Cincinnati — Strange game, baseball. And this time we’re not even talking about the crazy COVID-19 environment with no fans and quiet stadiums. In the Tigers' 6-4 win over the Reds Saturday, the weirdness — and, frankly, the fun — was contained inside the lines.
With the game tied in the top of the ninth, JaCoby Jones came to bat with no outs and a runner at first. He made two feeble attempts at a sacrifice bunt. Then, against the Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, he swatted a 96-mph fastball on a line onto the berm beyond the center-field wall.
"I got back to the dugout and I told Gardy, 'Screw the bunt, this is Cincinnati, you've gotta let me hit,'" Jones joked afterward.
Actually, he was doubly-frustrated before he socked that fastball over the wall.
"Just frustrated with myself because I didn't get the bunt down," he said. "Then he hung a breaking back and I fouled it off. I figured he was going to come back with a fastball and I put a good swing on it."
Tigers closer Joe Jimenez closed it out, though he walked Josh VanMeter and got a superb diving stop by first baseman C.J. Cron to quell any possible uprising.
All in all, in a game in which Tigers' hitters struck out 17 times, it was an encouraging win.
"We're playing, we want to win ballgames here," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And we've added people that know how to win ballgames. Our first baseman made a great play down the line. Things like that are going to make a difference as we go along here.
"And we're hoping our young guys learn from these guys and grow."
The Tigers looked dead in the water after six innings. Reds starter Luis Castillo, with his 98-mph fastball and disintegrating change-up, was dominant. He struck out 11 in just six innings, including Miguel Cabrera three times, all swinging third strikes. There is a small list of pitchers, seven to be exact, who’d ever done that in one game.
Castillo, much to the Tigers’ delight though, left after six with a 3-1 lead. The first batter to face reliever Robert Stephenson, Austin Romine, cut the lead to 3-2 with a home run to left. Then Jones followed with a single.
It looked like the inning would end there when, with one out, Jonathan Schoop hit a routine ground ball to shortstop Freddy Galvis.
The veteran Galvis apparently lost track of the outs because he nonchalantly made the throw to first and started running off the diamond. Except that was two outs and now the tying run was on second base and Cabrera was up.
And Cabrera, even after three strikeouts in a game and 0-for-6 on the young season, is still Miguel Cabrera.
He worked a full count against reliever Michael Lorenzen and then sent a fastball on a line into the left-field seats, just inside foul pole. It was his 478th career home run, passing Adrian Beltre for 30th on the all-time list, and it put the Tigers ahead for the first time this season — 4-3.
"They had guys just throwing the living fire out of the ball over there, but you are still taking your chances," Gardenhire said. "They got him a few times, but the great ones, like Miggy is, they find a way to get you back. That's what happened."
The two RBIs moved Cabrera past Cal Ripken, Jr., into 25th place all-time on that chart.
"We got the ball, I think," Gardenhire said. "That's why I'm so upset (former bench coach) Steve Liddle retired. He was great at getting balls back and keeping up with Miggy's milestones.
"Now we've got Lloyd (McClendon) figuring it out. He knows how to get the balls back, but I'm not sure if he knows all the stats."
That 4-3 lead lasted three batters. Curt Casali, a former Tigers prospect, hit a two-out home run to right field — the Reds third home run of the day — off lefty reliever Tyler Alexander.
The Tigers dodged a bullet in the bottom of the eighth. Setup man Buck Farmer appeared to be out of the inning when he got Nick Senzel to ground to short. But second baseman Schoop couldn't handle the throw from shortstop Niko Goodrum and suddenly the Reds had runners at second and third and two outs.
Farmer, though, got Galvis to ground out.
Before that, former Tiger Nick Castellanos sent a line drive to the wall in center field. Jones, though, raced back to the wall and hauled it in.
"When it left his bat, I thought it was a home run," Jones said. "But it died pretty quick. Maybe he got it off the end of the bat, I don't know."
Ivan Nova started for the Tigers and pitched five solid innings. He allowed just three hits, but two left the park — solo home run by Joey Votto and a two-run shot by Galvis.
But Castillo stole the show for six innings. Besides the 11 punch-outs, he also got 24 swings and misses. The Tigers did well to scratch out six hits, including an RBI double by Cron.
After striking out 13 times on Friday, Tigers hitters K'd 17 times on Saturday.
Veteran right fielder Cameron Maybin left the game in the seventh inning with a lower-body cramp.
After what Tigers hitters have had to deal with in the first two games of this season-opening series Sonny Gray and Castillo, facing Trevor Bauer in the finale Sunday will feel like a relief. And that’s saying something because facing Bauer is no walk in the park.