Casey Mize's brilliance spoiled by walk-off homer in Detroit Tigers' 3-2 loss to Royals

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Rookie right-hander Casey Mize delivered another quality start by taking the Detroit Tigers into the seventh inning, and reliever Jose Cisnero followed suit by protecting a one-run lead through the eighth.

But Michael Fulmer gave up a walk-off two-run home run to Carlos Santana in the ninth inning. Whit Merrifield opened with a single, and Santana hammered a 1-0 fastball 442 feet to center field to end the game.

The Tigers (18-28) lost, 3-2, to the Kansas City Royals in the series finale at Kauffman Stadium. The offense scored two runs — both in the first inning — on seven hits and five walks but went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

Detroit has lost two games in a row.

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Through 6⅓ innings, Mize allowed one run on three hits and one walk. He recorded six strikeouts and threw 62 of his 86 pitches for strikes. He has a 3.42 ERA across nine starts this season. His lone run scored in the seventh inning.

The Tigers return to Comerica Park for a four-game series with Cleveland from Monday through Thursday. Right-hander Spencer Turnbull starts Monday, followed by lefty Tarik Skubal, righty Jose Urena and lefty Matthew Boyd.

Mize throws gem

The first hit against Mize came in the fourth inning, as Salvador Perez clunked a one-hopper to shortstop Niko Goodrum. He made a poor effort to field the ball, which bounced off his glove and into left field. The play was ruled a single but easily could've been an error. (Goodrum has six errors in his past 14 games.)

The contact made by Perez on Mize's 93 mph fastball came off his bat with a 78.3 mph exit velocity. It had a .370 expected batting average.

Before Perez's single, Andrew Benintendi worked back from down 1-2 in the count to draw an eight-pitch walk. The walk was the first blemish for Mize, but he lost his chance at a no-hitter on Goodrum's miscue at shortstop. There have been six no-hitters this season, including Turnbull's masterpiece against the Seattle Mariners last Tuesday.

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Niko Goodrum of the Detroit Tigers throws a Kansas City Royals runner out at first base in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium on May 23, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Niko Goodrum of the Detroit Tigers throws a Kansas City Royals runner out at first base in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium on May 23, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Mize worked around a hit-by-pitch in the sixth, plunking Nicky Lopez with an 0-2 curveball. He picked up two strikeouts in the inning, sending down Michael A. Taylor swinging at a splitter and Santana swinging at a fastball.

In the seventh, Mize allowed consecutive singles to Benintendi and Perez — making the official scorer's decision in the fourth inning less controversial. Kelvin Gutierrez grounded into a force out at second base, putting runners on the corners with one out.

That's when Hinch pulled Mize, after 86 pitches, in favor of left-hander Gregory Soto.

For Soto's first and only batter faced, Hanser Alberto flied out into a sacrifice fly-turned-double play — from right fielder Robbie Grossman to first baseman Miguel Cabrera to third baseman Jeimer Candelario to cut down Gutierrez after scoring Benintendi.

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Mize's first four strikeouts came on four different pitches. He struck out Merrifield swinging on a slider in the first inning, Gutierrez swinging on a splitter in the second, Ryan O'Hearn looking on a curveball in the second and Jorge Soler swinging at a fastball in the third.

The 24-year-old tossed nine pitches in the first inning, 10 in the second, 13 in the third, 21 in the fourth, four in the fifth, 17 in the sixth and 12 through one out in the seventh. He earned 14 swings and misses, including six with his slider. He chipped in 13 called strikes.

Attacking Bubic early

Royals starter Kris Bubic entered Sunday's start with 17⅔ scoreless innings in a row, lowering his ERA to 0.96 through five games — coming out of the bullpen for his first four outings before transitioning to the starting rotation. He hadn't allowed a run since May 2, in his first appearance.

But the Tigers came out swinging to shake Bubic's confidence. They had four hits and one walk in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead, getting RBIs on singles from Candelario and Eric Haase.

The tone was set by Grossman, who opened the first with a two-strike double to the right-field corner. Candelario knocked him in with a one-out single to right field. Cabrera applied further pressure with his single, and Haase drove in the second run.

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Detroit Tigers' Robbie Grossman runs home to score on an RBI single by Jeimer Candelario during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo.
Detroit Tigers' Robbie Grossman runs home to score on an RBI single by Jeimer Candelario during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo.

The Tigers had a chance to further the damage, as Goodrum drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases with one out. Instead, Wilson Ramos popped out on the first pitch and JaCoby Jones struck out on three pitches.

Although Bubic locked back in, his 25 pitches in the first inning doomed him, considering how strong Mize pitched on the other side. He departed after the fifth inning, having allowed two runs on six hits and three walks, with three strikeouts. He threw 82 pitches, 51 for strikes.

The Tigers logged back-to-back singles from Jonathan Schoop and Candelario in the fifth inning against Bubic, but Miguel Cabrera grounded into a double play. Bubic finished by getting Haase to ground out to shortstop for the third out.

Jake Rogers behind the plate

With Gutierrez in the batter's box, Mize threw him a 97.5 mph fastball in the dirt for a 3-2 count in the fourth inning. Catcher Jake Rogers tried to make a back-handed swipe, but the baseball got away from him.

As the ball rolled toward the Royals' dugout, Rogers popped up and lurched to retrieve it. He immediately threw down to third base, where Candelario raced to get in position. He arrived ahead of Benintendi, positioned himself perfectly and applied the tag for the third out.

The play was an example of how much Rogers' defense has improved in his second MLB stint. Offensively, Rogers went 0-for-3 with one walk and two strikeouts. He is vying to stick around after Grayson Greiner returns from his left hamstring strain.

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Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers stunned by walk-off HR in 3-2 loss to Royals