Kansas City, Mo. — The Detroit Tigers didn’t quit fighting Saturday. They just ran out of comebacks.
They left the bases loaded in the seventh and ninth innings, allowing the Kansas City Royals to escape and even the series with a 7-5 win at Kauffmann Stadium.
“We know we’re going to be in every game,” Tigers starter Matthew Boyd said. “That’s what it comes down to. We have a winning mentality and we’ve really grown from the last four weeks.”
The loss ended a four-game winning streak and in the previous two wins, the Tigers had come from behind.
“What a winning culture does, what a winning mindset does, it puts the game in an entirely different perspective,” manager AJ Hinch said before the game. “When we fall behind early, it’s like, ‘Let’s just find a way to get a run.’
“When you are losing, it’s like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ That’s a drastic difference in mindsets.
On Friday night, Miguel Cabrera’s dramatic two-out grand slam in the seventh inning erased a two-run deficit and sent the Tigers to a 7-5 win.
On Saturday, Cabrera again came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning. This time the deficit was three. Lightning did not strike twice. Cabrera took a called third strike from reliever Scott Barlow.
Barlow, who took over for starter Brady Singer, got Jeimer Candelario looking at a called third in the previous at-bat.
Clutch work by the veteran right-hander.
“In reality, we’re going to keep fighting and play the entire game,” Hinch said afterwards. “I’m proud of our effort. We gave ourselves plenty of opportunities to score more runs. But they outplayed us and got the win.”
Down 7-3 in the ninth, Robbie Grossman cut the deficit in half with a two-run homer. And after a single by Harold Castro, a nine-pitch walk by Candelario and a one-out single by Niko Goodrum, the bases were loaded.
But reliever Josh Staumont, who threw 36 pitches in the inning, didn’t allow any more damage. He struck out Jonathan Schoop, getting a called third strike on a borderline 3-2 pitch, and Willi Castro swinging to end the game.
“You know you are not going to be perfect every time,” said rookie Akil Baddoo, who had three hits and a walk. “But to have that mentality is great. And we’re going to continue to have that confidence.”
It was a wobbly outing by starter Matthew Boyd, who yielded five runs in five innings despite not giving up very much hard contact. The average exit velocity on 18 balls put in play by the Royals was a meek 81.9 mph.
But the balls had eyes, especially two hit by left-handed hitting Andrew Benintendi. He knocked in two runs in the first inning with an opposite-field shot (after falling into an 0-2 hole) and then, with a runner on third and two outs in the sixth, he rolled one between the Castros — shortstop Harold Castro and second baseman Willi Castro — to plate the run.
“I could have been a little sharper,” said Boyd, who walked three and struck out five. “I had some chances to put guys away in two-strike counts and it didn’t happen.”
Boyd should never have been in such a jam. Carlos Santana led off with a single, then advanced to second on a fly ball to center. Baddoo caught the ball on his heels and wasn’t in position to contest Santana at second base.
The Tigers then gave Santana another free 90 feet, to third, on a ball that skipped past catcher Wilson Ramos.
Boyd got Salvador Perez to pop out, struck out Jorge Soler and was within a strike of getting Benintendi before his RBI infield roller.
“We didn’t do enough to win the game,” Hinch said. “They did what they do, string at-bats together and create havoc on the bases.”
The inning got even more frustrating for Boyd when he walked the next two hitters, both on close pitches, to load the bases. But Boyd didn’t crack.
After a visit from pitching coach Chris Fetter, he ended the inning, and his outing, by getting Hanser Alberto to pop out, leaving the Tigers’ deficit at a manageable 5-3.
“I’m grateful he left me in to get that out,” Boyd said. “Sometimes it’s just how it shakes out. You miss a little bit, you’re not as sharp as you want to be. It just felt like I couldn’t string together three consecutive pitches. That’s how it happens sometimes.”
The Tigers gave the Royals seven free bases — four walks, three wild pitches and two stolen bases. And the free bases ultimately led to four of the Royals runs, including what proved to be a vital add-on run in the seventh without a hit.
With Joe Jimenez pitching, Benintendi — who else? — walked. He stole second uncontested. Nobody covered second and Ramos didn’t make a throw.
“He just timed (Jimenez) up,” Hinch said. “When Joe looked away, he took off. That’s good advanced scouting by them. I’m sure they had a key on Joe, on what his head does before he delivers.”
Benintendi advanced another 90 feet to third base when Ramos couldn’t pick up a ball he blocked in the dirt. Then he sprinted home on a ground ball to shortstop Harold Castro, who didn’t have a play at the plate even though he was playing in on the grass.
“That’s a lot of bases to give up and it turned out to be critical,” Hinch said. “We had our opportunities, too. We had plenty of traffic ourselves to create more runs. Unfortunately, tonight we didn’t.”
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