Detroit — It was a good weekend for business at Comerica Park, and not just for the obvious reasons.
It started with a team meeting that was perhaps overdue but also thoroughly downplayed by the Tigers — “Meeting? What team meeting?” Miguel Cabrera joked Sunday — following an embarrassing Friday night display coming out of the All-Star break.
And it ended with a 6-5 extra-inning victory over Toronto, a 4-hour, 16-minute getaway grind that was capped in strangely dramatic fashion: a walk-off walk from Cabrera to cap a hitless rally in the bottom of the 11th on Sunday.
But the backdrop for all that added some context, and maybe even some comfort as the Tigers’ brass tries to figure out what comes next, as the team heads to Kansas City to begin a critical seven-game trip and a 10-game stretch against AL Central opponents.
The trade deadline is looming, and the Tigers are still languishing, 6½ games and eight teams out of the final wild-card spot. So even this series win over Toronto — only the eighth in 25 series for the Tigers since mid-April — doesn’t amount to much.
“But you gotta still go out there and play, man,” Cabrera said. “Never say we’re gonna give up. We’re in a bad situation right now, we know. But we feel pride in what we are, what we can put on the table. So we’re going to go out there and try to do our jobs better and try to win more games.”
If that sounds like wishful thinking, so be it. For Cabrera, who voiced his displeasure last week about the incessant trade talk swirling around his team, it’s about all he can say at this point. He knows he’s probably not going anywhere, no matter what Alex Rodriguez said on TV the other day. And he knows others likely are, no matter what happens the next two weeks.
In that sense, Sunday actually might have helped the bottom line. Not just with all those Blue Jays fans flocking to downtown Detroit, thousands of them among a crowd for the finale of three-game series that drew a season-best 115,088 attendance. (Sunday’s crowd of 37,173 was the smallest of the bunch.)
No, it probably didn’t hurt, either, that J.D. Martinez hit the tying home run in the eighth inning or that Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless ninth to get it to extra innings or that Alex Avila drew a leadoff walk and scored the winning run.
Those appear to be the Tigers’ three most-coveted trade chips heading into the July 31 non-waiver deadline. And while one game won’t dramatically alter their value, every little bit helps, especially with scouts from the two best teams in baseball — the Astros and Dodgers — on hand this weekend.
Martinez might not end up in Los Angeles, but it seems there’s plenty of interest in the pending free agent coming from the National League West, with Colorado and Arizona also among the teams reportedly eyeing the Tigers’ right fielder.
He’s riding an eight-game hitting streak and drove in seven runs with four hits, including a pair of homers, this weekend. And while his .308/.389/.636 slash line is impressive enough, his ridiculous numbers against left-handed pitching (18-for-34 with a 1.738 OPS) can only strengthen his appeal in baseball’s best division.
Wilson, meanwhile, is an even bigger draw as a left-handed, late-inning reliever, something almost every contending team could use. Wilson hadn’t gotten much work lately, with just one appearance in 10 days. But he showed no signs of rust in a 1-2-3 ninth Sunday, needing only 11 pitches to get through the bottom of the order and then leadoff man Jose Bautista, who’d homered earlier off starter Anibal Sanchez.
The hard-throwing Wilson has allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out 11 over his last eight appearances. And since getting promoted to that ninth-inning role after the Tigers finally gave up the ghost with veteran Francisco Rodriguez, Wilson clearly has found a groove.
“The mindset hasn’t changed,” said Wilson, who has converted 10 of his 11 save opportunities this season. “I think I was just a little inconsistent when I first got moved to the closer’s role. Probably trying to do a little too much right out of the gates. But once I slowed it down and got back to one pitch at a time, it’s been all good. …
“I was put in that role, and I want to excel at it. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Here, or elsewhere. Wilson knows it’s likely to be the latter. And perhaps sooner rather than later, now that the market is coming into focus.
The Washington Nationals filled their glaring need in the bullpen Sunday by striking a deal with the Oakland A’s for a pair of relievers — one lefty, one righty — in Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. In return, the A’s got a pair of solid prospects in addition to a major-league reliever in Blake Treinen. But that still leaves plenty of suitors out there, including the Astros, a team that engaged the Tigers in trade discussions for Wilson over the offseason.
Avila, who has cooled off considerably after that torrid start, didn’t enter Sunday’s game until the eighth inning. Yet he again showed why a team like, say, the Chicago Cubs would be eager to add him to the roster for a pennant chase.
The veteran catcher fell behind 0-2 facing lefty Jeff Beliveau leading off the 11th, but managed to work the count full and fouled off a 3-2 fastball before drawing a walk. After a sacrifice, an error and two more walks, Avila trotted home for the victory.
Afterward, though, he was asked if this might be the start of something more for the Tigers — the kind of traction they’ve been struggling to find all season. And much like Cabrera, he could only shrug at the question, with the future so uncertain.
“I don’t know,” Avila said. “We’ll find out.”