Eight-run eighth gives Tigers wild victory over Phillies
Lakeland, Florida — For sheer weirdness, the sports world has annually offered spring-training baseball games, where all kinds of misadventures and artistic abuse can occur.
They don’t get a lot loopier than the nine-inning cavalcade of craziness that unfurled Saturday as the Tigers beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 9-8, at Publix Field.
The Tigers got eight runs in the eighth inning, turning an 8-1 Phillies lead into a game the Tigers discovered, much to their shock, they led. They did it with an approach worthy of a science-fiction author: 14 batters, only three hits, a hit batsman — and by coaxing seven of the 17 walks Detroit and Philadelphia combined for during 3 hours, 45 minutes of theoretical big-league baseball.
“What a mess throughout the entire game,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said as he appraised the day’s mishaps and missed strike zones. “What a crazy win.”
The eighth inning was so zany it came complete with a sequence straight from a Disney animation: bases loaded, wild pitch, ball caroming back to the Phillies catcher, Tigers runners Ryan Kreidler and Grayson Greiner in a jam-up at third, two separate rundowns, relays galore, with the ball somehow deflecting into the third-base netting. No runs, no outs, with all runners safe at their former bases.
The eighth carried on — with of course more walks and walked-in runs.
“What a mess,” Hinch repeated.
Hinch’s descriptor could also have applied to another bizarre Saturday segment. It came in the fourth when Julio Teheran, who threw only 34 pitches (22 strikes) in a lovely first three innings, came asunder in the fourth. He threw 35 pitches, walking three, interspersed by a double and triple.
Teheran was excused in favor of Alex Lange, who tossed another 22 as part of a 57-pitch frame that saw the Phillies score six times.
“Not a recipe for success,” Hinch said. “On the flip side, when you do it to another team it feels good.”
Teheran had a simple postmortem on his fourth-inning meltdown, which was not in keeping with the way a 29-year-old, right-handed pitcher has worked during March, earning a Tigers rotation job.
“I was kind of pushing it,” he said. “That’s what I think happened, trying to rush it.
“You’re gonna have those innings, those games,” he said. “It was actually good to have that, because I know the adjustment I need to make when I get into that situation.
“One inning — I’m not going to go crazy and let it be in my head. I’ll focus on my next one (game) and make the adjustment.”
The Tigers did much the same Saturday. They adjusted to the fact Phillies relievers couldn’t find the plate in that nutso eighth.
Hinch’s crew got only seven hits, three for extra bases. Grayson Greiner led off the preposterous Tigers eighth with a liner onto the left-field berm for his second spring home run. Jonathan Schoop and Victor Reyes tossed in doubles.
Plus side pitching
There were salvageable moments from Saturday’s near-debacle, which included some quality Tigers relief work.
Daniel Norris struck out two batters in a scoreless inning. Jose Cisnero also pitched a single shutout inning, with a strikeout and a walk.
Gregory Soto was his old incinerating self, firing fastballs at 99 and 100 and striking out a pair in yet another scoreless inning.
Ethan DeCaster, a right-handed specialist who is headed for farm-team work in 2021, put away the Phillies in the ninth when Hinch was down to one bullpen option: Nolan Blackwood.
“We were down to our last pitcher, they were down to their last pitcher,” Hinch said. “I wouldn’t have even minded if we’d called it after eight innings.”
Around the horn
Nomar Mazara had lousy luck, going 0-for-3, including a line out to first base that had an exit velocity of 106.6 mph. He later hit a hot-shot groundout to first that exited at 103.3.
… Niko Goodrum’s issues continue. He struck out two more times and drove a change-up deep to right-center in the seventh. He has struck out 19 times in 42 at-bats.
… Shortstop prospect Ryan Kreidler continues to impress in his Grapefruit League cameos. He got one of the Tigers’ seven walks in the eighth, then made a solid play, and strong throw, as DeCaster put away the Phillies in the ninth.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sportswriter.