Kansas City, Mo. – Tiger’s assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves threw down his hat. He was so sure.
“He called on,” said Michael Fulmer, who closed out the Tigers’ tense 2-1 win over the Kansas City Royals Friday night. He said, “Tork homer here,” and he threw his hat down to confirm it. Everyone knows that, right? You throw your hat down to confirm your shot. You get one in the game. If he does not hit it, you lose it.
“Juan was right.”
Did he ever.
Rookie Spencer Torkelson, with Miguel Cabrera in second place and the Tigers down 1-0 in seventh inning, shot a 0-1 sinker and put it 432 feet over the Tigers’ bullpen and into the small portion of the seats in the left field. The ball left his bat at an exit speed of 111.5 mph.
He turned to Tiger’s excavation immediately after contact and shouted, “Come on, honey!”
“I was pretty turned on,” Torkelson said. “It felt really good. And we needed it. That’s why it felt so good.”
BOX SCORE: Tigers 2, Royals 1
Royals starter Brad Keller had the Tigers’ attack in a vice-grip, allowing only a single over the first six innings. At the time, Keller had not allowed a race in 12 straight innings over his two starts.
Cabrera tied a one-out double to the right center. That was the 2,995 of his career. hit and 599. double in his career. He seeks to become the seventh player ever to produce 3,000 hits and 500 homeruns.
And just for kicks, when he reaches 600 doubles, he will join Albert Pujols and Hank Aaron as the only players to have collected at least 3,000 hits, 500 homers and 600 doubles.
“It was huge,” said Tigers starter Tarik Skubal, who only allowed one undefeated run and hit seven in 5.2 innings. “With Miggy in second place, Keller has to work out of the stretch. Maybe it’s him leaving the sink over Tork’s plate. Who knows?”
By the third stroke, Torkelson Keller had measured quite well. He had the first stroke from him back in the fifth and hit the ball hard on a 5-3 ground out his first time up.
“He got me out of my first blow with that sink, and I kind of had that in the back of my mind,” Torkelson said. “And I did not swing so well at the first shooter in the last shot. He got it in on me. I kind of thought he was going back to that.”
Keller did, and Torkelson smashed it.
“I just had a better plan than he had in the third game,” Torkelson said.
It was his second homer of the week and his manager loved the emotions.
“It was a big emotional hit,” AJ Hinch said. “We are in the last third of the match and the Royals have a shutdown bullpen. It’s hard to get around. We play so many close matches against the guys, a big turn as it puts a shock in the dugout.
‘I love it when players show emotion, especially Tork, who has had a lot of stress the last 10 days or so as he tried to get himself up and running. It was a great way to stamp his arrival. ”
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Skubal was back on point after an uncharacteristically passive first start five days ago. He brought the fire right from the jump, his four-nail hit 97 mph in the first place, and his shooter, a pitch he barely used five days ago, and biting 89-90 mph, he put down the first 11 Royals hits, hitting six of them out.
“I felt more in sync,” he said. “I felt like the last outing, my legs didn’t fit my upper body. I was pretty sore the next day and it’s pretty abnormal for me. Just my upper body was more sore than normal.
“It just means something wasn’t connected. My upper body was kind of overcompensating.”
Salvador Perez ripped a groundball single just past shortstop Harold Castro with one out in the fourth to break Skubal’s streak, and then Castro started a groundball by Andrew Benintendi. Carlos Santana got the Tigers to pay for it, and cut an RBI single to the right.
Skubal was in 90th place in the sixth, and Hinch was without closer to Gregory Soto and set-up man Alex Lange (both had beaten three of the last four days).
“Boys had to go up,” he said.
First was right-handed Jacob Barnes, who got Skubal out of sixth and got switch-hitting Santana to ground out with a runner in second place. Hinch hand-picked Barnes and his ugly cutter to force Santana to strike his left hand, his less productive side of the plate.
“Yeah, would turn Santana around there, get him left-handed,” Hinch said. “With the cutter and three guys on the right side of the infield, we felt like the ground was there if he executed, and he did.”
After Torkelson’s homer, Barnes struck a clean seventh inning and then passed the torch to right-hander Joe Jimenez. Jimenez, after a leadoff single, put the first three hits in the Royals order, beating Bobby Witt, Jr. (fast ball swinging) and Perez (slider, looking).
“His stuff is better, his pace is better, his body is moving,” Hinch said. “His time for the record with (Nicky) Lopez on first, there was no free pass to second base. It was also three excursions in four days for Joe. We lean a little on him, but I know Joe wants it. He has cut his tail off. “
Fulmer, who also pitched on back-to-back days, shut it out by getting Benintendi to line up for Austin Meadows on the left, Santana to line up for a leaping Jonathan Schoop playing in shallow right field and knocked out Hunter Dozier with three straight shooters.
“I was feeling pretty good today,” Fulmer said. “I only threw nine lanes (Thursday). I said to Fett (pitching coach Chris Fetter), it’s incredible how well you get back compared to the 20-pitch, high-stress innings. Everything felt really good.
“But I put the ninth inning on the coaching staff. They played those guys in the right places, honestly. It was a good win.”