'We got it handed to us': Tigers' bullpen unravels in extra-innings loss to Twins

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — If an eight-win April didn't define who the Tigers are this season, an ugly four-game sweep in Minneapolis leading into the All-Star break shouldn't either. 

"This was a tough series and we got it handed to us," manager AJ Hinch said Sunday after Jorge Polanco ended a rock-em-sock-em, 10-inning battle with a walk-off, three-run home run, giving the Twins a 12-9 win in the series finale. "We found ways to lose and that's not comfortable. 

"But our team is in a good place. We've got good guys. But I know we need this break right now."

No group more than the Tigers' bedraggled bullpen.

The Twins' Max Kepler (26) and Tony Diaz high-five after Kepler's solo home run in the fifth inning.

With injuries to frontline starters Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull, the struggles of Jose Urena and the innings-restrictions on rookie Casey Mize, Hinch has asked his relievers to carry a very heavy load. 

Over the last 12 games, relievers have had to cover four or more innings. It caught up to them in this series.

"I feel for those guys," said catcher Jake Rogers, who hit a heroic grand slam home run in the top of the ninth to briefly put the Tigers up 9-8. "I know they work their butts off and I know they are trying to do their best. I am with them 100 percent because it's me and them — we're the battery."

The Tigers blew 4-0 leads Saturday and Sunday. For the series, the Twins scored 28 runs from the sixth inning on.

"Obviously, we did what we had to do to get through the game," Hinch said. "We just didn't throw strikes. We had (10 walks off relievers) and gave up a couple of two-strike, two-out hits. We thought the seventh inning was the most critical inning and that was just the beginning.

"The back end of the game, again, was disappointing. But we fought back. We gave ourselves a chance."

Rogers provided the fight-back. The Tigers were dead in the water, coming to bat in the ninth, down three, and facing Twins closer Taylor Rogers. But a single by Eric Haase, a double by pinch-hitter Willi Castro and a walk to Zack Short loaded the bases.

"I was sitting heater," Jake Rogers said. "I was sitting dead-red. I was hoping he'd lay it in there for me and he did. He put it right over the heart and I got it."

Rogers jumped a 96-mph sinker and sent it 412 feet onto the berm in center field. 

But the euphoria didn't last long. With Kyle Funkhouser, Jose Cisnero and Erasmo Ramirez unavailable, and Gregory Soto already used, Derek Holland, who had entered in the eighth, got closer duty. 

BOX SCORE: Twins 12, Tigers 9 (10 innings)

With one out, Twins backup catcher Ben Rortvedt slammed 1-2 sinker into the seats in right field to tie the game and send it to extra innings.

"Sucks," Rogers said. "Definitely up and down. Rollercoaster is a good word for it." 

The Tigers were thwarted in the top of the 10th by a spectacular play by first baseman Alex Kirilloff. He saved a run with a spectacular diving stop of a ball hit by Willi Castro and then beat him to the bag with another dive.

Holland lost a seven-pitch battle to Polanco with one out in the bottom of the 10th. 

"This whole series was defined by not executing as well as we normally do and not keeping them in the ballpark," Hinch said. "We've got four days off now and we get to do this whole series again back in Detroit."

The Twins scored 10 runs from the seventh inning on Sunday. The Tigers were beaten by a three-run seventh inning on Thursday and a four-run sixth inning on Friday. The Twins scored nine runs after the sixth inning Saturday.  

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After veteran starter Wily Peralta departed after five innings with a 4-1 lead, Tyler Alexander, Daniel Norris and Joe Jimenez combined for six walks in the sixth and seventh innings, setting the table for five runs.

That forced lefty Soto, the Tigers All-Star representative, into the game probably an inning early. He threw a wild pitch to plate one run, then gave up RBI singles to left-handed hitters Kirilloff and Max Kepler, also to the switch-hitting Polanco.

The Twins added two more runs in the eighth off Buck Farmer.

"I was asked before the game if the All-Star break was coming at the right time," Hinch said. "I think for a lot of reasons it definitely is. We will regroup and get back at it."

The Tigers go into the break with a 40-51 record, in a virtual tie for third place with the Twins in the Central Division.


Twitter: @cmccosky