A fast crash: Tigers unravel quickly against Braves after thunderclap rally
Atlanta — Sometimes, instead of wallowing in the immediate pain of another loss, it helps to step back and take a wider view.
The Tigers unraveled here Sunday, giving up four runs, three unearned, in the eighth inning in a 7-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves. That's the ugly short view.
But 10 days ago, they embarked on this three-city trip after losing nine straight home games, being swept by the Astros (no shame), the Athletics (some shame) and the Marlins (extreme shame).
But against the Mets, Orioles and Braves, they went 4-5. And three of those losses were by a single run. Some would call it a step forward.
"Considering everything that happened coming into this road trip, I think we did well," said Matthew Boyd, who gave the Tigers another strong start Sunday. "We're never out of a game. That's what it is. We fight.
"We were down 3-0 and we still believe we're going to win. That speaks to us and to the culture Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) has built here."
The Tigers were down to their final four outs Sunday. Then, like a sudden thunderclap, they tied it up.
They were given life when Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies failed to turn what should have been an inning-ending double-play, dropping the throw from third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Bam. Grayson Greiner hit the first pitch he saw from ill-fated reliever Jacob Webb into the seats in left field — 3-2. Webb then got two strikes on red-hot JaCoby Jones and hung a slider — bam. Jones hit it 400-feet on a line into the Tigers bullpen in left.
"It was pretty fun to be in that dugout," Gardenhire said. "It was pretty dull for a while, but all it takes is one hit and everybody's up. That's what we talk about, you play all nine innings, 27 outs."
It was the fifth home run for Greiner, his last two on first-pitch fastballs. For Jones, who extended his hitting streak to nine games, it was his sixth homer, but his fifth since May 8.
The euphoria did not last long. Reliever Joe Jimenez faced five hitters in the bottom of the eighth, and four of them reached base and scored.
"Tough," said a dejected Jimenez afterwards. "That's it, just tough."
He walked Dansby Swanson with one out.
"Swanson was kind of terrorizing us all series," Greiner said.
Yep. He had a double, home run and three RBIs off Boyd and in the series was 5 for 12 with five RBIs. So, you pitch him carefully. But the next hitter is no slouch, either.
"Joe was being careful with Swanson, he's been hot," Gardenhire said. "He wasn't going to give in to him, but the next guy coming up is no slouch either. As he proved."
Freddie Freeman laced a double into the corner in right field. Dansby scored and the Braves were just getting going. After an intentional walk to Donaldson, Jimenez fielded a ground ball from Austin Riley and promptly threw the ball into center field.
Asked if the play sped up on him, Jimenez said, "Maybe. I don't know, maybe."
Blaine Hardy was summoned and gave up a sacrifice fly and an RBI triple to pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson.
"That was a little bit of an up-and-down feeling there," Greiner said. "But we're not giving up. We're not quitting ever."
The Swanson-Freeman combination vexed Boyd earlier, too. Boyd only allowed five hits, with nine strikeouts in five innings, but two of them were to Swanson.
Swanson broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the third — hitting a 2-2 fastball (94 mph) 416 feet into the left-field seats. Boyd had struck him out with the same pitch in the first inning.
In the fifth, Boyd put himself between a rock and Freeman. Swanson came up with a runner at second, first base open and two outs. Boyd struck out Freeman the first two times he faced him.
Pitching coach Rick Anderson came to the mound to discuss options.
"We said if we walk (Swanson), so what," Greiner said. "We've got a lefty-lefty match-up with Freeman on deck. We had a good plan."
Boyd did not want to walk Swanson. He wanted to force Swanson to hit his pitch. And if he walked him, it would not be the end of the world. But as Gardenhire would say later, "You definitely don't want to put all your stock in trying to get their first baseman (Freeman) out. That's not the way you live."
Boyd threw Swanson four straight off-speed pitches. He went 3-0 and then got a strike on a borderline pitch. At that point, 3-1, the last thing Boyd wanted to do was throw a fastball over the plate.
But that's what he did.
"I wasn't trying to walk him, but I knew I had a lefty on deck who had struck out twice," Boyd said. "I know he's one of the best hitters of our generation, but if I have to take my chances with him, I will.
"But it's on me. I knew I had a base open and I probably got a little too aggressive. I knew I wanted to go heater in on his hands and if I miss, I miss out of the zone. I just made a mistake."
The pitch ran back over the middle of the plate and Swanson bounced it inside the bag at third for a double. And at that point, a 3-0 deficit looked insurmountable.
"Swanson's been hot and we pitched him tough," Gardenhire said. "He hit Boyd's pitch and rolled it down the line. Boyd knows what he's doing out there. We trust him as much as any pitcher on the team."
The Tigers made six errors in the series that led to eight unearned runs. That will need to be cleaned up.
"It'st tough to overcome," Boyd said. "I made my own error today and made it tough. It's something we're working at to get better. There isn't a lot you can control in this game, but that is something we can control.
"We can get better at it, myself included, and we're going to."