Detroit — If thrilling the fans and turning your teammates into mass back-slappers worked once, JaCoby Jones figured it was worth a repeat Friday night at Comerica Park.
And he nearly pulled the Academy Award act twice Friday, until a nightmare of a ninth inning, capped by a bad Niko Goodrum error, helped the Royals to a two-run rally and a 3-2 victory in the second game of a doubleheader at Comerica Park.
Jones tripled to score the Tigers’ first run in the second game, then boomed a sacrifice fly in the seventh to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead that came within two outs of holding up.
A few hours earlier, Jones, the Tigers’ most dramatic turnaround player in 2018, rifled a pitch into the bullpen in left field for a walkoff, 3-2 Tigers victory in the afternoon contest of a double feature necessitated by ugly weather during K.C.’s first, early-April visit.
In the second game, with one out in the Royals’ half of the ninth, the Tigers looked as if they were about to win five consecutive games for the first time since 2016. But three straight singles followed by Goodrum’s gaffe at first on Jon Jay’s grounder wide of the bag, and it was the Royals who partied.
“One of those plays that didn’t work out,” said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, offering a post-mortem on Goodrum’s two-stage error, which began when he mishandled Jay’s roller, then tossed a relay over the head of Tigers closer Shane Greene, scoring the winning run.
“We had a chance to sweep and it got away from us at the end.”
Greene had already seen his save blow away in the ninth when, with one out, Paulo Orlando and Alcides Escobar singled ahead of Abraham Almonte’s tumbling single to right that fell in front of Nick Castellanos to knot things, 2-2.
Then, after Jay nearly struck out on a called third strike umpire Carlos Torres insisted was a ball, and after Jay squibbed a grounder that just trickled foul before Goodrum snagged it in front of the bag at first, Jay followed with his grounder that Goodrum botched.
“The kid probably feels as bad as anyone,” said Gardenhire, who was obliged to speak for Goodrum, who left the clubhouse early.
“Goodrum’s been doing fine. He works his butt off at first. It was a weird play. He baba-looed it (muffed the grounder) then panicked with the throw.”
Greene was as protective of Goodrum as Gardenhire when asked about the car-wreck at first.
“Not the first error you’ve ever seen,” he said, “and it’s not going to be the last. We’ll just keep moving.”
The Tigers did nothing in the ninth apart from a two-out, pinch single by Cabrera, who was a surprising scratch from the evening dance-card.
“We had conversations, we talked it through,” said Gardenhire, explaining that Cabrera needed a break, and the second game Friday was his time for a breather. “This is a very long season.”
The late collapse put a dent on Jones’ day, not to mention Tigers plans for a victory that would have put them at .500, and instead leaves them 8-10.
Jones has been the most transformed of all Tigers hitters in 2018. A center-fielder who last year looked at times as if he was swinging an air-guitar at pitches, this season has chopped way down on the strikeouts and now owns, on top of his Friday heroics, a nearly .400 on-base average.
He had already gotten a Gatorade bath for his 10th-inning homer in the first game when, in his first at-bat leading off the third inning of Friday’s wrap-up duel, he lashed a high, deep drive to right-center for a triple. Jose Iglesias brought him home with a single that gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
"He’s not getting so wild with his swings,” Gardenhire said of Jones, who now is batting .313, with a .395 on-base percentage. “He’s shortened his swing, and he’s concentrating.”
The Royals tied the game, 1-1, against Tigers starter Daniel Norris in the fifth, just before he departed after 85 pitches and an outing that was, on balance, worthwhile.
Norris’ fastball is running well beneath the speed limit, mostly at 89 mph, but he had five strikeouts in 4-2/3 innings, and allowed but a lone Royals run on three hits, while walking three.
“It’s not always about velocity,” Gardenhire said. “He did a good job keeping ‘em off-balance.”
Norris thought the skipper had it nailed.
"I’m searching for the velocity,” said Norris, who is trying to keep his rotation job and avoid any bullpen transfers, “but even though I’m numerically not 95 (mph), I’m still getting swings and misses.”
The Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the seventh when Goodrum launched a rocket to center that bounded on the warning track and into the shrubbery for a ground-rule double.
He steamed into third when the next batter, John Hicks, topped a chopper to Mike Moustakas at third. Moustakas took an extra nanosecond pulling the ball from his glove, which was long enough for Hicks to beat his throw for a single, and send Goodrum to third.
That brought on Friday’s star, Jones, who was down 0-2 until he got a slider from Royals starter Jakob Junis and roped it high and deep to center. Orlando grabbed it, but Goodrum sped across home plate with the go-ahead run.
The Tigers bullpen handled everything else, neatly, until Greene’s and Goodrum’s mishaps in the ninth. Buck Farmer: 1.2 innings, no hits, no runs. Alex Wilson: two innings, no hits, three strikeouts.
Greene trotted on for the ninth and struck out leadoff batter Cheslor Cuthbert. But then came the follow-up singles. And a botched grounder. And two quick Royals runs.
What could have been quite the Tigers hootenanny Friday instead became a dissatisfying doubleheader split, flush with the agony and ecstasy kid players so often deliver.