Detroit – If this really was a World Series preview, well …
Actually, strike that.
We won’t know for several months if this was any sort of sneak peek, nor were these two games any barometer of how a Tigers-Dodgers Fall Classic might even shake out.
After all, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez figure to be in any lineup Brad Ausmus posts in October.
But neither played Wednesday, and, it didn’t do a thing to slow the Tigers, who jumped all over Zack Greinke early en route to a 4-1 victory Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park.
“I believe the other guys can step up,” said winning pitcher Max Scherzer (11-3), surely in All-Star form ahead of his second trip to the All-Star Game. “I believe that everybody in this clubhouse, all 25 guys, when they get their number called, that they’re gonna respond.”
From Austin Jackson to Joe Nathan, and everywhere in between, the Tigers got contributions. On offense. On defense. On the bases. And, of course, on the mound.
Sure, it might not have been the unhittable Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the Dodgers on Wednesday. But if Greinke is a slouch, he’s a slouch to Kershaw only. Didn’t matter.
You name it, the Tigers did it — for the second consecutive day, to complete a two-game sweep over the National League powerhouse. With that, the Tigers became the sixth major-league ballclub to win 50 games, and in their 87th game, it’s the fastest they’ve gotten there since 2007.
That’s despite a fascinating rollercoaster first half for the Tigers, who’ve been really good for two long stretches, really bad for one — and had actually dropped three of four games to the Rays before the Dodgers came calling.
“Guys, we play 162 games,” Scherzer said, with the tone of a school teacher — all he was missing were the eye glasses down to the bridge of his nose. “You’re going to get on streaks.
“I don’t get caught up in whether we’re playing well or we’re not playing well,” Scherzer said. “I know that the next day, we have a starter who can go out there and give us a chance to win and we have a lineup that can produce some runs. Every single day, I think we can win.”
After falling behind 5-0 to the Dodgers in the first inning Tuesday night, the Tigers absolutely owned this highly hyped series, outscoring the opposition 18-1 over the next 17 innings.
Sure, the pitching was mostly outstanding after Justin Verlander’s rocky first. But they got help, too — right off the bat Wednesday. Yasiel Puig laced a one-out triple, but Hanley Ramirez followed with a shot to shortstop Eugenio Suarez. The rookie, rather than take the easy out to first, showed great instincts in catching Puig too far off third base for an out. A batter later, left fielder Rajai Davis made a fine running catch on an Adrian Gonzalez sinking flyball to end the inning.
After that, the Tigers offense picked right back up where it left off in Tuesday’s scoreboard explosion. Jackson, enjoying his return to leadoff, starting things with a triple, and quickly scoring on Ian Kinsler’s single to left. A wild pitch and two strikeouts later, Don Kelly — batting in the fifth spot again, to the dismay of Tigers fans — laced a two-out single off Greinke, for Kelly’s first RBI since May 22.
Kelly added a single during a fourth-inning rally — and later, just for good measure, was intentionally walked for the second time in his career, and second time in as many seasons. The move by Don Mattingly actually worked, but was a head-scratcher.
“Not saying I’m getting used to it,” Kelly said, laughing. “But I’ll take them.”
The Tigers strung three consecutive singles together to lead off the fourth inning, by J.D. Martinez and Kelly followed by Nick Castellanos’ RBI knock. That gave the Tigers three runs, marking just the fifth time in 19 starts this season Greinke (11-5) has even allowed three runs in a start.
Not that Greinke pitched poorly. Like Scherzer, he also went seven, and struck out eight to no walks.
The Tigers, though, tacked on insurance in the eighth. Jackson sparked things again with a leadoff double off Brandon League, and later scored on Torii Hunter’s sacrifice fly.
That was more than enough for Scherzer, who threw seven mostly low-stress innings — although he worked around the Puig triple in the first and a Puig leadoff double in the sixth. (The latter scenario, he got big help from an Alex Avila block on a ball in the dirt.) The only run allowed was the first career home run by Miguel Rojas. Scherzer gave up just four hits to this lethal Dodgers lineup, half to Puig. He struck out seven, while walking two — leadoff walks that proved no harm.
Scherzer, at 101 pitches, told Ausmus he could’ve gone one more inning, but Ausmus saw an opportunity to get Joba Chamberlain and closer Joe Nathan some meaningful work — and took it. Each reliever was dynamite, each with two strikeouts in a perfect inning — Nathan’s earning him the 18th save, much to the delight of a crowd of 36,462 which serenaded him with a “Let’s Go Joe” chant.
So go ahead, pick a Tiger, any Tiger — odds are, they did the job Wednesday, as the Tigers wore smiles heading to Kansas City for the final four games before the All-Star break.
Just don’t pick Cabrera, who had his first break this season, or Martinez, who remains out of the lineup with a side injury. They didn’t play, nor did it matter.
“Obviously we have some great players, but it’s gonna be big for Miggy to get days like that, to get him rest, to make sure he’s fresh,” said Chamberlain, whose ERA dipped down a bit to 2.78. “It’s nice for guys to step up.
“Twenty-five guys it’s gonna take to win this thing.”