The Minnesota Twins nearly handed the Detroit Tigers a victory in Monday’s makeup game.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Eric Haase won an eight-pitch battle delivering an infield single. Reliever Alex Colome fielded the ball, but he threw it past first baseman Miguel Sano. On the next play, Colome’s throwing error pulled Sano off the bag on Harold Castro’s weak grounder to put runners on the corners.
But pinch-hitter Robbie Grossman flied out to right field for a 3-2 loss at Comerica Park.
“One thing about this team, from top to bottom, it’s a team of fighters,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “They’re going to play the whole game. We just needed a base runner. You didn’t see (Haase) trying to play hero. He’s been the hero against these guys in the past. … And then Robbie Grossman, I wanted him up to bat with that type of situation. He gets into a hitters count, just misses a ball.”
2004 LLWS: Jonathan Schoop, the Little League World Series and a lifelong memory
In the seventh inning, the Tigers (62-70) missed another chance to capitalize after Castro singled up the middle with one out.
Victor Reyes kept attacking reliever Jorge Alcala, hitting an infield single to second baseman Jorge Polanco. On the receiving end of the play, Sano fumbled the ball twice. Recognizing the situation, Castro took off for third base.
This is the type of aggressiveness Hinch wants from his team, but Sano quickly recovered. His strong throw eliminated Castro for the second out, and the ensuing batter, Zack Short, popped out to conclude the inning.
“I didn’t see it until he was making the throw,” Hinch said. “I thought the play was over, like a lot of people. I was writing something down. I heard the crowd and looked up, and Harold was trying to go to third. But in a close game, you’re going to look at all the small mistakes. … It all contributes when it’s a close game.”
PROSPECTS: How Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene are handling Triple-A — on and off the field
Monday’s contest — rescheduled from the July 16 postponed doubleheader — was kept close by a pair of rookie starters: Casey Mize for the Tigers and Bailey Ober for the Twins.
Mize allowed three runs on five hits and one walk over six innings. He struck out four batters and threw 51 of 79 pitches for strikes. Ober, a 6-foot-9 righty, gave up two runs on five hits across six innings. He struck out five in his 77-pitch performance.
Alex Lange pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen, throwing 14 of 29 pitches for strikes. He showed improved command in the eighth inning, striking out Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco with changeups.
Miguel Del Pozo took over for the ninth but only made two pitches before a comebacker from Max Kepler hit him in the face. He departed from the game with athletic trainer Doug Teter while holding a towel over his face to stop the bleeding.
“I think he’s doing OK,” Hinch said. “He was pretty shaken up on the mound. There was blood on the rubber and all over his jersey. He had a laceration underneath his chin, so I’m assuming he’s getting stitches. We’ll evaluate for a concussion. It was a scary incident.”
Short dropped in a one-out RBI bloop single between center fielder Buxton and shortstop Andrelton Simmons to cut the deficit to one in the fifth inning. (After leading off with a double and advancing to third base, Castro scored easily.)
A long fourth inning
Mize was incredibly efficient with his pitch count.
He needed 29 pitches — 11 in the first, seven in the second and 11 in the third — for three perfect innings, a product of the Twins being aggressive and Mize making pitches. The first batter in the fourth, Luis Arraez, flied out on a first-pitch slider. Mize had retired 10 in a row to begin his outing.
The Twins then scored three runs.
“There’s a lot of different things I can look back on and say, ‘Man, I think it could’ve been a lot better,'” Mize said. “I could have gone deeper into the game. This time of year, we have a plan for what we’re doing. Six innings and three runs, if you look at it from a whole, not too bad. But I definitely got to be better. Not good enough.”
BECOMING A WEAPON: What Alex Lange is working on to become dominant in 2022 bullpen
A WHOLE NEW ROLE: How Tigers plan to use starter Jose Urena to finish 2021 season
Four consecutive batters reached safely: Buxton (double), Polanco (RBI single), Josh Donaldson (two-run home run) and Max Kepler (double). Polanco’s at-bat lasted eight pitches; Donaldson crushed his 21st homer of the season on the seventh pitch.
Donaldson hit Mize’s two-seam fastball 436 feet to the shrubs in center field, giving the Twins a 3-1 lead. After Kepler followed with a double, Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter trotted to the mound.
“He was just telling me that I needed to be a little sharper with the breaking ball and start driving some fastballs through the zone,” Mize said. “We were able to get out of the inning, and I was pretty good after that, so that was definitely a good visit.”
Mize got the next two outs with ease. Still, he used 30 pitches in the fourth.
The Twins stayed aggressive and Mize took advantage, pitching a perfect fifth on five pitches. He allowed a two-out double to Donaldson and walked Kepler in the sixth but finished his solid outing by striking out Sano with a slider.
Mize generated 11 swings and misses: five sliders, five two-seamers and one splitter.
Hill makes key catch, homers
Once again, Derek Hill made a statement in center field.
When Nick Gordon swung at Mize’s first-pitch slider in the third inning, the ball seemed like it would drop at the base of the center-field wall. Instead, Hill put his best attribute — defense — on display. He tracked the ball over his shoulder before making an over-the-head catch on the warning track.
Despite bumping into the wall, Hill kept the ball in his glove.
“I don’t think it was more difficult than you think it is,” Hill said. “I just had really good communication with my side outfielders. They let me know where I was on the field. I can’t thank them enough.”
NOTEBOOK: Tigers ‘less optimistic’ about injured catcher Jake Rogers returning in 2021
Not long after, Hill stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the third.
Facing a full count, Ober threw Hill a fastball up and in. He was productive with his fastballs up in the strike zone and sliders down in the zone throughout Monday’s start. But Hill got a piece of this elevated fastball and sent it to left field.
The ball traveled 383 feet and eventually cleared the fence for a 1-0 lead.
“I thought I flew out,” Hill said, “so that was a nice surprise when I rounded first base.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.