Down to the last strike, Tigers fall to Royals, 2-1, in series finale

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Just a few minutes before the Lions were beaten by a 66-yard field on the last play of the game Sunday, across the street the Tigers were beaten in their last strike, with the bases loaded.

"That's baseball," said rookie Isaac Paredes, whose ninth-inning double came inches from tying the game. "It was exciting, but not exciting enough. We lost the game."

Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez throws against the Royals in the seventh inning.

The Kansas City Royals hung on for a 2-1 win at Comerica Park, taking this series and the season series (11-8). 

"It definitely would have tied the game," manager AJ Hinch said of Paredes' double. "That's pretty unlucky but there's nothing you can do about it."

For seven innings the Tigers were completely shackled by Royals lefty Kris Bubic. They managed two singles and were down 2-0 entering the ninth inning.

But as CEO and chairman Christopher Ilitch said Friday night, "This team doesn't quit."

BOXSCORE: Royals 2, Tigers 1

Against closer Scott Barlow, Miguel Cabrera singled, his 2,984th career hit, and Eric Haase worked a one-out walk. Paredes, in his fourth game back after being recalled from Triple-A Toledo, hit a two-strike, double into the corner in left. 

As Haase was rounding third and coming home with the tying run, the ball hopped into the seats. Ground-rule double.

"That side wall was just low enough for them and not high enough for us," Hinch said.

Barlow then fell behind Niko Goodrum 3-0 before coming back and striking him out. Goodrum, with the green light to swing, took a center-cut fastball on 3-0.

A chess match followed. Hinch had two left-handed hitting ace cards on his bench —  pinch-hitters Robbie Grossman and Harold Castro. The question was, when would he play them.

"I'm going to pinch-hit for two of the last three guys at the bottom of the order (including Goodrum)," Hinch said. "They're going to walk Robbie as soon as I put him up there. That's the decision, where are they going to walk Robbie. I could've had Harold and Willi Castro (if he pinch-hit Grossman for Goodrum) or I could have Niko and Harold."

He chose the latter. Which was sound based on Harold Castro's .351 batting average (13 for 31) and 10 RBIs with two outs and runners in scoring position this year. 

Royals skipper Mike Matheny did indeed walk Grossman, who was hitting for Daz Cameron. Harold Castro, hitting for Willi Castro, worked the count full, fouled off two pitches before swinging and missing at a slider at the top of the strike zone.

It was the 28th pitch of the inning for Barlow.  

Exciting, but not exciting enough. 

The Tigers were essentially overmatched by Bubic. He didn’t give up a hit until Paredes’ infield single in the fourth. He gave up just two total in his seven innings, bullying Tigers hitters with a barrage of well-located, 93-mph four-seam fastballs.

"He was in command because he really attacked us with his fastball," Hinch said. "He filled up the zone early and we couldn't generate a lot of offense against him."

Of Bubic's 95 pitches, he got nine swings and misses and 13 called strikes with 65 four-seamers. He threw just enough change-ups and curveballs (15 each) to keep the Tigers off his fastball.

Conversely, Tigers' starter Wily Peralta was impressive in a completely different way.

"That was the definition of living on the edge," Hinch said. 

Peralta, who has been a rotation-saver in many ways for the Tigers, did not have his best stuff Sunday. But he had all of his heart. He grinded through 4.2 innings, needing 100 pitches to do it.

"He easily could have broken and this game could've been 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 the way they were stranding runners," Hinch said. 

Peralta's streak of 16 straight scoreless innings ended in the first and there were Royals on the bases, lots of them, in every inning. He gave up eight hits and three walks. The bases were loaded in two of the four innings.

And yet, the fans behind the Tigers’ dugout gave him an appreciative round of applause when he left with two outs in the fifth because for all the traffic and duress, he’d allowed just two runs.

"Today wasn't one of my best days," he said. "I struggled with my command since the beginning of the game. But I still battled and I still made pitches. I only gave them two runs and gave my team a chance. And we almost came back.

"Sometimes you don't have your best stuff, but you still have to fight and keep your team in the game." 

That, in and of itself, was a feat. Peralta struck out a red-hot hitter, Hunter Dozier, with the bases loaded to end the first inning. He got Kyle Isbel to foul out to catcher Haase to leave the bases loaded in the third.

The early instigator for the Royals was long-time nemesis Whit Merrifield. Coming in, the Tigers had kept him reasonably quiet through 18 games this season, hitting just .275 with four doubles, no home runs and seven RBIs.

His career splits against the Tigers coming into the season were a beastly .336/.370/.540 with a .910 OPS. So, progress there.

Sunday, though, in his final game against the Tigers this season, Merrifield doubled twice and singled off Peralta. He scored on a single by Andrew Benintendi in the first. Nicky Lopez’s sacrifice fly in the fourth plated the second run.

He very nearly added a home run to his day, too. He lashed a drive toward the bullpen in left field in the ninth inning off reliever Bryan Garcia. Willi Castro, an infielder by trade, raced back to the fence and made a leaping grab, his glove above the fence.

"He was more than an athlete in left field than fundamentals," Hinch said. "Maybe he saw (Akil) Baddoo last night and was inspired."

Baddoo took a home run from Dozier Saturday night. 

The Tigers, who will finish with a winning home record for the first time since 2016, will say goodbye to Comerica Park for the winter Monday after playing a make-up game against the White Sox at 1:10 p.m.

Twitter: @cmccosky