Detroit — It’s an odd dynamic.
The last thing these current players care about is the organization’s draft position next June. And yet, the only consequence of value to be taken from this four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles is exactly that — draft position.
The Tigers, after dropping the opener, 6-2, Friday night, opened a four-game lead on the Orioles for the worst record in baseball. Which, of course, would “earn” them the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.
This game, played on Friday the 13th with a full moon hovering over Comerica Park, made history before a single pitch was thrown. The two teams came in with a combined 201 losses, the most of any two combatants in the history of the American League.
It was a strange night for Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann. It started with a topped ground ball down the first-base line by leadoff hitter Jonathan Villar.
"I see it bounce and it's six inches fair," Zimmermann said. "The next time I see it bounce it's maybe an inch or two foul. At that point, I was right on top of it, so I just let it go. I expected the next bounce will be on the grass on the foul side.
"Somehow it takes a left turn and rides the chalk line right to the base. Unfortunate."
Villar would end up scoring, but Zimmermann got through four innings without any more damage, even though his stuff didn’t look very crisp. He was straining to get his fastball up to 90 mph, he had no command of his sinker and his slider appeared to float more than bite.
Still, through four innings, he had retired eight straight and amassed seven ground ball outs.
"He made it through but he'll probably tell you he didn't have his best stuff," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "His slider at times was OK, but he'd been pretty consistent throwing that thing in there. He just missed. He looked a little draggy out there at times."
It caught up to him in the fifth. The Orioles banged out four straight hits in a three-run outburst, including a two-run home run off the right-field foul pole by D.J. Stewart, who clubbed one of those floating sliders.
"I threw a backdoor slider and I ended up putting it in his happy zone," Zimmermann said.
Of Zimmermann’s 91 pitches, 45 were sliders. He got six swings and misses and 12 called strikes with the pitch, but the 10 the Orioles put in play had an average exit velocity of 95 mph.
"It's a difficult team to face when you look at it and I've only heard of three guys in their lineup," Zimmermann said. "I'd rather face nine 10-year veterans that I've faced multiple times and I know what their weaknesses are and I have ways of getting them out.
"Other than a free-swinging team that knows I throw a lot of strikes — it's just a tough matchup for me. I don't know really know their weaknesses that well."
You couldn’t rightly accuse the Tigers of tanking. Down 4-0, they did battle back. They chased Orioles starter Aaron Brooks in the sixth, scoring twice on an RBI single by Jordy Mercer and a two-out bloop single by Willi Castro.
Mercer had three hits, raising his average to .281. He was hitting .209 on Aug. 2 and has been on a .387 tear since (36-for-93).
But the Orioles re-established the four-run lead in the seventh — a two-run home run by Trey Mancini, his 31st on the season, off reliever Jose Cisnero. Mancini had three RBIs.
There were other full-moon oddities, as well. Like Brooks becoming the first pitcher this season to go five-plus innings against the Tigers without recording a strikeout.
Like Dwight Smith Jr. being awarded a single when his ground ball hit teammate Mancini running to second base. Mancini was ruled out.
Like Mercer trying to score from second on a ball hit by Travis Demeritte that deflected off the first baseman's glove. The ball caromed to second baseman Stevie Wilkerson and he threw out Mercer by several feet.
Like Waterford Kettering grad Paul Fry pitching a scoreless seventh against his boyhood team. He struck out Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera in the inning.
Like Orioles right fielder Mason Williams catching a line drive from Dawel Lugo in the seat of his pants after losing it in the lights.
Like Tigers reliever Zac Reininger throwing a 27-pitch, three-walk, scoreless sixth inning.
Like the smattering of fans still left in the bottom of the ninth, cheering when Harold Castro took second base on defensive indifference. They have elevated indifference to an art form.