Tigers push Brewers to brink, lose on deflected home run
Milwaukee — The Tigers put up a fight, for sure, but they were in the wrong weight class.
Beaten on a TKO.
"At this point, it's all about fighting and going about it the right way," said right fielder Nick Castellanos. "Wins and losses to us — yeah, we want to win every game — but it's the process of playing the game the right way that we are focusing on now."
The Tigers did many things right Friday night against a 93-win Milwaukee Brewers team that's headed to the playoffs and still very much in the fight for the National League Central Division title.
But their margin for error is a sliver.
Ryan Braun hit his second home run of the night (20th on the season) in the bottom of the eighth inning to send Brewers to a 6-5 win over the Tigers at Miller Park.
His opposite-field drive off reliever Victor Alcantara hit off the glove of Castellanos, rolled along the top of the wall and fell into the seats.
"It was a line drive," Castellanos explained. "I ran back, warning track, saw it, jumped up and I felt it in my glove. My glove hit the top of the fence and when I came back down, the ball wasn't in my glove.
"It kind of happened fast. Frustrating for sure, but what else can you do but come back tomorrow and play?"
The win keeps the Brewers a game back of the division-leading Cubs, with two games left.
"That was a great baseball game," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They (Tigers) really got after it. Their guys are intense. We know what they are fighting for. But I was happy with our effort. It's just unfortunate how it ended up because we played a really good baseball game against a really good team."
Bruan's home run came after the Tigers dramatically, and suddenly, tied the game in the top of the eighth.
It looked like the Tigers might have used up all their bullets in the first inning. They made 17 straight outs at one point and had just one single between the second and seventh innings.
The Brewers were leading 5-3 and had All-Star lefty Josh Hader on the mound in the eighth.
Didn’t look promising.
Then up stepped rookie Dawel Lugo, pinch-hitting for Harold Castro with Jeimer Candelario on first base. Lugo, hitting .209, stunned the sellout crowd by lining a 3-2 fastball over the wall in left field to tie the game.
"That was unbelievable," Gardenhire said. "A kid like that, this time of year in this atmosphere and he bangs one out like that — just incredible."
A heck of a time to notch your first big-league dinger.
"I was ready to hit," Lugo said through the translation of Tigers coach Rafael Martinez. "It was a full count and I was ready for a fastball. He gave me a good fastball to hit and I put a good swing on it."
Asked to describe his emotions as he circled the bases, Lugo said, "Very happy. I had promised my father that I was going to hit a home run for him, and I did it. I am very happy right now."
The Tigers hadn’t produced a pinch-hit home run since 2016, when they had seven of them. The last Tiger to have his first career homer come in a pinch-hitter role was Tyler Collins in 2014.
But, Braun's homer rendered it a side note in this one.
The Tigers, who hadn’t played a game at Miller Park since 2006, had the sellout crowd a little grumbly in the first inning, too, when they scratched five straight singles off starter Zach Davies. That none of them were hit hard — exit velocities of the five hits were 72, 65, 56, 72 and 89 mph — mattered not to the Tigers, nor the Brewers’ faithful.
Those hits were collected by Castro, Castellanos, Niko Goodrum (RBI), Jim Adduci (RBI) and James McCann (RBI).
The Tigers wouldn’t get another base runner — let alone a hit or run — until McCann singled to lead off the seventh.
The Brewers vaporized that three-run lead with a pair of home runs in the bottom half of the first off Jordan Zimmermann. Christian Yelich, with the crowd chanting, "MVP, MVP," hit a 417-foot, two-run homer to right-center. It was his 34th homer and 106th RBI.
Three batters later, Bruan scolded an 0-2 slider that spun up and over the plate — a solo homer. Both of Braun's home runs were two-strike sliders.
"We score three in the top of the first like that, and we always talk about the shutdown inning," Zimmermann said. "I wasn't able to do that tonight."
The Tigers aren't going to win too many home run battles with the Brewers. The three homers they hit Friday give them 214, second most in the National League. Lugo's homer was the Tigers' 134th.
The two home runs off Zimmermann were the 27th and 28th he's allowed in 131.1 innings. He gave up a career-high 29 homers in 160 innings last season.
It wouldn’t get any better for him, either. His slider, a pitch that had been a major weapon for him this year, betrayed him.
"It was terrible," he said. "The last couple times it hasn't been very good to start the game and then as the game goes on I get it back. But I just don't understand — maybe I am a little too amped up to start the game.
"But I need to do a better job of executing pitches and making pitches when I need to."
The Brewers took the lead in the third inning on a two-out RBI single by former Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. Zimmermann got out of the inning when, on the same play, center fielder JaCoby Jones threw out Jesus Aguilar at third base.
It was the Tigers’ 35th outfield assist this season, eight by Jones.
The Brewers scored again in the fourth on a double by Orlando Arcia and a pinch-hit single by Domingo Santana.
The Tigers bullpen, impressively, kept the game close. Blaine Hardy pitched a scoreless fifth, getting Erik Kratz to bounce into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners and one out.
Alex Wilson then notched six straight outs, striking out four. He struck out the side in the seventh — Yelich, Aguilar and Travis Shaw.
Since allowing runs in three straight outings from Aug. 13-19, Wilson has allowed one run in 12.2 innings.
"That's a playoff team and we hung with them," Wilson said. "We took their punches and they took ours. It was a fun game to be a part of and a fun game to watch. Unfortunately, it just ended up on the wrong end of things with a ball leaking out of our right fielder's glove.
"He literally made the play and as he hit the wall it leaked out. We could still be playing right now."