The best way to describe the final play in the Tigers’ 5-4 loss to the Twins on Tuesday is “indescribable.”
We’ll give it our best shot, though.
Let’s set the stage: The Tigers led 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, and closer Gregory Soto came on to nail down his fourth save in four tries this season. But he walked Trevor Larnach and Gio Urshela on eight pitches to start the inning.
A visit to the mound by pitching coach Chris Fetter seemed to get Soto back on track as he struck out Max Kepler on three pitches for the first out.
That brought up Miguel Sanó. Sanó promptly worked the count to 2-2.
Soto threw a 98.8 mph sinker over the outside corner. Sanó laced it on a line, 108 mph off the bat, to right field. Robbie Grossman reached up for the ball, but it caromed off his glove and rolled to the wall.
Larnach, the lead runner at second base, initially retreated, expecting Grossman to make the catch. When the ball hit the ground, Larnach reversed course and scrambled toward third, with Urshela moving to second and Sanó taking a big turn around first.
Grossman retrieved the ball and hit cutoff man Jonathan Schoop in short right field. Schoop, expecting Larnach to be trying to score, turned and fired the ball home. His throw was low and to catcher Eric Haase’s right. Haase slipped as he fielded the throw, then looked up to see chaos on the bases.
When Sanó saw Schoop throw home, he took off for second base, figuring there would be a play at the plate. He didn’t realize that Larnach had been held by Twins third base coach Tommy Watkins. Sanó’s advancement left Urshela no choice but to head for third. With two runners occupying third base, it should have been an easy out for the Tigers.
But instead of running to third, Haase tried to throw it to third baseman Jeimer Candelario. Unfortunately, the ball sailed over Candelario’s head and into short left field. Shortstop Javier Báez raced over to retrieve the errant throw, but Larnach and Urshela both scored before he could make a play on it.
“That was an ugly ending to an otherwise well-played game,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
“A mess of a ninth inning,” Hinch added. “It starts with the walks, and then with the weird play. We almost felt like we had second life when they didn’t score on Sanó’s ball, and then Haase flips the ball into left field. It’s a painful loss.”
Haase said he never had a good grip on the ball before he tried to throw it to Candelario.
“Coming in from the outfield, slipped, frickin’ grabbed a big ol’ mud ball and just sailed it,” Haase said. “Baserunning mishap by them. I was going to run the guy back [to third] and tag both, but there’d be no one at home, so I tried to pitch it and just sailed it.”
However, Haase didn’t realize that Soto was backing up the throw to the plate, so he would have had home covered if Haase had chased Larnach back to third.
In the end, Hinch wasn’t about to point fingers or assign blame.
“We made a mistake,” Hinch said. “It looked like the ball took off on Robbie, first off, on the line drive, and it tips off his glove. He did a good job of getting the ball in, and then they had overrun the bases and that created a little bit of a mess.
“Obviously, we’ve got to pick ourselves up and get back to the ballpark tomorrow. It was a cold night. We did a lot of good things. It didn’t end our way. It’ll be, hopefully, better tomorrow.”