Tigers rookies excel, but Indians rally to avoid series sweep

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — It was a good day for a couple of Tigers rookies. Less than for the Tigers as a whole.

But all things considered, even after the Cleveland Indians scored four times off reliever Daniel Norris in the top of the seventh inning and salvaged the third game of the season-opening series with an 9-3 romp Sunday at Comerica Park, it wasn't a bad opening series.

"You come in to win the day's game and once you win that, you try to win the series," manager AJ Hinch said. "We did both of those. Every day is an opportunity to build off the previous game. Our team really enjoyed the weekend in its entirety.

"Today didn't feel good. We got beat up a little bit. But we will walk into the next series having won the previous series. There's always momentum."

BOX SCORE: Indians 9, Tigers 3

There was plenty of momentum early on Sunday. Nomar Mazara hit a two-run home run in the first inning. Rookie Tarik Skubal, in his 2021 debut, gave the Tigers a strong 5⅓ innings. And then there was the bottom of the third. 

Just when you think the bubble might burst on the dream sequence that Akil Baddoo is living right now, he pulls another rabbit out of his hat.

Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal scattered four hits and struck out four in his first start of the season on Sunday.

The Rule 5 rookie, who until Sunday hadn’t seen a pitch above High-A, who hadn’t played a competitive game in almost two years, who absolutely stole the show and a roster spot in spring training, added this to his growing resume:

The first pitch he saw in his first major league at-bat — an 89-mph fastball from Indians starter Aaron Civale — he bashed over the left-field fence and into the Tigers bullpen.

"It's all kind of a blur," Baddoo said after. "I'm just living in the moment. I got a pitch to hit and I was able to hit it in front of my family."

He punctuated the opposite-field drive with a bat flip and a celebratory gesture as he was rounding third and the the sellout crowd of 8,000 chanted 'Dooooo.' He pointed to his family in the stands and was mobbed by his teammates in the dugout.

"What a cool moment for him and his family," Hinch said. "The first pitch he sees in the big leagues, he goes oppo (opposite field). The crowd really responded and did a good job of welcoming him to Detroit. 

"Everything about that moment was memorable for him and his family." 

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Baddoo's blast was the last hit Civale and two relievers allowed. Civale dispatched 13 of the last 14 hitters he faced and erased the other (a walk to Robbie Grossman) with a double play.

"He was pitching," Hinch said. "He had a complete mix that he was working with and he avoided all damage but for the two swings."

Still, the Tigers went to the seventh leading 3-2. Skubal departed with one out in the sixth after a four-pitch walk to Cesar Hernandez and a double by Jose Ramirez. He'd given up just four hits and one run to that point.

Norris mitigated the damage, allowing just one run to score on a ground out before striking out Franmil Reyes. 

"Norris pitched great in the sixth," Hinch said. "But they get paid to hit and they had really good swings on him in the seventh. Quite honestly, for the rest of the game, we couldn't keep the ball in the ballpark."

The script flipped this quickly against Norris in the seventh: Single by Amed Rosario, double by Josh Naylor, two-run single by Yu Chang and with one out, a two-run home run by Jordan Luplow.

Reyes hit a two-run home run off Buck Farmer in the eighth and Austin Hedges nicked Tyler Alexander in the ninth.

The one at-bat that seemed to stick with Skubal was the walk to Hernandez.

"Four-pitch walks are going to come back to bite you every once in a while," he said. "Other than that, I did well just going after guys and attacking hitters. I got a lot of soft contact early and a lot of fly balls.

"I'll take it."

It was his throwing error on an errant pickoff attempt led to the first run. He had Ramirez picked off with two outs, but his throw eluded Harold Castro at first and sent Ramirez to third. He scored on a single by Eddie Rosario.

"Frustrating," Skubal said. "I don't want to give up 180 feet free like that. But I just had to get back to controlling what I could control. That play is over with and I can't let it stay on my mind."

Which is what he did, setting down 13 of the next 15 hitters before walking Hernandez.

"The one thing I've noticed about Tarik in my short time with him, he can control himself after some issues, whether it be control issues or plays like this one," Hinch said. "I like that he can pull himself together a little bit. For a young pitcher to maintain his composure like that, I was pretty impressed by that."

Impressed, too, by the continuing magic of Baddoo.

"Let him enjoy the moment; you only get one first game in your whole career," Hinch said. "These things are going to get routine for him when he starts to play more and the newness of the league and being a big-leaguer wears off.

"But the emotion he felt today is going to last him a lifetime."


Twitter: @cmccosky