'Tough night to play': Tigers drop opener to Yankees in dreadful four-hour affair
Detroit — The night was never going to be conducive to good, clean baseball. Temperature at game time was 43 degrees and falling into the 30s with a chilly wind. Miserable.
But this one, at least early on, exceeded even the lowest of expectations.
"Tough night to play on both sides," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. "You could see from the beginning it was going to be tough and it only got worse as the night went on, weather-wise.
"But it was that way for both."
By the end of the second inning, the two teams combined for 140 pitches (by five different pitchers), eight walks, one costly missed pop-up and one horrendous outfield throw. It took nearly 90 minutes to complete the two innings.
By the time it slogged to its conclusion — three hours and 59 minutes after first pitch — the Yankees had beaten the Tigers, 4-2, in the first of three at Comerica Park. Fourteen pitchers were used, 371 pitches were thrown. There were 16 walks, eight a side.
BOX SCORE: Yankees 4, Tigers 2
"It was kind of a mess on both sides from a command standpoint," Hinch said.
Tigers starter Tyler Alexander, normally a precision strike-thrower, needed 42 pitches to get out of his one and only inning. That's the most pitches by a Tigers pitcher in the first inning of a game since Sept. 29, 2015 when Daniel Norris threw 54.
It was also the most pitches thrown in the first inning of any game so far this season.
"It's never fun to pitch in cold weather and it was windy," Alexander said. "But it's no excuse for pitching poorly and not throwing strikes. I didn't throw enough strikes."
There were a few borderline calls that didn't go his way and he loaded the bases with two outs (two walks) and fell behind 3-0 to Josh Donaldson.
He fought back and worked the count full, getting Donaldson to hit a pop-up at the plate. Catcher Tucker Barnhart called for it but it was clear pretty quickly the ball was blowing away from him toward the middle of the diamond.
"I misplayed it," Barnhart said. "It got up in the wind and I read it as closer to home plate. Clearly that wasn't the case. It's a play I've got to make. There's no excuse about it."
Alexander was standing still expecting Barnhart to catch it and the ball actually hit in his glove, but it popped out. Barnhart nearly caught the ball off the carom.
"Off the bat I thought it was a foul ball," Alexander said. "I was watching Tuck and the wind blew it toward me and I wasn't ready."
Two runs scored on the play.
"Forty-plus pitches on any given night is a problem and tonight was even more of a problem," Hinch said. "Tyler is someone we haven't even extended (innings and pitch count) that far. I knew he would go back out there and I knew he wanted to go back out there.
"But I took it out of his hand. The time of the year it is and what we've gone through this week rotation-wise (Casey Mize and Matt Manning out injured), we're trying to make the smartest decisions."
There is a chance Alexander will be able to start on Saturday against Colorado, replacing Manning.
Right-hander Rony Garcia took over in the second inning but faced only three batters. After walking Isiah Kiner-Falefa and striking out Kyle Higashioka, he spiked a 1-1 pitch to Aaron Hicks, throwing it straight down. It bounced off the mound over near the Yankees dugout.
Hinch and Tigers head athletic trainer Doug Teter came immediately to the mound. Garcia left with the Tigers called a cracked fingernail on his right hand.
"There was no blood, so apparently that's a good sign," Hinch said.
Yankees starter Gerrit Cole, the $324 million Yankees ace, fared no better. He threw 45 pitches in the second inning and was pulled with two outs. He walked four in the inning, including the free-swinging Willi Castro with the bases loaded.
Robbie Grossman lifted a fly to shallow left field and Akil Baddoo tagged and broke for home. The throw from left-fielder Joey Gallo, though, was so far up the first-base line, Anthony Rizzo had to cut it off.
Cole needed 68 pitches to get five outs. It’s the most pitches he’s ever thrown in two innings in his career.
"Our at-bats were pretty tough," Hinch said. "We just lacked that one big hit in a couple of different instances.
The Tigers stranded 10 runners and were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
The game eventually settled down. Right-handers Will Vest, Wily Peralta (making his 2022 debut) and Jacob Barnes restored order for the Tigers, keeping the Yankees off the board from the third through the sixth inning.
"I thought our bullpen was incredible," Barnhart said. "They held the line and kept us in a situation where we had a chance to win the game."
Barnes was summoned in the fifth to face left-handed slugger Gallo with two on and two out. Barnes’ best pitch, the cutter, has been effective against lefties. True to form, he threw five straight to Gallo, striking him out swinging.
Alex Lange and Michael Fulmer, the Tigers' late-inning set-up relievers, each pitched a scoreless inning, each posting two strikeouts.
The Tigers missed a chance to tie the game in the seventh against reliever Clay Holmes. With runners at second and third and one out, Miguel Cabrera chopped a ground ball wide of third base. Jonathan Schoop broke immediately for the plate.
Third baseman Donaldson fielded the ball several feet wide of the bag and threw a strike to home plate. Higashioka applied the tag as Schoop was sliding directly into his pads.
Cabrera earlier moved a little bit closer to the 3,000-hit plateau. He lined a 3-2 slider from Cole up the middle leading off the second inning for career hit No. 2,996.
Four more and he becomes the seventh major league player to accumulate 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in his career.