CHICAGO — Javier Báez stood in the batter’s box and watched the ball go over the wall in left midfield.
On the second pitch of his at-bat, Báez unloaded a fastball from Chicago White Sox starter Michael Kopech. He celebrated his home run by throwing his bat and interacting with fans who booed him. More importantly, he put the Detroit Tigers on the scoreboard in the first inning.
The Tigers failed to score again.
The teams split the four-game streak, with the Tigers losing 4-2 in Sunday’s finals at guaranteed rate field due to a costly error in the eighth inning by left fielder Robbie Grossman.
“We missed some chances offensively,” said manager AJ Hinch, “and then gave them an extra out at a really bad time of the game where they’re in the middle of their turn. …credit to them, of course, but we opened the door for them and made some mistakes.”
The Tigers (36-49) extended their winning streak to six with wins on Thursday and Friday, but have since lost two straight games with eight contests remaining until the All-Star break.
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With two outs in the eighth, Luis Robert hit a weak flyball into the flat left center of right-handed reliever Michael Fulmer. Grossman tracked him down, reached across his body and turned his wrist skyward to catch the ball, but the ball bounced off his glove and landed in the grass.
Just like that, the White Sox had a runner in second place.
“It was a pop-up and I missed it,” Grossman said. “That’s what it boils down to. This is a terrible game. It’s a game to be made and I’ll make it next time it comes my way.”
Grossman’s error was his first since June 13, 2018, ending a 440-game clean streak, the longest by a positional player in MLB history. To go with the defensive error, Grossman finished 0-for-3 with a strikeout and is batting against .202 in 68 games this season.
“He just missed it,” Hinch said. “We’re playing deep – no doubles – to try and keep Robert off second base. He had to go a little far and it looked like the wind knocked him down a little bit and then he just missed it.”
Hinch intentionally walked with Jose Abreu, then replaced Fulmer with left-handed closer Gregory Soto. As soon as that happened, White Sox manager Tony La Russa benched right-hander AJ Pollock to meet left-hander Gavin Sheets.
“I wanted Sheets out of the game,” Hinch said.
Pollock hit Soto’s first pitch sinker for an RBI single, giving the White Sox a 3-2 lead.
Eloy Jimenez made it 4-2 with his subsequent RBI single.
“The pitch that was called was an insider,” Soto said of Pollock’s single. “I made the pitch. I made the pitch. He hit it.”
Before late drama
Báez’s first inning home run, covering 360 feet and hit at a starting speed of 107.4 mph, was his ninth of the season, his sixth since June 18, and his second in the series.
Báez has a two-homer lead over Eric Haase for the team lead.
Before the two-run blast, rookie leadoff hitter Riley Greene pulled a four-pitch walk as Kopech dealt with early command issues. Greene went 1-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout.
“Javy had the big swing,” Hinch said. “I’m not even sure if it was a hit but he hit the homer which was a great way to start the game. And then Kopech settled in. He’s got really good stuff and obviously brought it into the middle of the game.”
While the Tigers’ offense was dormant, the White Sox cheered themselves up with runs in the fifth and sixth innings on missed pitches from right-handed starter Drew Hutchison to level the game.
“We took the lead early on so he could settle in a bit,” said Hinch. “He just couldn’t finish off the hitters in a couple of critical moments. He’ll be disappointed with the outing, how we got there, but it takes two runs and six innings every time.”
The Tigers missed a key chance at the top of sixth place against right-hander Jimmy Lambert, who replaced Kopech after Harold Castro’s one-out walk. Looking at Lambert, single Jonathan Schoop and Robbie Grossman were hit by a pitch with two outs.
That opened up a many-base opportunity for rookie Spencer Torkelson, who had a clutch-clamp RBI single in Thursday’s win. This time, he swung at an out-of-zone slider to strand all three teammates on their bases.
Torkelson, who hit .198 in 77 games, finished the game 4-1 with two strikeouts. Kopech allowed two runs with four hits and three walks with four strikeouts, and threw 47 of 82 pitches for strikes.
Cruising for a Drew sin
Hutchison drove through the first four innings in his second start since signing another minor league contract with the Tigers, limiting the White Sox to two hits.
But the opposition finally got to him in the fifth.
Leury Garcia opened the frame with a single and came down to score with a two-out single from Yoan Moncada, which drilled a slider that hung over the center of the plate.
“I didn’t finish that pitch,” Hutchison said.
With two outs in the sixth, Sheets blasted a 442-foot solo home run down right center on Hutchison’s full-count fastball. Once again the playing field was in the middle of the strike zone.
“I missed a bit on the last pitch and he caught me,” said Hutchison.
Hutchison gave up two runs with five hits and a walk with three strikeouts. He pitched 59 of 87 pitches for strikes, using 36 sliders (41%), 32 four-seam fastballs (37%), 10 changeups (11%), and nine two-seam fastballs (10%).
He had 10 swings and misses and nine called strikes.
“Sometimes you don’t do them and things work and you don’t even think about it,” Hutchison said. “They just try to execute every pitch and I executed a lot of them today.”
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