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Bullpen, infield falter in eighth inning as Twins blow late lead vs. Tigers

DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers rallied with four runs in the eighth inning Sunday, somehow salvaging a four-game split of the series with a 4-3 victory at Comerica Park.

That's not how Kyle Farmer would put it, though.

"We didn't get beat. We lost that game," Farmer said bluntly after the Twins blew a 3-0 lead with only five more outs to get. "Partially my fault, too."

True enough, though there was plenty of blame to go around, fairly or not. Caleb Thielbar for serving up a 400-foot home run to revive the Tigers. Willi Castro for not catching a sinking line drive. Edouard Julien for not quite reaching a grounder up the middle. Austin Martin for not hitting the cutoff man. Heck, Carlos Correa for being injured.

And yes, Farmer for whiffing on a backhand stab at Mark Canha's hard-hit ground ball, a misplay that allowed two runs to score and set up Spencer Torkelson's game-winning single — a 62-mph mishit that blooped into short right field.

"It's a very tough one to swallow for everyone, there's no way around it. We had the game in hand, and you lose it," manager Rocco Baldelli said outside a silent Twins clubhouse. "When you allow the other team five outs in an inning, they're going to lead to runs. There's nothing you can do about that if we don't complete the plays."

It hurts, Baldelli said, because Bailey Ober pitched six scoreless innings, because catchers Ryan Jeffers and Christian Vázquez drove in runs to stake Minnesota to a three-run lead. But that's not the worst part, he said.

"The part that's going to bother us is that our bullpen has been so good and our infield defense has been good," Baldelli pointed out. "We have the ability to make those plays. We have players to make those plays that make them every day. And we didn't execute."

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Thielbar, making his first appearance of the season after being activated Sunday morning, got a popup to open the eighth with the Twins up 3-0. But when his 2-2 sweeper to Javy Báez stayed in the strike zone, the slumping Tiger shortstop pounced, launching it into the left-field seats, his first home run of the season and a big wakeup for the crowd of 17,317.

What happened next could have been prevented.

Carson Kelly hit a sinking line drive that bounced in the dirt in front of Castro's glove and glanced off it, allowing Kelly to reach base.

"There's no excuse. It was like a knuckleball coming at me, then it ended up burying into the ground," Castro said. "So yeah, it's an error," though it was scored a hit.

Riley Greene followed with a ground ball up the middle just beyond Julien's reach, moving Kelly to third.

And after Griffin Jax was summoned from the bullpen, Canha hit a hard ground ball that Farmer tried to backhand but couldn't.

"I honestly thought I made the right read. Just took a higher bounce than I thought it was going to," Farmer said. "If I went back and did it again, I'd probably stick with that read again. Just didn't go in my glove."

The ball reached the left-field wall, and when Martin threw futilely to home plate, Canha moved to third base, having tied the score. The play was ruled a double, though Farmer said he would advise Jax to ask that it be changed to an error.

Either way, it set up the least-hard-hit ball of the day, and at the worst time. Torkelson plopped a single over Julien's head into right field, and the Tigers took the lead.

"It's tough, but that's part of baseball," Castro said. "We can't hang our heads about it. We've got to get back and keep competing."

Like Ober did after his disastrous first start of the season. The righthander has followed it with two strong starts, knocking a mere 47 runs off his ERA.

Ober's day began and ended with ringing doubles, each blasted more than 100 mph to Comerica Park's wall in deep left-center.

But the 19 Tigers hitters he faced in between managed to pop the ball up five times, hit seven weak grounders and strike out three times. Ober gave up only three hits and no walks or runs and left in line for his first victory of 2024. Instead, for the second consecutive start, the bullpen couldn't hold a lead that Ober provided.