Detroit — Nothing like a packed-house Yankees series to bring out the intensity in the Tigers.
Isn’t that right, Rick Porcello, who not only pitched superbly on Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory over the Yankees at Comerica Park, but clearly said something way more colorful than “thank you, Ian” while the Tigers came off the field following the top of the seventh?
Pointing at Ian Kinsler, the Tigers’ second baseman who’d just made a diving, web gem-caliber play-and-throw to get Ichiro Suzuki at first to end the inning, the mild-mannered, polite Porcello said something that can’t be printed here.
“I forget what I said, the words just spilled out,” was Porcello’s first reply when asked about it at his locker.
Then he laughed.
“You’re right. I said what it looked like I said.”
The camera was on him at the time and his words were unmistakable. But in those words — and in that raw, but honest reaction — it could be seen just how much the Tigers are into this business of getting back to where they used to be.
And of pulling farther ahead of those who’ve been chasing them.
Chet Lemon used to say about Sparky Anderson that “Skip has eyes in the back of his head.”
And perhaps that’s the best spot for the eyes of the Tigers to be this week —because while they’ve been longingly gazing up at first place in the American League Central, hoping to retake a spot that’s not been theirs since Aug. 10 (the Royals won Tuesday to maintain their 1½-game lead), the Yankees have been in their rearview mirror.
You know, the one looking back at teams that are close, but trailing, in the wild-card standings.
Torii Hunter is one Tiger, however, who refuses to look into that mirror.
“I never look at the wild card,” said Hunter. “My goal is higher than that.”
Perhaps lost in all the anticipation of honoring Derek Jeter, for whom the Detroit portion of his career ends with this series, has been the fact that in the race for the second wild-card spot the Tigers led the Yankees by only two games at the start of this game.
That doesn’t bestow upon the Yankees the label of great team, but they did have certain pluses going for them against Porcello.
One thing was the way Brandon McCarthy had been throwing since the Arizona Diamondbacks traded him to the Yankees in early July.
In eight starts for New York, McCarthy was 5-2 with a 1.90 ERA — and had allowed just four earned runs in his last four starts.
McCarthy’s worst start so far as a Yankee suddenly arrived, however. In 61⁄3 innings, he allowed five runs on nine hits
Another plus for the Yankees was the way Jacoby Ellsbury had hit Porcello in the past — and obviously still does.
With his two home runs accounting for the only damage against the Tigers’ starter, who has come of age this season with a 15-8 record, Ellsbury is now 11-for-17 with four home runs off Porcello.
“A lot of guys have gotten a lot of hits off me,” Porcello said. “Maybe one day I’ll think of something that will get him out.”
But, again, those were the only runs the Yankees were able to muster.
The Tigers, meanwhile, didn’t hit like they did in Minnesota, but they hit — led by J.D. Martinez’s double and two singles.
And when they didn’t hit, the Tigers drew enough walks to manufacture — like the one they scored in the second on a bases-loaded walk to Rajai Davis after another walk and a pitch that hit Eugenio Suarez.
Back in the lineup after taking a couple of days (including an off day) to rest his sore right ankle, Miguel Cabrera doubled with one out in the third, and scored an out later from third on Martinez’s single.
The Martinez duo of Victor and J.D. began the bottom of the sixth with a single-double combination that helped to stretch the lead to 4-1 — and Hunter’s RBI single in the seventh made it 5-1.
That was after Porcello’s “thank you, Ian” in the top of the inning, of course.