Zimmermann, Tigers see early lead evaporate in loss to Yankees

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann looks away as Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees rounds third base after hitting a home run during the sixth inning.

New York — It was crazy, and it was colorful.

And for the Tigers it was a loss that almost felt like a victory.

After taking a 3-0 lead and watching Jordan Zimmermann pitch no-hit baseball for five innings, the Tigers saw it wash away Friday night at Yankee Stadium as the Yankees clouted three sixth-inning homers, then rallied for three more runs in the eighth to pop the Tigers, 7-5.

"We played a really good baseball game, and I'm proud of 'em," said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, speaking of his players, who looked for much of the evening as if they might beat the elite Yankees for a second time in two nights.

Not that Gardenhire was around for all of Friday's drama.

BOX SCORE: Yankees 7, Tigers 5

He was tossed in the eighth inning, the same frame that saw the Yankees score three times. Gardenhire's exit had to do with a checked-swing dispute he had with first-base umpire Paul Nauert.

It was a call that went against the Tigers and a call that, in their view, led to a rally that never should have happened.

Down a run to the Tigers, 5-4, the Yankees had runners at first and second with two out, both of which had come on Joe Jimenez strikeouts against Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar.

Jimenez, on a 3-2 pitch, seemed also to have rung up Luke Voit on a third whiff — a half-cut that finished a good half-foot in front of home plate.

Ah, but Nauert, who was overseeing check swings on right-handed batters, had a different opinion — even if Voit also seemed surprise by a walk that loaded the bases.

That didn't go over well with Gardenhire, who stomped from the dugout and got a thumb from Nauert. Jimenez, too, was enraged, and had to be calmed, even if Gardenhire was yanking him, anyway, for Alex Wilson.

"It looked like he got the last out, it looked like he did," Gardenhire said afterward, who was cool and even jovial, making sure he didn't add fire — or a fine or suspension — to his fourth ejection from 2018. 

Other observers weren't as guarded.

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"For me," said Tigers catcher James McCann, "it was one of the most surprising no-calls I've ever seen on a checked swing."

Zimmermann, who had a dugout view of Voit's cut, said: "When you can see the cup of the bat, I think it's a little too far." 

"You saw it," said Jimenez, who said there was no reason for him to add to the obvious, which in his opinion was that Voit had done what most batters had done against his slider — swung and missed.

But it was a walk, and on came Wilson, who was met by a line single to left from Gleyber Torres that scored a pair of runners and put the Yankees on top, 6-5. They got another on a follow-up single that caromed off Rodriguez and there was your ballgame.

The Tigers were down, 4-3, in the seventh but tied the game on singles from JaCoby Jones, Jeimer Candelario, and Mikie Mahtook.

They went ahead, 5-4, in the eighth, on singles from Nick Castellanos and Victor Martinez, a walk, and Ronny Rodriguez's deep sacrifice fly to center.

But that wasn't going to be good enough when the Yankees had mischief in mind in the eighth, two innings after they had solved Zimmermann's early mastery.

Zimmermann was so good, for so long Friday, that the sixth inning made even less sense as he was tagged for his three-homer binge.

"Got away from his breaking stuff, trying to get ahead," said Gardenhire, who had seen Jimenez use his slider-curve combo, alongside a fastball he was placing precisely, to punch past the Yankees, often with fewer than a dozen pitches per inning.

Zimmermann allowed one lonely baserunner through five innings: Stanton, who in the fourth earned Zimmermann's lone walk of the night. 

An omen, perhaps, that the sixth wasn't going to be his inning came when Austin Romine, leading off, ripped a short-hop liner at Dawel Lugo at second that got past Lugo for what was ruled an error.

In fact, the ball likely would have been scored a hit by a good many judges. What mattered is Zimmermann still had his no-hitter intact.

He nearly got a double play when the next batter, Ronald Torreyes, slapped a grounder to Rodriguez at short. Rodriguez got the quick out at second, but Lugo's relay was a stitch behind Torreyes, a speedster who beat the throw.

Zimmermann remained at ease. Until, that is, he put a chest-high fastball over the plate's middle that Gardner drove upstairs to cut Detroit's lead to 3-2.

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Stanton then flied to center, all before Hicks and Andujar followed by tomahawking Zimmermann fastballs into the seats for a 4-3 Yankees lead.

"Just two mistakes the whole game," said Zimmermann, who said Gardner and Hicks had hit fastballs up, and over the plate — pure sirloin to good hitters. 

 Andujar, however, had gotten into an up-and-in pitch that Zimmermann liked — until it disappeared into the left-field seats.

Zimmermann's pitching line was as freaky as much of Friday's game: six innings, three hits, four runs (three unearned), one walk, six strikeouts — and three homers. Each of the three hits against him spanning six innings landed in the seats.

"I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before," said Zimmermann, whose ERA dropped to 4.22. "I don't think I made any mistakes those first five innings."

 The Tigers had pushed their way to a 3-0 lead early, against of all people, fire-throwing Luis Severino.

They got their first run in the fourth when Goodrum hit his 15th homer of 2018, gashing a 100-mph Severino fastball and sending it on a line into the right-center field seats.

They got two more in the fifth and made it 3-0 on James McCann's double, a single from Lugo, and Jim Adduci's searing, two-run triple into the right-field corner. 

 "Just proud of our guys," Gardenhire repeated. "It's a big atmosphere here. The Yankees are fighting, and we're fighting."

The clashing included two managers, Gardenhire and Aaron Boone, the Yankees skipper who was tossed early Friday. Boone didn't care for home-plate umpire Nic Lentz's strike zone and let it be known in animated fashion as he diagrammed a silhouette of what Boone believed to be the dividing lines between strikes and balls.

Ah, baseball.

Sometimes, two teams win, even if the scoreboard says otherwise.