Minneapolis — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire had essentially two choices in the seventh inning — one was a rock and the other was a hard place.
"There's nothing you can do," he said Friday night after the Tigers were beaten by the Twins, 5-4. "You've got to go with what you have."
Starter Matthew Boyd had given the Tigers what they desperately needed Friday — a longer start. He didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning and went into the seventh with a 3-1 lead. But after striking out Miguel Sano (his seventh strikeout), he was at 90 pitches.
"No, I was not fatigued at all," Boyd said afterward. "I just didn't do what I wanted to do with my pitches. That's what it came down to."
In a span of seven pitches, Tyler Austin jumped on a flat change-up and sent it 451 feet into the seats in left field, Jake Cave singled and Boyd plucked Johnny Field with a wayward breaking ball.
"His pitch-count was up there," Gardenhire said. "He threw the ball great. He feels pretty bad about the whole situation."
Gardenhire could've left the spiraling Boyd in to face switch-hitter Ehire Adrianza or go to his bullpen. He knew that all of his options there were right-handed. Which meant, in all likelihood, left-handed hitting Joe Mauer would be coming off the Twins bench to pinch hit.
"We didn't want him to go against Joe Mauer, but we knew we were going to get him," Gardenhire said. "We felt Boyd was done, so we went with our sinker-baller. We were trying to get the ground ball, that's why he was in there."
Gardenhire summoned Louis Coleman. The Twins countered with Mauer. Coleman threw five straight pitches out of the strike zone — getting generous strike calls on two of them. But the sixth pitch was up and over the plate.
Mauer hit it 429 feet into the seats in right field — a three-run blast, sending the Tigers to their fourth straight loss. They are now a rather atrocious 18-43 on the road.
"I need to finish," said Boyd, who struck out seven and allowed just four hits. "That's what it comes down to. I made a few mistakes and I put us in a bind there. My job is to finish for the boys in here. That's on me. This is on me."
Before the seventh, the only blemish on Boyd was a two-out home run by left-handed hitting Eddie Rosario in the sixth.
"That was a momentary lapse in judgment," Boyd said. "I needed to put that first pitch in the dirt. I know he'll swing at anything on the first pitch. He's an aggressive hitter, that's why he's doing so well this year."
As for the Austin home run, he had gotten an ugly strike three on Austin with a change-up in the second inning, and got another ugly swing on it the pitch before the home run.
"I just didn't execute it like I wanted to," Boyd said. "Solo home runs are going to happen. But I should've never put Lou in that situation. He came in to bail me out. But that's on me not finishing the job.
"But I guarantee you, I know what I need to work on for the next start."
Unlike some of the recent losses, the Tigers played good, smart, competitive baseball Friday night.
They hit into four double-plays in the first five innings off Twins starter Kyle Gibson, who limited them to a run in seven innings last weekend at Comerica Park. But they kept scratching.
With two outs in the fourth, Nick Castellanos drew a walk and Niko Goodrum, who came in hitting .355 against the Twins, doubled. Castellanos scored on a wild pitch and Goodrum came in on an opposite-field single by the red-hot Victor Martinez.
Martinez, who had three hits, is now riding a seven-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 17 of his last 21. He’s hitting at a robust .326 clip over that span.
In the sixth, Castellanos singled home Jeimer Candelario, who led off with a ground-rule double and went to third on sacrifice bunt by Jim Adduci.
And the Tigers battled down to their last strike in the ninth. Down 5-3, Martinez doubled and pinch-runner Jose Iglesias scored on a two-out single by Ronny Rodriguez.
Then pinch-hitter Victor Reyes, a Rule 5 rookie, extended the game with the at-bat of the season — a gritty, 13-pitch at-bat where he fouled off eight pitches before drawing just his fourth walk of the season.
"That was really exciting," Gardenhire said. "He came up there against that guy throwing hard. But we knew he wasn't going to give up on the at-bat. He was going to take his swings and not be afraid.
"It was fun. Everybody in the dugout was hooting and hollering for him and he drew the walk and gave us an opportunity to tie the game."
Twins manager Paul Molitor went to left-hander Taylor Rogers to force switch-hitting Candelario to to hit right-handed. He got him to ground out to end the game.
"I'm proud of these guys," Gardenhire said. "I'm proud of the way they are battling. Boyd did a fantastic job tonight. It just got away from him at the end."