'We came out swinging': Tigers blast 4 HRs in 5-run first to plaster Pirates 11-5
Pittsburgh — C.J. Cron has been in this game long enough not to get overwhelmed by bad stretches or good stretches. So, his response to the Tigers' first inning Saturday was classic.
"It's a good start to a ballgame, for sure," he said.
After scoring 17 runs with the help of just one solo home run Friday night, the Tigers took a more violent tack Saturday. And veteran left-hander Derek Holland hardly knew what hit him.
Niko Goodrum hit the second pitch of the game into the left-field seats. After a well-struck single by Jonathan Schoop, Miguel Cabrera, Cron and Jeimer Candelario followed with home runs, each one louder and longer than the last.
"When something like that happens early in the game, you can feel it in the dugout," said Cron, who now has four homers on the year. "People are excited and they want to step up and do the same."
When the smoke cleared, the Tigers were up 5-0 and on their way to an 11-5 win against the Pirates, their second straight at PNC Park.
"My old boss, (former Twins manager) Tom Kelly, his big statement was always, 'Make sure you're ready for the first inning,'" manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I'm going to think we were ready for that first inning today. We came out swinging."
Some fun facts:
►It was the first time in club history the Tigers hit four home runs before an out was recorded. It hadn’t happened across baseball since the Royals did it in 2018, per Elias Sports Bureau.
►It was the first time since 1974 that the Tigers hit four home runs in the first inning — Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Mickey Stanley and Eddie Brinkman did the honors back then.
►It was the first time since 2013 that they hit four in any single inning — Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Cabrera.
And here’s the tale of the tape on the four dingers, in terms of exit velocity and distance — it felt like a home run crescendo:
Goodrum — 99.6 mph, 375 feet.
Cabrera — 93 mph, 351 feet.
Cron — 101.6 mph, 404 feet.
Candelario — 105.1 mph, 437 feet.
"Offensively, we're pretty confident right now in what we do," Cron said. "We have a pretty good lineup construction with guys who get on base and guys who can drive them in. And we've got one of the best nine-hole hitters in the game so we're transitioning through the lineup really well right now."
That No. 9 hitter, JaCoby Jones also homered Saturday, a 430-footer to center field that bounced out of the stadium.
"Everyone is starting to get comfortable in their role and understanding what they want to do," Cron said. "At the end of the day, guys are starting to hit their stride here and it's good to see."
The Tigers scored 17 runs on 16 hits Friday. They had 16 more hits Saturday. That after being shutout by the Reds last Sunday and having an unexpected four-day break. Cron, for example, came into Pittsburgh on a 1 for 18 skid. Goodrum was 2 for 19. Candelario was 2 for 14.
"It's just the ebbs and flows of the game," Cron said. "Maybe if we would've played on Monday we would have scored 10 runs. It's impossible to say...It's no secret I had a pretty terrible home stand. But it's nice to get on the road, a new setting — for some reason, that stuff just clicks.
"I didn't want to press or do anything crazy. Just trust my ability and I was pretty confident it would work out eventually."
Cron has two home runs, a double and four RBIs in two games here. Candelario had three hits Saturday and has had six in the two games. Goodrum had three doubles, a home run and six RBIs in the two games here.
Cabrera got into the act Saturday with three hits and three RBIs. The home run was No. 481 in his career and he now has 1,701 career RBIs, passing Jim Thome into 24th on the all-time RBI list.
Cron gave him an assist for on his home run, too. Cabrera hit an 0-2 curveball off Holland. And Cron went to school.
"Miggy helped me out a lot," Cron said. "He hit a curveball, so when I got to 0-2, I didn't totally throw out the curveball, but I had confidence he would try to be me up top or inside with a fastball.
"If Miggy doesn't go deep on 0-2, it would've opened up more pitches for Holland."
The Tigers batted around twice in the game Friday and twice again on Saturday. The second time was in the sixth inning, after the Pirates had cut the lead to 6-5 against starter Ivan Nova.
After using seven relievers Friday night, the Pirates needed Holland to pitch as deep in the game as possible, but in retrospect, they might’ve cut their losses after five innings.
Jones led off the sixth with his fourth home run of the season, then Goodrum and Schoop followed with back-to-back doubles.
The Tigers' third run of the sixth inning came after a frightening collision down the right-field line between Pirates right fielder Jorge Polanco and first baseman Phillip Evans. Both men weigh more than 200 pounds and they were chasing a foul pop fly by Cabrera.
Polanco caught the ball, but his elbow struck Evans in the side of the head. Evans appeared to be knocked out cold and lay motionless for several seconds. Schoop tagged from second and scored on the play.
"The was a scary moment," Gardenhire said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with him and that team over there. We're hoping that young man is going to be OK. That rattles your bones when you see something like that, when you see a young man down like that."
Evans, who was moving his extremities, was eventually carted off the field and taken to a nearby hospital for tests. As of 9 p.m., he was still under observation.
"You never want to see that," Cron said. "It kind of puts it in perspective. That's the position I play and it could happen to anybody. It's super unfortunate...It's tough to see. You just hope everything goes well for him."
The Tigers are now 7-5 on the year.