Tarik Skubal shines, but Cardinals clip Tigers in 10 innings
St. Louis, Mo. — There is going to come a time in the not so distant future when we don't celebrate or highlight prime performances when they come in a loss. Maybe as soon as next year, it's going to be the norm, the expectation, that the Tigers fight to the last out, that they don't cower to teams that have a better record or higher expectations.
But after three long rebuilding years, it's hard not to look on a loss like Wednesday and see progress, hope even.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, with temperatures still hovering in the upper 90s, Lars Nootbar lined a two-out single to right field off reliever Michael Fulmer, scoring the free runner Tommy Edman from third base to give the St. Louis Cardinals a 3-2 win and a split of the short, two-game set with the Tigers at Busch Stadium Wednesday afternoon.
"Our goal when we show up is to win, that's all I've ever really known at this level," manager AJ Hinch said. "And I think the players have enjoyed the success that's come with that. But we're still below .500 (61-67). We're not where we need to be.
"But I think our guys approach each day as close to exactly as I would hope as their manager."
Hinch, with his club down 2-1, sent Miguel Cabrera up to pinch-hit against Cardinals closer Alex Reyes with two outs and nobody on in the top of the ninth. Cabrera lined a first-pitch double to right field. Hinch had already emptied the bench and didn't have another bench player to pinch-run for him.
Harold Castro, the third straight pinch-hitter used by Hinch in the ninth, got behind in the count 1-2. First he lined a ball just foul down the left field line. But on the next pitch, he drilled a single up the middle and Cabrera scored without a play at the plate — tie game.
"There is no quit in this team, you can see it," said rookie lefty Tarik Skubal, who was as dominant in his five innings as he's been all year. "That closer is really good and to stay in and battle and get run, it was fun to see."
It was a repeat of Castro's two-strike, game-tying pinch-hit in Toronto on Sunday. Only this time the Tigers didn't complete the comeback.
"We had every chance to win that game," Hinch said. "We were lined up (with the bullpen) to get as many outs as we needed. It was a really good baseball game and we got beat. They did more than we did.
"It was exhausting trying to get through that. Wish it was a better result."
Castro wasn't as clutch on the bases as he was at the plate, however. He was the free runner to start the 10th inning — Derek Hill made that last out in the ninth, but was out of the game in a double-switch with the pitcher. Jonathan Schoop, who had three hits on the day, hit a long line drive to right field.
"Your responsibility as a runner is to get to third base there," Hinch said. "It was a tough play for the right fielder, but you have to end up at third base there. I know what he was thinking -- the ball is going to hit off the wall and he's not going to be able to score.
"But that's OK in that situation with no outs.
Castro didn't tag and try to advance to third with one out. He ended up being stranded.
"The extra inning rules are in full effect there," Hinch said. "It's the top of the inning and you have to make sure you score that run, We had a couple more at-bats and chances at it. But it turned out to be a pivotal play."
Until the ninth, though, the story was Skubal. He dominated eight-ninths of the Cardinals batting order in five impressive innings in the intense heat Wednesday afternoon.
"He was awesome, that's the bottom line," Hinch said. "And we've seen that out of him so I'm not the least bit surprised."
The first six outs he recorded were strikeouts. He punched out nine through four innings. He finished with 10 strikeouts, getting 17 misses on 47 swings — 11 of those with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, which was zipping in on an average clip of 95.5 mph, up a full mph on his season average.
The one-ninth of the Cardinals' lineup that got him, though, was named Paul Goldschmidt. And he was the reason the Tigers trained 2-1 in the ninth.
Goldschmidt ambushed maybe the one pedestrian fastball Skubal threw all game, a first-pitch 93-mph four-seamer in the first inning and bombed it 427 feet to left field.
In the third inning, Skubal got ahead of Goldschmidt with a change-up and then flipped a 74-mph knuckle-curve on the outside part of the plate. Goldschmidt waited on it just long enough to punch it into the right-field seats.
Impressive hitting by a decorated hitter who now has 21 home runs on the season. The rest of the Cardinals lineup was 1 for 13 against Skubal.
"I don't even regret the first-pitch fastball on the first one," Skubal said. "That's exactly where I wanted the ball to go. He just kind of jumped me and it's unfortunate he ran the ball out of the yard. But 0-0, I thought that was a quality pitch for me."
The second one, a backdoor curveball, had Goldschmidt's backside bailing out. But he was still able to get the barrel to it.
"That pitch could have been more down, sure, but I'm trying to go backdoor with a breaking ball and he just stayed on it and flipped it," Skubal said. "He's a good hitter. Strong guy I think I threw more pitches that he could hit in the at-bat that I got him out than I did in the two he hit out."
Goldschmidt came up with two on and two out in the fifth. It would be the last batter of the day for Skubal. Staying mostly with 96- and 97-mph heaters — matching the temperature on the field — he got him to pop up to first ending a seven-pitch fight.
It was the second double-digit strikeout performance by Skubal this year, making him just the third rookie in baseball to do that (Triston McKenzie and Alek Manoah). He’s two strikeouts away from tying Spencer Turnbull’s Tigers rookie record of 146 strikeouts. He’s also the only rookie pitcher in franchise history to post at least four strikeouts in 19 straight outings.
There was a lot to like about this one, even if it goes in the loss column.