Game 30: Tigers beat Royals at their own game
The Royals became baseball’s Cinderella story last year with an aggressive style designed around taking the extra base and putting pressure on defenses.
The Tigers became the American League Central leaders again Friday night at Comerica Park by doing much the same thing.
“I just think we’re playing baseball like we can,” said Anthony Gose, who went from the batter’s box to the game-ending run in just two ninth-inning pitches for Detroit’s 6-5 win. “We definitely have speed. I think this is just who we are. This is the type of team we are, and we’re going to play this style of baseball. Sometimes it works for us, sometimes it doesn’t.”
For at least this night, the Tigers beat the Royals at their own game. They put pressure on the Royals to make a play, often All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. It wasn’t personal, just as the Tigers weren’t personally picking on rookie right fielder Paulo Orlando as third-base coach Dave Clark kept waving runners home on second-inning singles to right.
Orlando made plays. His throw on Andrew Romine’s single easily beat Nick Castellanos to the plate. When Perez turned to make the tag, however, the ball popped out of his mitt. Two batters later, Perez gathered Orlando’s throw but was so far in front that he couldn’t reach Romine with a swipe tag.
“Clarky has all the scouting reports on the outfield arms for every team that comes to town,” Brad Ausmus said. “But going back to last Spring Training, at times we’re going to force the defense’s hand, force them to make the play.”
It was a rough night for Perez, who had allowed just four stolen bases in 13 attempts entering the night.
Gose had never run on Perez in his career, in part because he didn’t reach base against the Royals often enough when he was a Blue Jay. After he walked with two outs in the fourth, he tried his go-to move, a delayed steal, on him. Perez had to dig the ball out of the dirt, but still got him.
“He’s a Gold Glover,” Gose said. “If he’s not the best in baseball, he’s one of the top two or three. You gotta hope that the pitcher gives you a chance to go or you can get creative some way. I tried and he showed why he’s the best. He shut that down real fast.”
He didn’t shut down Gose for the night, not when he singled leading off the seventh to put the tying run on base. Gose didn’t get a great jump on Jason Frasor, but he had the base stolen as Perez’s throw sailed over Omar Infante’s head. That put him on third base to score on Victor Martinez’s fielder’s choice.
So did Rajai Davis, 6-for-6 in stealing bases against the Royals since becoming a Tiger last year. Perez hasn’t thrown him out on a steal attempt since July 3, 2012, when Davis was still a Blue Jay.
“I think the last time he threw me out from his knees,” Davis said.
He nearly got him in the eighth inning, but Davis was ruled out, and replay was inconclusive. Wade Davis retired the bottom of the Tigers lineup in order from there to strand him.
Once Gose jumped a first-pitch fastball from Yohan Pino to begin the bottom of the ninth, the real footrace was on, interrupted only by a brief stop at second.
“I was thinking three,” Gose admitted, “but when I saw [Orlando] get to the ball as fast as he did, then get it to the cutoff man, with the heart of our lineup coming up, you don’t want to be out at third with two, three, four, five, six coming up. Our whole lineup, basically, you don’t want to be out.”
It never got to three. Kinsler’s bunt was near-perfect, and Pino’s aggressiveness to try to get an out was ill-advised. His throw went wide, and Gose strolled home.
It wasn’t a walkoff hit, but it was hard to tell the difference in Kinsler’s mood.
“I’ve had walk-off hits, I’ve had a walk-off home run and that one was probably more exciting than both,” he said. “Right there you’re just laying down a bunt, trying to move him over for Miguel. Then you’re running down the line thinking maybe I could beat it out. Then you see Hosmer kind of jump off the bag. Hopefully that throw’s a little too high, and you see it sail over his head and then it’s automatic excitement. It’s just adrenaline and excitement right away as opposed to hitting the ball in the gap and kind of know the game’s over right when you do. So that was a lot of fun.”
The style of play is giving that feeling. Even if winning has become familiar and expected in Detroit, winning this way isn’t.