Detroit — Sometimes amidst the rubble of a lost season, a flower pokes through.
The Tigers’ 5-3 win over the American League West-leading Houston Astros on Saturday was one of those moments.
“It was a good baseball game,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “We haven’t played well recently and we haven’t won much recently. But we played well tonight.”
Trailing 3-1 after being shackled for six innings by the breaking-ball wizardry of right-hander Collin McHugh, the Tigers scored three times in the seventh inning and added another run in the eighth off the Astros bullpen.
The win ended the Tigers' four-game losing streak. It was the second time they’ve won when trailing after six innings (2-42) and the third time they’ve won without the benefit of a home run (3-28).
“We were resilient tonight,” starter and winner Matthew Boyd said. “The Astros are a good team but we stuck to it all the way until the end. We just kept fighting. It was a good team win.”
The Tigers mustered just four hits and a run off McHugh, making just his second start of the season since coming off the disabled list (shoulder). They had no such problems with right-hander Francis Martes.
He hit Nick Castellanos in the left hand with a 96-mph fastball to start the seventh. Castellanos went to third on a single by Victor Martinez and scored on a wild pitch. Jose Iglesias then ripped a double to right-center to score Martinez from second.
It was Iglesias’ second double and second RBI.
“It was nice to put a good swing on a ball and get the result that the team needed,” said Iglesias, who has 21 doubles and 34 RBIs in 84 games. He had 32 RBIs in 137 games last season.
Ian Kinsler knocked in the go-ahead run off right-hander Chris Devenski. Then Martinez, who had three hits, dropped a two-out single through the Astros’ over-shifted defense in the eighth to score Justin Upton.
Upton had walked and stole second to set up the run.
“That was an important steal by Upton,” Ausmus said.
The Tigers stole two bases in the game. Castellanos going first to third on Martinez’s single was a big play in the seventh. Iglesias hustling to stretch his RBI hit into a double and being in position to score on Kinsler’s base hit was another big play.
And, on this night, the pitching and defense held up its end of the bargain.
It had been a hectic couple of days for Boyd. His wife Ashley gave birth to their first child on Thursday and then on Saturday he posted his third straight quality start since his call-up from Toledo.
“It’s just about living in the moment,” said Boyd, who needed just 82 pitches to get through 7 1/3 innings. “Focus on the task at hand. When you cross that threshold in the locker room, it’s business. It’s executing pitches and controlling what you can control.”
He gave up a two-run home run to Evan Gattis in the first and then settled in nicely. After getting out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the second, he allowed just three hits more — including an RBI triple by Derek Fisher. He didn't walk anybody and didn't face a single three-ball count.
“To be honest, Boyd and McHugh are pretty similar — just one throws right-handed and one throws left-handed,” catcher Alex Avila said. “Both have that overhand curve ball and that was the equalizer. It was for Matt tonight.
“When Matt is locating all his pitches like he was, he will run through some pretty good lineups.”
He got a boost from two superb defensive plays by Kinsler.
The first came in the second when Boyd picked off Jake Marisnick at first base with runners at the corners and one out. Kinsler eventually made the tag near second base after a long rundown — 1-3-6-3-4.
He completely fooled Marisnick with a full-body-turn bluff to home.
“That turned out a little bit weird,” Kinsler said. “I lost track of the guy who was at third through the whole rundown. When I caught the throw, Marisnick stopped. I went to check third because I lost track of him for a while. I knew Marisnick was skidding to a stop so I knew I’d be able to make the tag.”
But he never intended to turn his body completely around toward the plate.
“I was worried the guy might have broke for the plate,” he said. “I know I had time to check, but I didn't want to turn my whole body. I just wanted to check and then tag him. It just worked out that I turned my whole body and was still able to make the tag.”
Marisnick had bitten on the fake and nearly ran into the tag.
"That caught me off guard," Ausmus said. "I didn't know what Kins was doing and I was a little nervous he guy was going to get to second."
Boyd was at 80 pitches through seven innings and with left-handed hitting Josh Reddick leading off the eighth, Ausmus wanted him to face one more batter before turning it over to Shane Greene.
Reddick hit a high, foul pop down the first-base line which was angling for the seats beyond the tarp. Kinsler ran 119 feet and caught it at the railing.
“That was actually a great play,” said Iglesias, who has made his share of them this year. “I don’t get impressed by a lot of defensive plays. But that was one of them.”
Kinsler had to negotiate the railing, the wind, the fans and on-charging right fielder Jim Adduci.
“I was playing to pull,” Kinsler said. “Nick (Castellanos) was over there with me (in a shift) so I was probably six or seven strides to the right of where I normally start. Reddick runs well, so I couldn't be too far back. It wasn't a normal shift. I was closer to the edge of the dirt. But I had time to slow down and find the ball.”
It helped, he said, that the wind was working in his favor.
“There's a lot of things you are thinking about, but mostly the wall,” he said. “You kind of deal with the fans when you get there. But a lot of it was the ball. The ball was getting pushed back a lot tonight for some reason.
“Running after it, it looked like it was going to be deep, but it kept coming back. It looked like it was going to be five rows deep but it kept blowing back.”
Greene then dispatched Jose Altuve, who went 0-for-4 and ended his 19-game hitting streak, and Yuli Gurriel to end the eighth.
Closer Justin Wilson locked it up, inducing Marwin Gonzalez to hit into a 4-6-3 double play, for his 13th save.
“Right now, this doesn’t mean anything,” Martinez said. “We need to win ballgames. Not just win one and then go ahead and lose six, seven, eight in a row. We need to come back and win again tomorrow. We need to be consistent.”