'One unexecuted pitch': Tigers let doubleheader sweep of Astros slip away, fall 3-2
Detroit — It seemed like things were aligning just right for the Tigers on Saturday night. The storms stayed north of the city, for one thing. And after winning the first game 3-1, manager AJ Hinch had a fresh bullpen at his disposal for Game 2.
And for five innings, things were running like clockwork. Starter-opener Willy Peralta got eight outs and passed the baton to Kyle Funkhouser, who got seven outs.
The Tigers, up 2-0, headed into the final two innings with Michael Fulmer and Gregory Soto ready to lock it down.
"We felt really good about it," Hinch said.
Then Yordan Alvarez happened. And Carlos Correa happened.
Back-to-back two-out home runs off Fulmer in the sixth propelled the Houston Astros to a 3-2 win and a split of the doubleheader at Comerica Park.
"Wily was great," Hinch said. "He's going to start on three days of rest Wednesday in Cleveland which is why he wasn't going to go deep today. And Funkhouser did a great job of being that bridge getting the ball to Michael.
"It just didn't work out. One unexecuted pitch at the end and Alvarez made us pay. It was a tough turnaround from where we were at."
After giving up a leadoff double to Jose Altuve, Fulmer got two quick outs before left-handed hitting Alvarez stepped in. Working mostly the lower half of the strike zone with fastballs and sliders, Fulmer took the battle to a full count.
Catcher Eric Haase called for a two-seamer and set his target down and in. Fulmer's pitch, though, tailed out over the plate where Alvarez could get his big arms extended and drive it.
He put it into the visitor's bullpen in left-center field.
"He just didn't execute," Hinch said. "When you don't execute against a really dangerous hitter, it can be painful."
Hinch had lefty Soto warm in the bullpen, but chose to stay with Fulmer against Alvarez.
"Alvarez can hit anybody," said Hinch, who managed him in Houston. "He can hit lefties just as well if not better than right-handers. I've seen him take everybody deep. I certainly would love to know what would've happened if we went in a different direction there.
"It's a fair question. But as I've said, I trust those guys at the backend against off-handed hitters. We've had success doing it. We don't execute one pitch and he knocked the ball out of the park."
Pitching around Alvarez wasn't a good option, either. As Correa showed, hitting the second pitch from Fulmer — same two-seamer in the almost the same spot — only he hit it over the Tigers' bullpen in left. Ballgame.
Jonathan Schoop provided the only offensive spark for the Tigers, scoring the first run and knocking in the second.
The Tigers took advantage of a couple well-placed singles to get on the board in the first inning against Astros starter Lance McCullers, Jr.
Schoop blooped a single to center and with two outs, Nomar Mazara rolled an RBI single through the Astros’ shift.
McCullers, whom the Tigers KO'd in Houston on April 14, dispatched 11 straight hitters until Harold Castro singled with one out in the fifth. With two outs, after Akil Baddoo worked a walk, Schoop lined one through the hole at shortstop, scoring Castro.
Nomar Mazara, who had two hits, doubled with one out in the sixth to chase McCullers. But right-hander Ryne Stanek doused the threat in the sixth.
"He's a big left-handed presence in our lineup," Hinch said of Mazara, who came in hitting .201. "I'm trying to stay patient with him as some young guys are pushing him — Daz Cameron and Akil Baddoo. But days like today are flashes of what he can do.
"If we can get him kickstarted, he can be a presence for us."
Astros closer Ryan Pressly, throwing 98-mph heaters and 12-to-6 breaking balls, struck out Harold Castro, Zack Short and Baddoo to close it out. Jeimer Candelario, a switch-hitter, was available on the bench, but Hinch said he wanted to give him the nightcap off.
"Our guys battled," Hinch said. "That's a really good team across the way. We put ourselves in a position to win and we came up a little short in the second game. It was a long day and our guys hung in there.
"It would have been nice to pull off a sweep against a very good team, but we need to come ready to play nine innings tomorrow."
After the game, the Tigers optioned infielder Isaac Paredes back to Triple-A Toledo. Short will remain with the team.