Detroit — In those early innings Saturday at Comerica Park, it seemed the Tigers had their holiday weekend script nailed.
They took an early lead (3-1), on a lovely afternoon (first pitch, 77 degrees), before a nice crowd by 2018 standards (27,032).
And then the pitching went to pieces.
By the time the White Sox (16-33) had torn into starter Francisco Liriano and his bullpen mates for four home runs in the fifth and sixth, the White Sox were ahead, 8-3, in a game they ended up winning, 8-4.
“We just couldn’t keep the ball in the ballpark,” said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, who watched Tim Anderson swat a pair of homers in those big fifth and sixth innings, while Jose Abreu and Daniel Palka also sent pitches soaring during a White Sox long-ball frenzy.
“Every time we made a mistake, they didn’t just hit it — they put it in the seats.”
Jeimer Candelario did his best to keep up. He clubbed homers in his first two at-bats, driving in the first three Tigers runs, which gave the impression a home team was ready to win its third consecutive game.
But what a turnaround beginning in the fifth.
Liriano, who struck out eight through five innings, was suddenly rocked by Anderson and Abreu, which tied the game, 3-3.
Liriano was still tossing in the sixth when Palka launched a moon-brushing home run down the right-field line to put the White Sox on top, 4-3.
“Just a couple of bad pitches,” said Liriano, whose analysis was shared by Gardenhire.
“He didn’t have his best stuff,” the Tigers skipper said, referring to the fifth and sixth when Anderson and Abreu each drilled fastballs after being down in the count, 0-and-2. “He couldn’t seem to put a hitter away like he did early.”
In the sixth, after Palka hit his sky-rising blast to right, Yoan Moncada followed with a single and Liriano was gone in favor of the previously unscored-upon Louis Coleman.
Coleman’s string of goose-egg innings ceased when he hung a breaking pitch to Anderson that became Anderson’s second homer of the day, this one a three-run shot that made it a 7-3 game.
“His ball was a little flatter today,” said Gardenhire, who knew a reliever who hadn’t given up a run in five games for the Tigers was pushing big-league baseball’s percentages.
The White Sox picked up another run in the seventh against Artie Lewicki, all as the Tigers decided their offense had pretty much departed for a backyard barbecue.
They scored their final run with two gone in the ninth on a 10-pitch Candelario walk, and a double error by Anderson, who booted Pete Kozma’s grounder, then threw the ball poorly to catcher Alfredo Gonzalez as Candelario scored.
Gardenhire agreed this game turned not only quickly, but unexpectedly. White Sox starter Hector Santiago was smacked for Candelario’s home runs, a triple from Niko Goodrum, and even a single by Victor Reyes in the first three innings. He was running up a pitch-count and running into bats.
“Every time we thought we were going to get him, he kind of fell into a groove,” said Gardenhire, who watched Santiago last five innings worth seven Tigers hits.
“They found a way to get to him (Liriano) and we didn’t do too much after.”
Candelario had sent the Tigers into a quick 2-0 lead in the first when he lashed a Santiago sinker into the left-center field seats one batter after Nick Castellanos had been safe at first on Anderson’s throwing error.
In the third, Candelario ripped into a Santiago slider and dropped it beyond the left-field fence.
He leads the Tigers in home runs with seven.
The Tigers had a chance to make things intriguing in the eighth when they got singles from their first two batters, Victor Martinez and Goodrum. But the next two men disappeared on a fielder’s choice grounder (John Hicks) and a pop-up to second (James McCann).
Jose Iglesias next got a rare walk, against reliever Nate Jones, to load the bases and bring aboard Leonys Martin as a pinch-hitter for Reyes.
Martin lashed a hard grounder to second baseman Yoan Moncada, and whatever comeback the Tigers had in mind was all but dead.
“He hit a rocket,” Gardenhire said of Martin’s scalded grounder, hit dead into a right-side shift. “It could have been the play of the game.”
The Tigers play the White Sox again Sunday (1:10 p.m.) in the weekend series wrap-up. Blaine Hardy will start for the Tigers against James Shields.