Detroit — Earlier in the season, games like this one Saturday night seemed to show a never-say-die spirit and brought a feeling of hope — win or lose. Now, this deep into the season, it was just another reminder of how far they still have to go.
The Tigers played another one-run game, it was their 36th. It was their 59th game decided by two runs or less. And it was the 33rd time they lost a game decided by two runs or less.
"It just says we need to score a couple more runs a game," manager Ron Gardenhire said after the Tigers ninth-inning rally fell short in a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins. "It's just one of those situations. You look at how many times we left people out there in big situations.
"We're just not there yet. We're still trying to figure out how to stay on the ball and use the whole field. We miss a lot of opportunities. We have a lot of strikeouts. We have to cut down on that and eventually when we do those things, we will win some of these close games."
The Tigers trailed 4-1 and seemed dead in the water after being stymied for seven innings by right-hander Kyle Gibson. Then they struck.
Twins-killer Niko Goodrum slammed a two-run homer to right-center field off reliever Trevor Hildenberger to make it a one-run game. It was Goodrum's fourth home run against the Twins, his second in as many nights against his former team, and his 12th on the season.
But after Jim Adduci (three hits in the game) singled, the rally fizzled.
"It's all about playing nine innings," Gardenhire said. "We hit a home run in the ninth inning, but we didn't do so much for a lot of those middle innings."
The Tigers have had better days against Twins starter Kyle Gibson. His ERA in 18 previous starts against the Tigers was 5.52. but he was a different pitcher on this night.
"Gibby threw the ball really well," Gardenhire said. "I had him for awhile (when he managed the Twins) and he's figured out what pitching is all about. He threw strikes and he did a nice job."
Gibson allowed a run on seven hits in seven innings, with four strikeouts. The only extra-base hit he allowed was a triple into the left-center field gap by Adduci in the second inning. Adduci scored on a single to right field by James McCann.
But to Gardenhire's point about doing the little things on offense, only twice did the Tigers put a runner into scoring position from the third to the eighth inning. They didn't have back-to-back hits again until the ninth.
The only other time they threatened was in the fourth when Goodrum walked and Adduci singled with one out. The Tigers then executed a double steal and seemed to be in business.
But after video review, Goodrum was ruled out at third base — though television replays never showed conclusive evidence of that.
"No, no, no, no, no," Gardenhire said, opting not to comment. "I'm not getting in trouble with those guys anymore."
It was another laborious outing by starter Francisco Liriano that had the Tigers in the 4-1 hole. He put himself into choppy water from the start on Saturday, walking four, chasing home a run with a wild pitch, keeping his ball-strike ratio near 50-50 and bloating his pitch count early.
"He will tell you, he gets so rushed," Gardenhire said. "It's like he's trying to throw the ball through a brick wall. And when he does that, that's when he misfires."
Liriano agreed that he was rushing, that he was unable to find a rhythm and that he was trying to do too much. Gardenhire explained how that manifests in his mechanics.
"When he starts in on his delivery, he sometimes pauses for a second and then he really jumps at the hitter," he said. "He doesn't need to do that with his stuff and that causes the ball to go all over the place."
Yet, until the top of the fifth inning, he had limited the hard contact and kept the damage to a run. But with a man on in the fifth, he spun a slider to designated hitter Tyler Austin, who pounded the ball 406 feet beyond the Tigers’ bullpen into the left-field seats.
The tenor of Liriano’s outing was set in a 27-pitch first inning. He got the first two batters to ground out in nine pitches. It took him 18 more pitches (single and two walks, three three-ball counts) to record the final out.
He needed 63 pitches to get through three innings. And he was finished after the fifth, 86 pitches 48 strikes.
"When he was pushing 70 pitches after three innings, you knew we'd end up doing a bullpen thing," Gardenhire said. "But give Frankie credit. He hung in there and didn't let it blow wide open."
Liriano gave way to newly signed right-hander Zach McAllister, who gave up a run in his Tigers debut. The longtime Indians reliever, whose fastball was sitting at 96 mph and hit 98, gave up a two-out, RBI double to Eddie Rosario — on a hanging curveball — in the sixth.
"His velocity was really good and that's what we wanted to see," Gardenhire said. "He hadn't pitched in a while, so it was good to get him back out there."
Again, though, a collection of little victories amounted only to another lost baseball game. And, judging by the emptiness of the Tigers' clubhouse after the game, the frustration is rising.
"I don't think we can talk any more than we do and I don't think we can work any more than we do," Gardenhire said. "Mentally, these are young guys and maybe they are starting to get worn down and starting to get a little frustrated.
"But we talk all the time. That's a constant with this coaching staff. But one thing you can't do as a coach, you can't play for them. You can't stand out there with them. It's on their shoulders to put together better at-bats.
"Some were good, some were not so good. We just have to keep working."