two batters and had two strikes on Luis Valbuena, Springer scored on a wild pitch.
Springer, who was 6-for-12 with two home runs in the series, led off the third with a home run to left field.
“They were sitting on a lot of his fastballs like we saw yesterday and we had to adjust,” Ausmus said. “Some of the damage was already done at that point.”
The Astros’ two-run fourth, though, was the fatal blow.
With two outs and a runner on first, Jake Marisnick rolled one up the middle. He beat Jose Iglesias’ throw to first.
Cabrera tried to throw behind the runner at second, Gonzalez, and threw the ball into left field. Justin Upton, who was ejected in the seventh for arguing a called third strike, retrieved the ball and appeared to have a shot at throwing him out at third.
His throw bounced away from Nick Castellanos at third.
Had Cabrera just held the ball, it would have been first and second and two outs. Instead it was second and third. Both scored on Altuve’s ringing single to center.
“Even when Upton had the ball, I thought he was going to get him at third,” Sanchez said. “But it’s about results. I still have to make my pitch (to Altuve) and get out of the inning.”
Relievers Pat Neshek, Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson locked things down from the seventh through the ninth. Before that, though, the Tigers were charging.
“With our lineup, on many days one run won’t be enough,” Ausmus said.
The long ball fueled the rally.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who hit the winning two-run home run Saturday, hit another, his fourth of the season, to lead off the fifth.
Ian Kinsler, with Iglesias on first, got a hanging breaking ball from starter Mike Fiers and smacked his fourth home run of the season, wrapping it around the foul pole in left.
Just like that, it was 5-3.
J.D. Martinez cut the deficit to one in the sixth with his second of the season. Fiers had made Martinez look bad in his first two at-bats, and was ahead of him 1-2 – again fooling him with breaking balls. He decided to try to sneak a fastball by him and Martinez sent it over the wall in right field.
The best opportunity to tie it came with two outs in the eighth off Giles. J.D. Martinez reached on an error and went to third on a single by Castellanos. But Saltalamacchia grounded out to end the inning.
“We made some mistakes today, but we’re playing good baseball,” Kinsler said. “Scoring early is something we’d like to do more – we’ve done it a couple of times this season. But we’re playing good baseball so far. We have a day off tomorrow and we’ll get ready to play Kansas City.
The Tigers will open a three-game series against the Royals Tuesday. It begins a stretch of 12 out of 16 games against Central Division opponents.