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Tigers 9, Cubs 8: Opposite day

This wasn’t how this game, or recap, was supposed to go.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This recap should have been headlined “The Matt Duffy game” and sung the praises of the guy Jed Hoyer signed for just $1 million. Duffy went 3-for-5, smacked a three-run homer and matched a career high with five RBI, and it all went for nothing when the Cubs lost to the Tigers 9-8 in 10 innings.

I’ll just get this out of the way right now, too — we gotta kill that placed runner rule with fire. If you have to have it, at least play through the 12th inning without it, then use it if the game goes to the 13th inning. Because at least in the case of this game, this rule didn’t really “shorten” a contest that went four hours, six minutes and featured Cubs pitchers throwing 193 pitches before the game even got to extras — and no Cubs pitcher threw more than 42 of those pitches. Just as Friday’s game was efficiently pitched by Cubs hurlers (107 total pitches), this one was a total slog, the total opposite of the first game of the series.

That’s largely because Trevor Williams started this game and promptly coughed up a two-run lead that had been gifted him courtesy of this two-run double by Anthony Rizzo in the top of the first [VIDEO].

I’ll spare you the gory details, but the Tigers had a 3-2 lead at the end of the first inning and after Williams threw 14 more pitches in a scoreless second, David Ross had seen enough.

The Cubs did take the lead back in the top of the third on an RBI groundout by Rizzo which was followed by an RBI double by Duffy [VIDEO].

Alec Mills, who hadn’t pitched in 10 days, replaced Williams and though he got through a scoreless third, the fourth was, well, not good. Three Detroit runs scored to give the Tigers a 6-4 lead before Justin Steele got out of the jam.

The Cubs took the lead back in the fifth. Two runners were on base with one out for Duffy [VIDEO].

Well now. A one-run lead in a game like this and it’s still the fifth inning? You know that’s not gonna hold up, though Steele got through a scoreless fifth. Dan Winkler got the first two outs in the sixth, but oh no, can’t have him face a lefthanded hitter so Rex Brothers was called on to get that last out, which he did, a strikeout of Harold Castro.

Let’s see. We’re in the seventh with the Cubs clinging to that 7-6 lead. Can the Cubs bullpen get nine outs without giving up a run?

Nope. Brothers loaded the bases on two singles and a walk and Ryan Tepera was called on with one out in the inning. Tepera got the second out on a strikeout, but Miguel Cabrera singled in the tying run.

The Cubs couldn’t get anything done in the eighth or ninth, but neither could the Tigers and that’s thanks to some outstanding relief work from Keegan Thompson, who faced seven batters, allowed one hit and struck out five.

On to the bastardized version of extra innings we’re playing nowadays, with Javy as the placed runner. He advanced to third on a groundout and then it was Duffy time again [VIDEO].

What a smart baseball player Duffy is. He always, always gives you a quality at-bat, doesn’t swing at pitches out of the zone, goes the opposite way when the situation calls for it. You can see why he was runner-up to Kris Bryant for Rookie of the Year in 2015 without having overwhelmingly good numbers. This is how impressive Duffy’s day was:

But Duffy was stranded, and the Cubs went to the bottom of the 10th with a one-run lead.

Here’s where the placed runner rule hurts a traditional closer like Craig Kimbrel. Closers like that generally like “clean” innings, in other words, starting with no one on base and no one out. Well, the placed runner immediately makes that NOT a clean inning. As was the case for the Cubs, Detroit’s placed runner advanced on an out, then scored on a single by Niko Goodrum. Goodrum was replaced by pinch runner JaCoby Jones, who stole second.

Now — should Ross have done that? Replaced Duffy with Nico Hoerner, who might have stolen second and changed the dynamic of the top of the inning? Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered for the Cubs, but it did for the Tigers when Harold Castro singled in Jones after Kimbrel had struck out Jonathan Schoop for the second out.

In the end, the problem was Williams. This was not supposed to be a “bullpen game,” but it became one after Williams had to come out after two innings. The Cubs used everyone in the pen except Andrew Chafin and Dillon Maples, and while a number of Cubs relievers didn’t throw a lot of pitches, that means it’ll be very important for Kyle Hendricks to give the team at least six innings and preferably seven on Sunday.

One other conclusion I can draw from this game: Much as I’ve defended Williams and hoped he’d improve, something isn’t working. At this point I think I might even give that rotation spot to Keegan Thompson, who’s been very, very impressive in multiple-inning relief appearances.

Sigh. On to Sunday and (hopefully) a series win against the Tigers. As noted above, Kyle Hendricks will get the start for the Cubs and Matthew Boyd, who has been Detroit’s best starter all year, will go for the Tigers. Game time Sunday is 12:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Tigers market territories). Sunday’s game preview will post at 10:30 a.m. CT.