Detroit Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart lunged and landed on the infield grass on all fours. Left-hander Tyler Alexander dropped to his knees. First baseman Spencer Torkelson watched the madness unfold.
The baseball dropped in front of home plate.
“I misplayed it,” Barnhart said. “It got up in the wind, and I read it as closer to home plate and clearly that wasn’t the case. That’s a play I got to make. There’s no excuse about it.”
The first two innings lasted one hour, 24 minutes. Order was restored the rest of the way, but the Tigers never gained momentum in a 4-2 to the Yankees in the first of three games at Comerica Park on Tuesday.
The temperature was 43 degrees at the 6:40 p.m. first pitch.
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“That was a tough night to play,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “It only got worse as the night went on, weather-wise. But it was that way for both teams. They did a little bit more with their opportunities. … You could tell it was tough for the pitchers to control the ball.”
On Barnhart’s mistake, the New York Yankees scored two runs with two outs in the first inning. Josh Donaldson stood at first base, reaching safely on an infield popup; the error was charged to Alexander.
“Tuck, from our angle, you could tell he was in trouble,” Hinch said. “Tyler, pitchers are taught to stay out of the play. And it just turned into a mess. It’s a play that should be made, regardless of the elements.”
For the second inning, the Tigers (4-6) replaced Alexander with righty Rony García. He spiked a pitch on the pitcher’s mound with one out and was removed from the game with a cracked fingernail on his right hand.
The Tigers don’t expect García to need a trip to the injured list.
Tuesday night’s series opener took another twist, as Yankees ace Gerrit Cole was pulled with two outs in the second inning after throwing 68 pitches. It marked the most pitches Cole has thrown in the first two innings of a game in his 237-game career. He walked five batters, four in the second.
“We had the advantage of a long inning, and then we were pretty disciplined,” Hinch said. “Tough elements for him to throw strikes, tough elements for us to conduct those at-bats. It was kind of a mess on both sides from a command standpoint, but our at-bats were pretty tough. We just lacked that one big hit in a couple different instances.”
Designated hitter Miguel Cabrera singled in the second inning and finished 1-for-3 with one strikeout. The 39-year-old is four hits away from 3,000 hits in his 20-year MLB career.
The Tigers totaled two runs on four hits and eight walks with 11 strikeouts. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
The teams combined for 16 walks.
How it ended
Trailing by one run, Tigers right-handed reliever Alex Lange pitched a scoreless seventh. He managed a one-out walk with a pair of strikeouts — Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu — against the heart of New York’s lineup.
Right-hander Michael Fulmer fired a scoreless eighth inning, while righty Joe Jimenez gave up a two-out RBI single to LeMahieu (Birmingham Brother Rice) in the ninth.
“Each guy that came in did a nice job of keeping us in the game,” Hinch said. “That was a winnable game.”
The Tigers were unable to score in the late innings.
The best scoring opportunity occurred in the seventh inning. Jonathan Schoop walked and Jeimer Candelario singled with one out against Yankees righty reliever Clay Holmes. Both players advanced on a wild pitch, putting two runners in scoring position for Cabrera.
Cabrera hit a chopper to third base. Donaldson’s throw to catcher Kyle Higashioka beat Schoop to the plate. He was tagged for the second out. Torkelson, with two runners on, struck out swinging on three pitches.
In the ninth, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect ninth for the save.
The Tigers’ fourth pitcher, right-hander Wily Peralta, entered for the fourth inning. He kept the Yankees scoreless for 1⅔ innings, though he allowed two hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
Peralta gave up a one-out single to Giancarlo Stanton and a two-out walk to Donaldson. Rather than having Peralta face left-handed slugger Joey Gallo, Hinch called on righty reliever Jacob Barnes with two runners on the bases and two outs.
Four of Barnes’ five pitches were cutters.
Gallo struck out swinging to end the top of the fifth inning.
“Our bullpen was incredible, all the way through the game,” Barnhart said. “They kept us in a situation where we had a chance to win the game. I’m not for small victories necessarily, but we grinded it out and were in a position to win the game at the end.”
Barnes cruised through a perfect sixth inning, too. He has pitched 4⅓ scoreless innings this season, making four showings out of the bullpen.
Back to the beginning
Alexander ran into trouble right away. Yankees leadoff man Aaron Hicks singled on a fifth-pitch changeup to center field, and Alexander then issued a one-out walk to Anthony Rizzo and a two-out walk to LeMahieu.
That’s when the Tigers botched Donaldson’s popup.
Alexander ended the Yankees’ two-run first inning by winning a 10-pitch battle against Joey Gallo, striking him out with a slider. But the crafty left-hander used 42 pitches, so the Tigers ended his outing.
“I get it,” Alexander said. “AJ said he wants to protect me, have me back in five days, whatever. It’s embarrassing more than anything, throwing one inning. But he has ultimate say.”
Turning to García for the second inning didn’t change the narrative, as the former Rule 5 draft pick walked Isiah Kiner-Falefa to begin his appearance. He struck out Kyle Higashioka but exited the game after spiking a pitch on the pitcher’s mound and receiving a mound visit from head athletic trainer Doug Teter.
“There was no bleeding, which is a good sign,” Hinch said. “He’s had this before. I think he had it in ’19, Doug told me, and he was able to pitch a couple days later. We’ll see how it is in the morning.”
The Tigers quickly warmed up righty Will Vest and inserted him into the game. Hicks produced a sacrifice fly to put the Yankees ahead 3-0. Vest worked around a single to conclude the top of the second.
Vest pitched a perfect third inning with two strikeouts.
Facing Cole, the Tigers responded with two runs in the second. Those runs came courtesy of lengthy plate appearances from Cabrera (six-pitch single), Akil Baddoo (six-pitch walk), Tucker Barnhart (seven-pitch walk), Willi Castro (11-pitch RBI walk), Robbie Grossman (six-pitch sacrifice fly) and Austin Meadows (eight-pitch walk).
After Meadows’ walk, the Yankees pulled Cole from his third start of the season. He was replaced by right-handed reliever Clarke Schmidt, who punched out Schoop on four pitches to strand the bases loaded.
The most impressive plate appearance of the bunch: Castro’s 11-pitch walk. The 24-year-old, in his first trip to the plate for the Tigers this season, fell behind 1-2 in the count but fouled five of the next six pitches. He took consecutive balls from Cole to earn a free pass, scoring Detroit’s first run.
“I was battling,” Castro said. “In the offseason, I was working to be patient at the plate. I feel really good. Hopefully, I can keep it like that as the season continues. Great way to start.”
For Alexander’s 42 pitches (23 strikes), he used 15 four-seam fastballs (36%), 12 cutters (29%), seven changeups (17%), five sliders (12%) and three sinkers (7%). He recorded three swings and missed and five called strikes.
“It’s never fun to pitch in cold weather, but it’s no excuse for pitching poorly, not throwing strikes,” Alexander said. “That’s what I did. I didn’t throw strikes. … My changeup was moving too much. It was in the ground most of the time. I threw some good sliders. Cutter was horrible. It is what it is.”
Cole tossed 37 of 68 pitches for strikes. Schmidt struck out six batters across 3⅓ scoreless innings.