Short-shifted: Tigers let lead slip away in eighth, fall to Twins
Detroit — Maybe it would have been a base hit regardless of how the Tigers were aligned defensively. But it was certainly fitting that the Minnesota Twins' winning hit in the 4-3 victory over the Tigers on Monday was a ball lined right through the vacated shortstop position.
"You've got to play the percentages," shrugged left-handed reliever Matt Hall, who gave up the two-out, two-run single to left-handed hitting Max Kepler in the eighth inning. "It was right at the shortstop hole, but I can't fall behind there.
"He hit it off the end of the bat, but I've got to do a better job."
The Twins' left-handed hitters had punished the Tigers' overshifted defense throughout the four-game series. Spencer Turnbull had been victimized four times Sunday on balls that were hit opposite of the Tigers' overshift.
"Shifts are here to stay," manager Ron Gardenhire said before the game. "That's part of the analytics department and that's part of what we do. Last year the shifts were good. This year, not as good. We haven't pitched well enough to make it work."
Hall, who spent the season as a starter and long reliever, had never before pitched in the situation he was put in Monday — not in college, the minor leagues and certainly not in the big leagues.
He was summoned after Buck Farmer had loaded the bases with two outs. The Tigers, up 3-2, positioned three infielders on the right side of the infield.
"We had a chance to make a play and get out of the inning," Gardenhire said.
True. With two on, Farmer struck out C.J. Cron and Jake Cave. Then Ehire Adrianza hit a ground ball up the middle and the Tigers were shifted properly this time. But the ball hit off shortstop Willi Castro's glove and he couldn't make a play.
"If we make the play, we're OK," Gardenhire said. "But Buck was already at 22 pitches and with a lefty coming up — all we had available in the bullpen were Hall and (Nick) Ramirez.
"And (closer Joe) Jimenez if we got the chance. We needed the chance."
Didn't come. Kepler hit a line drive right through where a shortstop would've played — though it may have had enough height to carry over Castro's head anyway.
"I got it outside but it was too up (in the zone)," Hall said. "If I throw it down or even up a little more, it's a routine fly ball or a ground out."
The Central Division-leading Twins have won five of seven from the Tigers in the last two weeks. But this one was looking promising for the home team.
Miguel Cabrera watched Twins starter Jake Odorizzi throw 13 straight four-seam fastballs to start the game. Four of them were thrown to him, and three of those were balls.
So there was little doubt about what he was getting on the 3-1 pitch, and there was little doubt about the outcome. Cabrera drove the four-seam fastball into the bullpen in left-center field, his 10th home run of the season and the 475th of his career.
Odorizzi had beaten the Tigers twice this season allowing only a run in 13 innings, and going into the fourth inning, Cabrera’s home run was the only blemish. But the Tigers decided to play some old-fashioned baseball in the fifth.
Down 2-1, singles by Dawel Lugo, Jordy Mercer and Travis Demeritte produced the tying run. Jake Rogers, whose batting average is barely above .100, dropped a textbook sacrifice bunt and Victor Reyes followed with a sacrifice fly.
Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in — 3-2 Tigers.
"We did a lot of good things today," Gardenhire said. "We got a lead, but we didn't add on — and that cost us."
Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann left that 3-2 lead when his day was over after six innings. He was in line for his first win at Comerica Park since Aug. 21, 2018. The Tigers have had two quality starts in the last nine games, and he’s got both of them.
He allowed nine hits, but only one hurt him.
Zimmermann was on the verge of pitching around a leadoff double by Luis Arraez in the second inning when he got Cron and Cave out on one pitch each.
But his first pitch to Adrianza, a four-seam fastball, wasn’t caught. Adrianza drove it 428 feet into the seats in right-center field.
"I didn't really like that pitch," Zimmermann said. "I got two quick outs and I was just in the moment. I kind of got caught up in it and tried to go up and in. But I left it middle."
In Zimmermann’s last four starts since getting a nerve-block injection and coming off the injured list, he’s posted a 2.45 ERA and had a 17-1 strikeout-walk rate in 22 innings.
About those missed opportunities: They had runners at second and third and one out in the sixth and Twins reliever Tyler Duffey struck out Lugo and Mercer.
In the seventh, the red-hot Reyes doubled with two outs. He’s had at least two hits in every game of this series. Willi Castro followed with a hard-hit ball into the hole between first and second.
The Twins were shifted to the right side and second baseman Arraez made a superb diving stop of the ball and threw Castro out at first. Reyes aggressively kept running and was thrown out at the plate by first baseman Cron.
Ironic that a shift would cost the Tigers a run, huh?