Rookie right-hander Spencer Turnbull showed himself well against a deep lineup: Turnbull pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on five hits. He struck out seven batters and walked two.
The Brewers jumped on Turnbull, scoring twice on two hits and two walks in the first inning, and added a run on a solo home run by Jesus Aguilar in the fourth.
Milwaukee broke the game open against Sandy Baez in the seventh, scoring six runs. Ryan Braun delivered the big hit, a two-run double to left-center field against Zac Reininger.
The Tigers didn’t do anything offensively against lefty Gio Gonzalez or the Brewers’ relievers: They totaled five hits and were shut-out for the 18th time this season, most in the Major Leagues.
Here are three takeaways from Sunday afternoon’s loss:
Spencer Turnbull’s day
Heading into the series, Turnbull was the starting pitcher who concerned the Brewers the most because of the movement on his pitches when his command is there. In this game, for the most part, it was. But he fell into a funk early, walking back-to-back batters. He settled in after that inning, retiring 13 of 14 batters at one point, and he struck out the side in the fifth inning. The Tigers are very excited about Turnbull: He will come into spring training next season with an opportunity to crack the starting rotation.
After speaking about the organization’s commitment to cleaning up the fundamentals in the minor leagues before the game, manager Ron Gardenhire watched a game littered with mistakes, both physical and mental. Jeimer Candelario struggled the last week and didn’t take an easy base in the first. Niko Goodrum was picked off first base in the sixth. The Brewers scored twice on a wild pitch in the eighth. These errors have been a constant this season, with many unpolished players getting experience in the big leagues.
The game crept to the finish line with the Brewers scoring six runs in the seventh. An inning later, Christian Yelich — who struck out twice against Turnbull — was pulled from the game and left the field to a standing ovation and “MVP!” chants. With the loss, the Tigers will pick No. 5 in next year’s MLB draft.
Community leaders are saying Dan Gilbert is interested in buying the Detroit Tigers. Detroit Free Press
The day I knew everything had changed, I walked into the Detroit Tigers clubhouse on a mid-February morning in Lakeland, Fla., to side eyes, a sense that some of the players were sizing me up with suspicion. When the time was right, I walked to Miguel Cabrera’s locker.
Cabrera was in a good mood that day; he was healthy and baseball was back. But before I could get to the reason why I had approached him, he pulled out a piece of white paper, folded in fours, and asked if I wrote this:
On the paper, in big, bold, black letters: “Detroit Tigers will stink in 2018.”
I don’t write the headlines. The players didn’t read the article. But the message, sent on sheets of paper that were placed on every single player’s chair, was received loud and clear.
Two players taped it to their locker doors. Another texted me, “Watch your back.” Another, “Love it.”
It was on that day, Feb. 19, when the tone for this year’s Tigers was set. In a closed-door meeting at Joker Marchant Stadium before their first full-squad workout of spring training, manager Ron Gardenhire told his players to hell with what outsiders were saying.
“They think you stink. They think you’re going to lose 100 games. They think they know, but you know what, boys? They don’t know (expletive).”
“That’s what Gardy instilled in us,” said Matthew Boyd, one of the players who displayed the article. “It’s just, with the guys in here, you guys put the expectations on us and none of it was positive, but we stuck together and that’s what he’s always preached to us.
“It’s about the guys in here. It’s not about what anybody else thinks. If we stick with us, the sky’s the limit. That’s been instilled in here, through him. That’s where it comes from.”
The Tigers will lose at least 96 games this season. That they didn’t reach the century mark like so many predicted — I had 103, officially — does not make the season successful. It makes the season, in the words of hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, “Remarkable.”
It all goes back to the ethos Gardenhire instilled in February. Go out there and have fun, he said that day. Compete. And hustle, above all else.
“I just said, ‘Well, this is what we’re going to do,’” he says. “And it started from our first meeting. I told them how it was going to be. I told them we’re going to have each other’s backs, even during spring training, and I’ll have your back as long as you play the game and respect it, I’ll always be on your side. That’s it.”
And his players — who won’t lose 100 games, who weren’t a laughing-stock, who are still competing — they listened.
The goose was loose
Look at the Tigers. Look at the rookies in the starting lineup throughout the season. The inexperience, injuries and especially, the inferior talent. Look closely, and you don’t see Cabrera or Michael Fulmer for much of the season.
Look closer, at the 29 one-run losses entering Saturday, the times they put the game-tying run on base in their final at-bats and the on-the-job training many of the young players required when prematurely promoted to the major leagues.
“Our record doesn’t indicate how many games we’ve been in,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve had chances to win, and we still do every day. That’s called the learning process of figuring out how to win those games.”
“There was a lot of emotion that day,” he said. “I think that just said a little bit about who we were going to be and how hard we were going to play, and that set a great tone. Even though we lost the game, those guys were really frustrated and felt like they got robbed, and you know what, that kind of set a tone that, ‘We’re not going to take this crap, let’s go play again,’ so they got it.”
After the game, McCann alerted a clubhouse attendant to head to Field and Stream in the morning and get a Canadian Goose decoy. The next day, the goose was in the dugout. The fans were chanting “Goose!” The Tigers won their next three games with the goose on their side, and after each win, the anointed goose-keeper, Mike Fiers, carried it triumphantly onto the field afterwards.
Said Buck Farmer: “It was the goose. It had nothing to do with us. It was the goose.”
The Tigers never got any closer to .500. They went 0-for-Ohio, losing five straight to the Reds and Indians, the final three at Progressive Field in Cleveland in glorious fashion — they were outscored 31-6 — and sensing the team needed some fun to distract from the losing streak, Nicholas Castellanos took an outsider’s idea from early in the season and brought it to Gardenhire.
“They came to me about a ping-pong table,” he said. “It was something that kind of threw me for a loop.”
Gardenhire had to think it through: What does ping-pong have to do with baseball? Is ping-pong going to make us better?
The remnants of Tigers teams of the past are scattered throughout the big leagues, and when you stop into the Red Sox clubhouse in Ft. Myers to say hello to J.D. Martinez, you notice the ping-pong games. When you stop by the Astros clubhouse in West Palm Beach to try and have a normal conversation with Justin Verlander, a natural question is, what was the difference between here and there?
Look around, Verlander said, pointing at a bunch of players having a card game.
So when Castellanos asked, Gardenhire drew on his experience with the Diamondbacks last season in granting the Tigers their wish. In Arizona, they had a small basketball hoop inside the clubhouse. For months, they played “PIG” and “HORSE” and occasionally argued over the outcomes.
“It’s entertainment,” he said. “It took away from the pressure on you, and I think the ping-pong table did that.”
In the months that followed, the ping-pong table served as a gathering spot of sorts, especially for the young Latin players: The team’s greatest rivalry is Jeimer Candelario against Victor Reyes, though Victor Jose Martinez, the 14-year-old son of Victor Martinez, claims to be undefeated.
Lows and highs
The ping-pong table was not an antidote to their struggles.
The five-game losing streak reached seven, pitching coach Chris Bosio was fired for making insensitive comments to a team employee — which helped in hindsight — then nine games and 11 after a walk-off loss in Toronto on June 30.
The Tigers’ feel-good story from two weeks earlier had become what everyone expected: They were who we thought they were. They lost six straight games before finishing the first half against the defending World Series champion Astros and Justin Verlander, who was surely going to no-hit them.
The day before the game, a veteran pitcher thought to be Fiers offered his teammates $100 for every home run they hit off Verlander. Hours before, Gardenhire addressed the team, reaffirming his gratitude for their hard play in the first half. The talk especially motivated Candelario, who hit one of four home runs off Verlander in a 6-3 win and became $100 richer in the process.
“That was huge,” Gardenhire said. “We were all leaving, so we didn’t get to celebrate as much as we wanted to, because everyone was going everywhere else, but that was big in the dugout, I can tell you that.”
The players were hooting and hollering in the dugout that day, many of whom never played with Verlander, but one that did — the one that led the peanut gallery — proved to be the most pivotal person inside the clubhouse this season.
“When Victor Martinez talks,” Castellanos said. “You listen.”
The veteran presence
There was no science to getting Martinez to buy in this season, no secret potion that Gardenhire used to re-establish the veteran designated hitter as the foremost leader of the Tigers.
It was simply about respect. In Gardenhire, Martinez saw a manager that reminded him of longtime manager Jim Leyland, a man whom he’d competed against for nearly his entire career in the American League Central division, a man who, in just a short period of time, earned his full trust.
And when Cabrera went down for the season, the team’s elder statesman got back to doing what he had done best for so long, before the Tigers clubhouse deteriorated last season: Lead.
For as much of a positive inside the clubhouse Martinez was since spring training, he also was fully consumed by the task at hand: Ever prideful of his performance on the field, even with diminished skills at age 37, Martinez was focused on being a player first and teacher second.
“That was really the turning point, for me,” McCann said. “He wasn’t trying to keep things close to the vest anymore, not letting things out that he’s not coming back. Now, it was, ‘I’ll do my job here, and that’s to be a mentor.’ ”
A week later, Martinez spoke to the team in a postgame meeting. A week after that, he hit two home runs at Yankee Stadium, the second of which tied the game in the top of the ninth inning and led to an 8-7 win as part of an impressive four-game split against the postseason-bound Yankees.
During that series, recalled by teammates and staff members as one of the biggest moments of the season, Victor Reyes — a fellow Venezuelan whom Martinez took under his wing this season — hit his first major league home run, erupting the dugout like never before.
“When he hit that ball off the second deck,” Candelario said, “I felt like it was me hitting that ball. I felt so happy for him.”
There were more losses than wins this season, a screaming Gardenhire in Anaheim when he sensed their effort was slipping — “Don’t stop what you’ve been doing!” was the message. There were plenty of bad series, but the series in the Bronx stands out as perhaps their best.
“These guys had no fear,” Gardenhire said. “They were game on. And we brought kids up there. (Dawel) Lugo and those guys, that was their start, up in Broadway, competing against the Yankees, and they played the living crap out of it. No fear whatsoever.”
Gardenhire leans back in his chair, hands behind his head as reporters and a TV camera come into his office after a familiar-feeling loss.
He is not wearing his glasses.
It is Friday night and the Tigers have just fought hard against one of the best teams in baseball, only to come up short again. In game No. 160, they did everything Gardenhire had asked of them since February, but a baseball went off a glove and over a fence in the bottom of the eighth inning and the better team won.
“Our guys really played, man,” he says. “They played. They really got after it.”
For the first time all season, they played in front of a jam-packed house, with something on the line: Their opponents, the Milwaukee Brewers, are in a down-to-the-wire race in the NL Central division, hoping to avoid the coin-flip Wild Card game.
The Tigers took the first punch and Milwaukee responded with an upper-cut and a couple of body blows before Lugo came off the bench in the eighth inning to pinch-hit against left-hander Josh Hader, widely considered the most dominating relief pitcher in baseball.
“It got more and more intense as it went along,” he says. “They were into it.”
Recently, McClendon convinced Lugo to close up his batting stance. In the days since, the coaching staff has taken note of the way the ball is coming off his bat in batting practice.
And when Hader’s full-count, 96 mph fastball came off the bat, it went into the upper deck in left field to tie the game as the latest — and perhaps lasting — image of a Tigers team that never quit, and a season of exceeded expectations.
It was a tame ride compared to those in the past — low on drama outside the broadcasting booth, high on growing pains on the field — a season that can only be defined as a success through the realities of the Tigers’ rebuilding process.
In the bottom of the eighth Friday, after Lugo’s home run, Castellanos couldn’t make the catch and the Tigers lost. A nice comeback, but the same frustration.
Afterwards, Gardenhire had another message to his team.
“That I was proud of them,” he says. “I said, ‘That’s the way you (expletive) play. You come out here and you play the game like that, just like you have all year long, that’s what’s expected.’ ”
All but one reporter has left, the camera is long gone, but his dissertation of this game — and the season — has yet to be delivered in full. He’s been here before, on losing teams that have thrown in the towel. His last couple seasons in Minnesota were bad. His message, he now knows, wasn’t getting through.
And at this moment, he can’t help but shake his head in affirmation, pointing through his office door at a group of guys that have bought in better — and won more games — than anyone could have imagined six months ago.
“We have three games left in the season here, counting this one tonight, and these guys are still fighting tooth-and-nail,” he says. “You can’t ask anything more out of a baseball club.”
Victor Martinez, the 39-year-old designated hitter, is retiring after the 2018 season. Free Press sports writer Ryan Ford takes a look at his career. Wochit
MILWAUKEE — It followed the same script as the night before, but the performance from Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich can’t be scripted.
Yelich, the front-runner for the National League Most Valuable Player Award, hit two home runs in the Detroit Tigers’ 6-5 loss on Saturday night at Miller Park.
Once again, the Tigers jumped out to a three-run lead, hoping to play the spoiler. Niko Goodrum provided the early punch with an RBI single in the top of the first inning, and a two-run triple in the third.
Once again, the Brewers charged back. Yelich hit his first home run in the third, a two-run shot to left-center field off Daniel Norris. Milwaukee scored three against Norris the next inning to take the lead; shoddy defense by Jeimer Candelario at third base did not help.
Once again, the Tigers fought back. Nicholas Castellanos hit his 23rd home run in the fifth and Dawel Lugo tripled and scored on a Pete Kozma sacrifice fly in the sixth to tie it at 5.
Then came the big at-bat, with left-hander Daniel Stumpf facing the lefty-hitting Yelich. In an 0-1 count, Stumpf hung a slider and Yelich smashed it into the right field seats. The score wouldn’t change.
Here are Yelich’s last 14 plate appearances, as researched by MLB.com’s Adam McCalvey: Three-run home run, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, two-run home run, walk, walk, strikeout, walk, two-run home run, strikeout and solo home run. At this point of the season — with the Brewers pulling even with the Cubs — that’s good enough to sew up the NL MVP Award. Yelich, who leads the NL in batting, is tied for the lead in home runs, and two RBIs short of Chicago’s Javy Baez for the Triple Crown. It would be the NL’s first Triple Crown since 1937 when Joe Medwick did it with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Norris started strong, with four strikeouts in two innings, but Candelario’s first misplay in the third led to Yelich’s first home run. Then, in the fourth, Candelario missed a ground ball from Erik Kratz, which allowed two runs to score. Norris was fine. He struck out eight batters over 4⅔ innings, but the second time through the Milwaukee order, damage was done. Norris allowed five runs on six hits. He ends his injury-shortened season with a 5.68 ERA.
Stumpf takes the loss
Stumpf came into the game on a streak of 15 scoreless appearances. That streak ended on the hanging slider to Yelich. Stumpf recorded the final out of the sixth inning and then came back out for the seventh for the matchup with Yelich. He did his first job, getting ahead, but missed badly on the second pitch. Stumpf struck out two batters.