Detroit — Better late than never.
Better lucky than good.
Better a win than another loss.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — and the Tigers will take a win in any packaging that it comes, especially during their celebratory weekend for the 50th anniversary of their 1968 World Series championship team.
The Tigers squandered an opportunity to take the lead in the seventh inning, but made amends in the ninth, taking a 5-3 victory on a walk-off home run by Jeimer Candelario and stunning the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night at Comerica Park
The two-run home run was the second career walk-off winner for Candelario, who went 3-for-5 Friday, capping it with his 18th home run of the season. According to StatCast, the pitch from Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks was a 102.1 mph fastball — the fastest pitch hit for a home run in the majors this season.
Candelario made good enough contact to get the ball in the air and used Hicks’ power against him, as did Victor Reyes, who had a one-out single to start the rally.
“It was really exciting. The guy up there is throwing 100 mph and Victor slaps one down the left-field line and Candy steps up and goes opposite on him,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You never know how long a game is going to go like that. They have a bullpen that’s second to none as far as arm strength and we have some guys, so it gets to who’s going to make a bad pitch.
“I don’t know if that was a bad pitch or not; we just put the barrel on a couple of them.”
The Tigers couldn’t capitalize on a chance to take the lead in the seventh. Dawel Lugo reached on a leadoff walk and Reyes put down a sacrifice bunt, but Cardinals pitcher Dominic Leone threw over the first baseman’s head, allowing Lugo to advance to third.
Second baseman Kolten Wong, who was backing up the play, corralled the errant throw to save the potential go-ahead run.
“That’s what we want to do; we want to be like that. I want my second baseman to be over there on that play and I want my right fielder to be busting his tail over there to be on that play,” Gardenhire said. “That’s where we want to get. We’ll use that video to show how to play the game — because that’s how you play the game.”
Candelario and Niko Goodrum struck out but Reyes stole second and after getting to a 2-0 count on Nick Castellanos, the Cardinals walked him intentionally, loading the bases.
Victor Martinez hit a sharp grounder into a shifted infield and Wong made another spectacular fielding play, ranging to his left to field the ball and end the threat.
The Tigers trailed three times in the game, after Marcell Ozuna’s home run to lead off the second inning. They tied it in the bottom of the inning, after Mikie Mahtook walked and then advanced to third on a double by Ronny Rodriguez. Mahtook scored on an RBI ground out by Lugo.
The Cardinals regained the lead in the fourth off Ozuna’s second home run of the game — and 20th of the season — for a 2-1 advantage. They added another run in the fifth, as Wong doubled, moved to third on a balk and scored on a sacrifice fly by Francisco Pena.
In the fifth, the Tigers tied it at 3 with a two-out rally. Reyes reached with a bunt down the first-base line and Candelario followed with a single. Goodrum walked to load the bases and Castellanos knotted it with a two-run single to left.
Tigers starter Daniel Norris had a strong outing, tying his season high with seven strikeouts. Norris had two strikeouts in each of the first three innings but couldn’t get a handle on Ozuna. Norris went five innings and allowed four hits, three runs and one walk.
In his second start since coming off the disabled list, it was a good showing for Norris.
“I’m just happy to be out there," he said. It’s a long road back and it feels good to be back at Comerica Park and putting on the white D shirt."
The bullpen held up for the Tigers, with Drew VerHagen, Daniel Stumpf and Joe Jimenez each pitching a scoreless inning before Shane Greene finished the ninth.