'Didn't go our way': And the beat (down) goes on — Tigers home skid hits six
Detroit — With a runner at third and one out in the eighth inning, Dawel Lugo hit a screamer, 101 mph off his bat, directly at first baseman Matt Olson.
Runner at first, two outs in the ninth, one baserunner away from having Niko Goodrum pinch-hitting and representing the tying run, Christin Stewart, mired in an 0-for-19 drought, laced a pitch, 102 mph off the bat.
Again, it was hit right at Olson, who deftly scooped it up and turned it into a game-ending double-play.
"You can't hit a ball any harder," manager Ron Gardenhire. "Kind of leaves you with a bad taste."
The end result was another loss, 4-1 against the Oakland Athletics. It was the Tigers' sixth straight loss on this home stand. It was also the 15th straight loss to the A;s and the 10th straight against them at Comerica Park.
But this one, unlike the last five, felt more like a step forward.
"I thought we played a better ballgame," Gardenhire said. "(Matthew) Boyd was good, he gave us a great opportunity. The intensity was back in the dugout. The fans were wonderful — big crowd (22,913 tickets sold) and they were loud.
"And our guys were up for it. It just didn't go our way."
Boyd, whose fastball ranged from 91 to 96 mph, struck out eight in 6⅓ innings and was essentially beaten by two pitches — neither of them horrible pitches, neither of them in the strike zone.
"You can't control how they swing at it, right?" Boyd said.
With a man on in the third inning, he threw a 1-2 slider to No. 9 hitter Nick Hundley. It was low and outside, but up just enough for Hundley to get the barrel of his bat to it. He drove it to the opposite field, barely clearing the right-field wall for his first home run of the season.
"I guess if you want to dive into that one, I could have thrown that slider with a little more depth," Boyd said. "Sometimes you get away with those."
The other home run he allowed came in the sixth, and it was on an even better pitch — just in the wrong location. He threw an 0-1 curveball to Chad Pinder that was down and actually below the strike zone.
Pinder went down and golfed it 435 feet into the visitors’ bullpen in left-center field.
"I wanted it down and away instead of down and in," Boyd said. "If you want to get nit-picky, you don't want to get beat with your fourth pitch."
The issue, though, is less about those two pitches than with the slim margin for error that Boyd and other starting pitchers are going into games with these days.
"You never know what run is going to win or lose a game," Boyd said. "If it's 1-0, keep it 1-0. If it's 2-0, keep it there. You just keep going with that. You can't put too much thought into what's going on with the offense.
"Just put up zeros as often as you can and keep going forward attacking."
With the way the Tigers’ offense has been grinding, even a three-run deficit starts to feel insurmountable. Even against a right-handed pitcher who spent the first month of the season in Triple-A and was making his second start of the season.
A's right-hander Daniel Mengden, with his bizarre, old-timey wind-up, didn’t give up a hit until Lugo’s single with two outs in the third.
Ronny Rodriguez doubled and scored the Tigers' run in the fourth. He had at that point 26 hits this season, 18 of them for extra bases. He went to third on a ground out and scored on a wild pitch.
Mengden, using a six-pitch mix but relying mostly on his low-90s fastball and slider, kept the clamps on the Tigers for seven innings. The Tigers managed just three hits. The average exit velocity on balls put in play was 90 mph.
"He's got a funky, slow delivery," Grayson Greiner said. "Personally, for me it was hard to wait, it was such a slow delivery. I was getting out front a little bit. But we need to pick it up. It's not going to go on like this forever."
What Gardenhire focused on, though, was more competitive at-bats, fewer strikeouts (six) and more hard-hit balls. Miguel Cabrera, who did notch hit No. 2,722 to pass Lou Gehrig on the all-time hit list, made two outs on balls hit with an exit velocity of 95 and 98 mph.
Stewart had another ball leave his bat at 98 mph that was caught, as did Josh Harrison.
"I can accept this game," Gardenhire said. "Not the loss. But I can accept the intensity and the way we played. We were really into it and getting after it and we had some confidence.
"As I told them after, keep doing that. Keep playing that way. That's the level we need to play at. If we can keep playing at that level, we will be fine."