Detroit — Begin with Thursday's 83-degree weather that helped lure to Comerica Park at least some of the 32,455 sun-bathers who watched the Tigers trip the Orioles, 6-5.
There was merriment in the May air, particularly for folks who’ve pledged baseball allegiance to the Tigers.
Add to the revelry sounds of Latin music booming from the postgame Tigers clubhouse and you had a sure sign, affirmed by a final score, that Tigers players could feel as cheered Thursday as their fans by one day’s triumph and a series victory over the talented, quite terrific, visitors from Baltimore.
The Tigers had reason Thursday to regard this nine-inning collaboration as especially satisfying.
J.D. Martinez, who hasn’t seemed to notice he missed two months of the season and should be slowly working his way into murdering pitches, hit his fifth homer in six days, blasting a Dylan Bundy first-pitch change-up into the bullpen in left-center for a three-run homer that turned a 3-0 Orioles lead into a tie game.
Victor Martinez, who later Thursday jetted to Florida to be with his wife, Margret, as they prepared for the arrival of their fourth child, showed he might be approaching vintage V-Mart habits when he launched a two-run shot into the right-center field seats in the fifth that put the Tigers on top, 5-4, after the Orioles a half-inning earlier had gone ahead, 4-3.
And then there was the final act and ovation. It went to the Tigers bullpen. That’s headline stuff, at least in this region, but Shane Greene was like an angry exterminator as he wiped away the Orioles over 1 2/3 innings, with Alex Wilson giving his partner, Justin Wilson, a doubly happy breather thanks to a 1-2-3 closeout in the ninth.
“A little bit of everything,” acknowledged Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose team stepped to 20-19 on the season as another tough customer, the Rangers, rolls into Detroit for a three-game weekend series.
“We had solid pitching, overall. Got a couple of big hits. And the bullpen held it.”
Ausmus paused for a moment, and said: “Obviously, I think J.D. played a big part in it.”
It was Martinez’s third-inning bomb that shook up the scoreboard, and Thursday’s crowd, when he drove Bundy’s off-speed ploy just beyond the fence, 400 feet away.
These are Martinez’s numbers, trivialized as the term can be, since he was reunited with the Tigers last week in Anaheim, California:
Six games, five home runs, a .500 batting average, .680 on-base percentage, 1.438 slugging percentage for an OPS that looks like something NASA computed: 2.118.
In addition to his third-inning rocket off Bundy, he walked three times, which told everyone of minimal baseball IQ that the Orioles had seen just about enough of a certain right-handed hitter.
Martinez has now reached base 17 of 25 times since he departed the disabled list following a two-month shelving with a sprained right foot.
“No two ways about it, he rolled out of bed hot, and I just hope he doesn’t cool off for the next 4 1/2 months,” Ausmus said. “He’s seeing the ball very well and just taking good swings.”
The winning run, as it turned out, was the work of another Tigers hitter who these days simply can’t abide thoughts of making an out. Or getting a hit that isn’t ripped, or lashed, or driven against a fence or over it.
Alex Avila had a pair of doubles, one to each outfield corner. His second two-bagger came two batters after Victor Martinez’s missile into the bleachers, and one batter after Justin Upton had singled to center. Upton scored when Avila steered a Bundy pitch against the 345-mark in left.
Avila has now hit in 14 of the 21 games in which he has appeared this season. He is batting .377, with four home runs, six doubles, and 15 RBIs. Avila also had one of the day’s longest outs, a 410-foot drive to Comerica Park’s flagpole region that, because of Comerica’s extremes, became a fly out to center.
Five of the Tigers’ eight hits were of the extra-base flavor, all the more impressive given that Miguel Cabrera remains benched for a few days with a strained back.
The benefactors included Zimmermann. The Tigers starter is trying to excavate some of the old gold he regularly threw during his days with the Nationals and displayed during a dazzling April run in 2016.
He lasted six innings Thursday and was solid enough to have earned a victory that ran his record to 4-2.
Not that the day began snappily. Zimmermann tossed a 2-2 slider to Chris Davis in the first that Davis golfed into the right-field seats for a two-run homer and 2-0 Orioles lead in the first.
Zimmermann was slapped for three singles and a run in the second. And in the fifth, with the game knotted, 3-3, he was socked by Adam Jones for a homer that just slipped past Upton’s glove as the Tigers left-fielder leaped a tad late at the fence.
Zimmerann, though, was on track with his fastball (92-93 mph) and with a particularly deft curveball that was behind his six strikeouts. He walked one and allowed seven hits.
It helped compensate for the one-time out pitch that still is lagging, his slider, which was hit hard.
“I knew the slider wasn’t good early, but I had a really good feel for the curveball,” Zimmermann said. “I’m just going to keep working on the slider and hope the curveball sticks around.
“But,” he said, reminding himself that this had not been a bad day at the office, “if Jones doesn’t hit that ball out, it’s a quality start (six innings, three or fewer earned runs).”
All he needed was a bit of cooperation from his bullpen mates. He and the Tigers got it.
Blaine Hardy was the only reliever who wasn’t immaculate Thursday after he came on in the seventh and was popped for a home run by Seth Smith.
But then came Greene, whose fastball was cruising as high as 97, and whose secondary pitches have become as deadly. He pitched to five batters, striking out two, allowing no hits.
Alex Wilson cleaned up the Orioles in the ninth and the Tigers had a victory. As well as a feeling, perhaps, that the elements to win more and more of these kinds of games are present. It’s stringing the pieces together that’s tough — but fun for Tigers nation when it all coalesces as it did Thursday.