Norris turns in solid start but Mariners walk off Tigers
Seattle — You know all this talk about innings limits? Daniel Norris isn’t a fan.
“Oh, he’s a fighter,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said before the Mariners walked off the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth, 3-2. Friday night. “He doesn’t want to hear about innings or limits. And I like that. I’d rather have a guy come in and say, ‘I don’t need an innings limit. I’ve been pitching a long time. I’m finally feeling good, my body is feeling good.
“ ’I want to pitch.’ ”
That was apparently Norris’ message to Gardenhire and he backed it up, pitching six shutout innings before allowing a tying, two-run home run in the seventh to Tom Murphy.
"I feel like I lost it for us," said Norris, who struck out a season high-tying eight. "I've got to finish strong, finish what you start."
The Mariners won the game on a two-out, RBI single by Mallex Smith off reliever Jose Cisnero. The Mariners had runners at second and third with two out and Smith slapped a fastball through the middle.
"We had a base open and a 3-2 count," Gardenhire said. "We tried to throw a fastball. We could've thrown a slider in the dirt. You can second-guess all you want to. We still had a base open."
Catcher John Hicks, though, said they followed the game plan.
"With him, we thought the best game plan was going fastball," he said. "Obviously, hindsight is 20-20, so we can look back and say we should've went with the slider. But I thought we could get it by him."
What couldn't be rightfully second-guessed, though, was Gardenhire's decision to bring Norris back out for the seventh.
"He was going back out," he said. "He earned that."
Norris was at 89 pitches and retired 15 of 16 batters heading into the seventh. He’s completed seven innings just once this season, but two of the first three batters coming up for the Mariners hit from the left side.
And, with the Tigers bullpen taxed by so many short-inning outings by the starters, it was an easy decision for Gardenhire to stay with Norris. It just didn't work out.
Norris gave up a lead-off double to left-handed hitting Daniel Vogelbach, then the home run to Murphy on a slider that was low and outside.
"Danny's frustrated about that, but that really wasn't a bad pitch," Gardenhire said. "The kid just reached out and flipped it over."
Norris, as it turned out, meant to throw the pitch down and in.
"Yeah, we wanted to go slider, back foot," Hicks said. "He can handle the pitch away, so we wanted to go in. But it stayed away more than we wanted it to. It was down. I don't even know if it would've been a strike, but he went down and got it.
"It wasn't a bad pitch, but obviously a bad result for us."
Again, though, the Tigers didn't provide much margin for error.
One destroys breaking balls, the other feasts on the team that kicked him to the curb. Brandon Dixon and Hicks each hit solo home runs off left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, accounting for all of the offense.
Dixon came into the game hitting .337 and slugging .675 on breaking balls (defined by Statcast as curveballs and sliders). Kikuchi threw him a 1-2 curveball in the second inning and Dixon sent it 407 feet into the stands in left field.
He leads the Tigers with 13 home runs, eight of which have come against breaking balls.
Hicks, who hit a 447-foot bomb Thursday night, struck again against his former team. He led off the third inning with his seventh homer of the season, an opposite-field line drive that just cleared the wall in right field.
It was his fourth homer against the Mariners in 45 plate appearances. He was at that point hitting .422 against them.
Hicks made a bid to drive in another run in the fifth, but his sinking line drive to center field was turned into a rally-killing double-play. Jeimer Candelario led off the inning with a single and went to second on a base hit by Niko Goodrum.
Candelario thought Hicks’ liner was going to fall and he was around third base when center fielder Smith made the catch — lobbing a throw into second to double-up Candelario.
"The ball was hit hard and it looked like a base hit, but that's no excuse," Gardenhire said. "There's no outs. You freeze on a line drive and make sure. Just a bad baserunning play. He just made a mistake."
The Tigers didn't do any more damage against Kikuchi, who left after a two-out triple by Goodrum in the seventh. Goodrum was stranded at third.
"Frustrating," Hicks said. "We hit two home runs and then that's all we can do."
Wayne State grad and Trenton native Anthony Bass pitched a scoreless eighth for the Mariners, striking out JaCoby Jones, Harold Castro and Miguel Cabrera after a leadoff single by Jordy Mercer.
Candelario had a hit taken away from him in the top of the ninth, too. Shortstop J.P. Crawford made an incredible play on a ball that left the bat with an exit velocity of 100 mph.
He dived to his right and somehow was able to contort his body into a spin and fired a seed to first base.
"That's as good a play as you will ever see," Gardenhire said.