Tigers' play is both positive and puzzling in 10-5 loss to Braves

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies forces out Detroit Tigers' Brandon Dixon, right, on a ground ball by John Hicks to shortstop Dansby Swanson during the first inning.

Atlanta — Christin Stewart's performance pretty much summed up the day for the Tigers.

He got a career-best three hits, knocked in two runs and scored one. But, after the 10-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves Saturday, he had to answer questions about a most bizarre baserunning play in the fifth inning.

"I just didn't slide," he said. 

There was more to it than that. 

BOX SCORE: Braves 10, Tigers 5

Stewart's one-out base hit drove in a pair of runs to put the Tigers up 3-2 and it looked like they had Braves starter Mike Soroka on the ropes. With Nick Castellanos up, Stewart attempted to steal second base. something he hadn't done all season.

He slowed up several steps before second base, as if he thought the ball was fouled off or time had been called. He went into the base standing up and was tagged out.

"In the first place, he didn't have the steal sign," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And in the second place, you have to slide. There was nothing on. He just ran. I had to talk to him about it.

"He assumed he had a green light. I told him, 'No, you don't.' So we got that straightened out."

Stewart said when he peeked in to the plate, he didn't see anybody moving. And when the ball popped into the catcher's glove, he thought Castellanos had fouled it off.

"Yeah, I heard a sound," Stewart said. "I thought it was the bat. But really, I just didn't slide. That's all."

That was the entire day for the Tigers — they did some very positive things and some very puzzling things.

"Those kinds of things add up," Gardenhire said. "And when you do that against a good team, they end up capitalizing...We've been playing pretty solid lately. But we did some crazy things today."

The Braves slugged three home runs. Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley blasted two-run home runs off Tigers starter Daniel Norris. Dansby Swanson added a solo rocket off reliever Austin Adams.

But four of the Braves' 10 runs were unearned. 

"Sometimes your mistakes cost you five runs and sometimes they cost you one or two," Norris said. "I beat myself today. Just got to lick my wounds and get ready for the next one."

Norris gave the lead back in the bottom of the fifth, He fielded a sacrifice bunt in front of the plate and had plenty of time to throw out the pitcher Soroka at first base. But he babied the throw and first baseman John Hicks had to take two steps off the bag to catch it.

"We work on that and I take a lot of pride in that," Norris said. "I just didn't make the play."

It looked to the naked eye like Hicks got his foot to the bag before Soroka. But frame-by-frame replay showed that Soroka got there by a fraction of a second.

"I looked at the replay and my foot seemed to hover forever," Hicks said. "In live time, I thought he was out. But obviously, the replay showed he wasn't."

Ronald Acuna Jr. followed with an RBI single. But the damage should have ended there.

Norris got Swanson to hit a firm ground ball to Dawel Lugo at third base. But instead of starting an inning-ending double-play, Lugo bobbled it in his glove for just a beat — Swanson was safe and the run scored.

"He didn't get a good grip on the ball," Gardenhire said. "He made a great throw to second, but it was a slow reaction. And that guy can run. But when a ball is hit that hard, you think you should be able to turn it."

It was a 7-5 game in the bottom of the eighth when two more defensive misplays led to three more unearned runs. Brandon Dixon, in just his second start at second base, had a ground ball get under his glove to start the inning.

With two outs, catcher Tyler Flowers, not fleet of foot, hit a ground ball over the bag at third. Jeimer Candelario, who entered the game on a double-switch, rushed the throw and pulled Hicks off the bag. 

Johan Comargo doubled in one run and Acuna blooped a two-run single to right.

"We competed pretty good," Gardenhire said. "We stayed after it. We were in the game and kept battling. I liked those things; just too many hits for those guys."

The Tigers did a lot of positive things. They posted four runs, three earned, off Soroka, who had allowed one or fewer earned runs in all eight of his previous starts.

Niko Goodrum, who went 5-for-5 on Friday, doubled and tripled. Dixon had a pair of hits and extended his hitting streak to nine games.

JaCoby Jones had two more hits and extended his hit streak to seven. He’s hitting .372 in his last 13 games and raised his average from .165 to .229 since May 17.

And Norris got an infield single, his second big-league hit and the first since he homered at Wrigley Field off Jon Lester in 2015.

"It didn't feel good off the bat," Norris said. "Kind of a chopper. But it's fun to run. We kept swinging. We don't ever stop competing. But this on me. If I could have a couple of pitches back and get that bunt, we'd be having a little different conversation."

Gardenhire didn't let himself off the hook, either. He questioned his decision to leave Norris in the game in the sixth inning, facing the heart of the Braves lineup a third time through.

"I could have taken him out before that, and I probably should have — after the fact," he said. "But we're trying to get a starting pitcher through six innings."

He also took some of the blame for Stewart's baserunning mistake.

"He's a young man and he's learning," Gardenhire said. "And I'm learning, too. I learned today that I have to make sure he knows he doesn't have the green light."

Twitter: @cmccosky