Detroit — As first years of a rebuild go, the 2018 home campaign could have gone a heck of a lot worse for the Tigers.
They put Comerica Park to bed for another year on Sunday, with a 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals — a team whose rebuilding year went a lot worse. The Tigers finish with a 38-43 home record.
"The fans were right there on their feet cheering the team on to the last pitch," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They didn't have to be. We've got 90-plus losses. They didn't have to do that. But this is a passionate fan base.
"I've known that forever. They've latched on to these young guys we have here. They understand where we are trying to go. That was cool."
The Tigers trailed 3-1 entering the ninth inning against Royals closer Wily Peralta. And with a parade of players who all made their big-league debuts this season, the Tigers loaded the bases and pulled within a run.
Niko Goodrum led off with a bunt single and Ronny Rodriguez slashed a single to right field. Grayson Greiner walked. Victor Reyes plated Goodrum with a sacrifice fly.
But that's where it ended. Peralta struck out Jim Adduci to close it out.
"We wanted to win this ballgame," Gardenhire said. "It's disappointing that we didn't."
The record aside, it was an eventful season at the old yard. The Rally Goose, four walk-off home runs, the parade of young players getting their first taste of the big leagues, the heart-tugging ceremonies to honor Hall-of-Famers Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, the 50-year anniversary bash for the 1968 championship team and finally, the farewell to Victor Martinez on Saturday.
“A lot of really good things happened,” Gardenhire said. “We got to see a lot of really cool things. Just a lot of really good events to be a part of. Obviously, our record isn’t nearly what we want it to be.
“The first part of the season we hung in pretty good, but we hit some rough stretches. Through it all, though, I think some of these guys learned and I think they competed very well.”
Tigers starter, lefty Daniel Norris, embodied the Tigers' fighting spirit on Sunday.
He fought his command for five innings, but still managed to soldier through five innings. He gave up six hits and two walks, but the only mark against him was a solo home run in the first inning by Adalberto Mondesi.
"It's just bow your neck and accept the challenge," Norris said. "You got yourself in trouble and you have to get out of it. I was behind in a lot of counts. It felt like even when I got ahead with strike one, the next pitch was a ball.
"Just one of those days where I didn't have any command. I just tried to make pitches and spin it up there when I could. It was a grind."
Norris went to three-ball counts on nine hitters. He fell behind Mondesi, the second hitter of the game, 3-0. He ended up throwing five straight fastballs to get back into the count. The third and fourth fastballs were fouled straight back. The fifth one was sent 400 feet over the left-field fence.
Norris finished the five innings in 98 pitches. But it was a 1-1 game when he left.
"He's always been a fiery competitor," Greiner said. "That's part of what makes him successful. There were a lot of base runners, but he did a great job of minimizing damage and giving us a chance to win."
That chance evaporated in a cloud of bloop hits in the top of the sixth inning against reliever Drew VerHagen. He hadn’t given up a run since Aug. 28 (6.2 innings). After he got the first two outs, Alcides Escobar, Rosell Herrera and Cam Gallagher followed with three straight bloop singles.
"Vergy got bled to death there," Gardenhire said. "They didn't hit anything hard. That's the way it goes."
The last two balls fell into shallow left field. Herrera stole second base uncontested, which made Gallagher’s dunk shot worth two runs. Left fielder Mikie Mahtook, after a long run and a slide, got his glove on it but couldn’t hang on.
That ended up being the kill shot for the Royals.
"It was exciting all the way to the last pitch," Gardenhire said. "That's the way you want it, except you want it to turn out your way. We just needed one more hit."
That's been the story too often this season. This was the 50th one-run game the Tigers have played. They were 22-28 in those games.
"It was really cool to see them standing and cheering all the way to the last pitch like that," Gardenhire said of the announced crowd of 24,230. "When we put a good team on the field and we get better and better, they are really going to enjoy this."