Detroit — It became a race against Mother Nature. And who has ever beaten Mother Nature?
With a rain storm fast approaching the downtown area Sunday afternoon, the Tigers and Athletics were locked in a 3-3 tie heading into the final three innings. What would arrive first, a go-ahead run or the rain?
Answer: The go-ahead run.
And, as has happened the last seven games, the final go-ahead run was scored against the Tigers.
Stephen Piscotty slapped a two-out, two-run double into the gap in right-center field in the seventh inning to put the A’s up 5-3.
The storm hit as Tigers second baseman Josh Harrison was about to face a 2-0 pitch from A's reliever Liam Hendriks.
"I saw the home plate umpire (Tim Timmons) peek around me down to Mike Winters at third base," Harrison said. "I'm thinking to myself, 'What are you looking at him for? We're in the middle of an at-bat.'
"Then I saw him call for the tarp and I was like, it's not even raining."
After a delay of an hour and 41 minutes, the game was suspended. The final two-plus innings will be finished Sept. 6 in Oakland, before the teams begin a three-game series.
Neither team was pleased the game was halted so quickly. There no question the storm front was coming. The temperature dropped 10 degrees in less than two hours. But the heavy rain didn't start until the tarp was on the field for nearly 10 minutes.
"At least finish the at-bat," Harrison said. "We had another 10 minutes. We could've scored three runs real quick and not have to make it up...It wasn't the first time I had the game stopped in the middle of an at-bat, but it was due to it actually raining — not because of the threat of rain."
The decision to stop the game was made by the umpires. It was not an official game at that point because the A's took the lead in the top of the seventh, so the Tigers have to be given their three outs in the bottom of the inning.
“We were ready (to play the bottom of the inning),” A's starter and former Tiger Mike Fiers said. “I was inside when it started raining. I wasn’t out there to judge what was going on. The weather guys, I guess they saw something coming on the radar, so they stopped it.”
The impending rain changed how Tigers skipper Ron Gardenhire managed the game. The plan was for left-hander Nick Ramirez to relieve starter Gregory Soto. The threat of rain nixed that plan.
"We tried to do the best we could," Gardenhire said. "We knew it was coming, we just didn't know when it was going to get here. That's why we didn't use Ramirez. We didn't want the game to stop after five or six innings and then have nothing left after the delay.
"We decided to go with our bullpen guys (Buck Farmer, Daniel Stumpf, Zac Reininger and Victor Alcantara), then if it got stopped, we could use Ramirez after the long delay."
Gardenhire ended up using three relievers to get through the sixth inning.
Farmer, who did a Houdini act to escape the fifth, got the first out in the sixth. Gardenhire brought in left-hander Stumpf to get the left-handed hitting Matt Olson, which he did.
But the next two hitters ripped singles and Gardenhire made a bold move, bringing in Reininger, knowing the A’s would counter with dangerous switch-hitter Robbie Grossman.
Reininger, who came in with an ERA of 9.53, fell behind in the count, 2-1. But he got a swing and miss with a darting slider to even it up, then, on a 3-2 pitch, got Grossman to ground out to first with another slider.
It didn’t go as well for Reininger in the seventh, however. With one out, he walked Matt Chapman and gave up a single to Chad Pinder. But it looked like he would get out of it after he got Khris Davis to fly out to right.
But Piscotty jumped a first-pitch slider and drove it into the gap.
"That's pretty much how it went this whole series," Gardenhire said. "Reininger pitched well, but he hung one pitch. Seems like every time we hung a pitch, they hit it out."
The inning ended with a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in right field by Nick Castellanos.
Then the rains came.
Much earlier, when the sun was out and the temperature was 76 degrees, the Tigers held a lead in a baseball game for the first time in a week.
It happened in the first inning at the expense of their former teammate Fiers. Niko Goodrum, who had missed the two previous games with the flu, tripled into the right-field corner and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dawel Lugo.
Castellanos, who hit his fourth home run of the season in the third inning, walked, advanced to third on a single by Miguel Cabrera and scored on a passed ball.
Bam. For the first time since the previous Sunday in Minnesota, the Tigers were ahead.
It lasted just one inning.
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Against Soto, who didn’t allow a hit through the first two innings, the A’s scored three times in the third.
Marcus Semien tripled home a run and scored on a sacrifice fly by Pinder. Piscotty singled in the third run.
Soto lasted four innings, pulled after he allowed three warning-track flyouts in the fourth inning. Two of those blasts traveled more than 400 feet.
"The kid was OK," Gardenhire said. "He attacked early, but once they seen him a second time they knew a little more about him. But I thought his fastball was jumping. I think he's getting more comfortable."
Both Soto and Ramirez are expected to remain in the starting rotation for the next couple of weeks.
Fiers is in line for the win. He ended up going six innings and allowed the three runs on just four hits.
“We still got to finish this one," Fiers said. "But to sweep a team, especially in four games, it’s really tough. We definitely got to finish that off.”
The suspension puts a couple of the Tigers' sad streaks on hold: Their current losing streak holds at six, and their losing streak against the A's holds at 15, one shy of the franchise record.
The Tigers lost 16 straight to the Gardenhire-managed Twins in 2002-03.