Detroit — This continues to be an exercise in frustration and futility for the Tigers.
After rallying for a pair of runs late in the ninth inning to tie the game, closer Gregory Soto gave up a two-out RBI single to Oscar Gonzalez in the top of the 10th and the Cleveland Guardians finished the three-out sweep Tigers matches at Comerica Park with a 4-3 victory.
The Guardians were no closer to Emmanuel Clase on Thursday. Guardians coach Terry Francona has used him in the first two games, even to protect a three-point lead on Tuesday, and in three of the last four.
The Tigers took advantage of this.
Against right-hander Trevor Stephan, Harold Castro and Willi Castro set the table with a walk and a single. It was the third success of the day for Willi Castro. Jonathan Schoop followed with an RBI brace.
Then, after pinch hitter Miguel Cabrera was intentionally walked around, Francona called in right-hander Enyel De Los Santos.
Eric Haase hit a hard ground ball that deflected De Los Santos and ended up being the equal scoring force in second.
But the winning run fell through at third base.
The Tigers are 1-6 in that brief home stint and now have 27 games under .500 (43-70). They have scored two points or less in four of seven games. In the three losses to Cleveland, they struck out 39 times.
With the tying run at third base and an out in the bottom of the 10th, veteran reliever Bryan Shaw retired Javier Baez and Harold Castro to end the game.
They were knocked out seven times in 6.1 innings by struggling right-hander Zach Plesac, who had 10 losses and a 4.49 ERA.
Teams have punished Plesac’s four-seam fastball all season, hitting .324 and .521 against it. The Tigers, however, who have battled every fastball this season, couldn’t do much with it.
Of Plesac’s 100 throws, 43 were four-seam. The Tigers swung to 25, missed four, took five for strikes called and went 1 for 8 on those they put in play.
Tigers starter Garrett Hill did well to minimize the damage in his five innings, but he contributed to his own demise with two walks and two batters hit. He ended up being charged with three runs, two unearned, one well-earned – a solo home run to right field by Guardians leadoff batter Steven Kwan.
Mistakes by shortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Willi Castro led to the Guardians’ first two points.
With runners on first and second and one out in the second inning, first baseman Harold Castro made a superb diving save on a fly ball between first and second base. He threw on his knees to get the strength to second.
Baez rushed his pitch to first hoping to complete a low-odds double play and it was errant, allowing the runner to score from second base.
Baez also threw a ground ball in the ninth, his 19th American League-leading error.
Few epitomize the frustration of the season better than Baez. Errors, most of them on pitching, wild swings on pitches out of the strike zone, strikeouts. But once in a while, he will show his unique and dazzling skills.
He saved a run in the sixth inning on a fly ball hit down the middle by rookie Tyler Freeman. Baez, moving quickly to his left, made a slippery choice of a hard jump between the two, got up and made a strong first throw. Very few shortstops can make this play – pure instinct and athleticism.
Then he came in late in the sixth and completed his 11th homer, latching onto one of Plesac’s pedestrian four-seam fastballs.
Until then, he was 4 of 23 in the homestand with nine strikeouts. He finished with two hits on Thursday and had a third hit stolen by a diving play from Freeman in the bottom of the eighth with a runner at second.
So much talent, too little seen. Could be the Tigers’ 2022 season slogan.