Henning: Tigers bounce back in time to face Royals
Chicago — In the Tigers clubhouse late Thursday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field it was almost a chore to hear players size up a 4-1 victory over the White Sox.
Anyone would have strained to catch a team's thoughts about a weekend home series that begins Friday night against the first-place Royals at Comerica Park.
Visitors would have missed a precious word or two as Tigers players talked about Thursday's triumph following a ghastly Wednesday night bullpen implosion. That meltdown, engineered by a nightmare of an outing from Joba Chamberlain, slammed a team with its worst defeat of 2015.
And the reason anyone with two functioning ears would have been stressed in picking up players' words Thursday is because a clubhouse stereo was blasting Latin music, at a celebratory volume, which confirmed how important a single victory was for manager Brad Ausmus' squad following Wednesday's debacle.
"Those late-inning losses are like a sock to the jaw," said Ausmus, who was partially protected from the booming audio as he sat in the visiting manager's office a few minutes after Thursday's victory. "This was a real nice bounce-back."
A team thank-you card might as well have been signed and delivered to the locker of Tigers starter Kyle Lobstein. He might be thought of as Justin Verlander's rotation fill-in, but the Tigers think of him as one cool cookie with left-handed pitches to match.
He glided through the White Sox on Thursday, allowing no earned runs and five hits in 7 2/3 innings of pitching so smooth Lobstein could have been doubling as a pastry chef.
He exited in the eighth, as Jose Abreu, the right-handed White Sox hammerer, came to the plate. And that meant Joakim Soria had to get a four-out save, which proved to be no sweat as Soria, who is 11-for-11 in saves in 2015, punched out not only Abreu, but then struck out the side in the ninth.
"It's funny," said Lobstein, a genial, intelligent 25-year-old. "I pitch 7 2/3 innings and get three strikeouts. Soria gets four strikeouts pitching to four batters."
The Tigers were probably due a grin Thursday following Wednesday's mess, which hit the team hard. Ausmus was still stinging Thursday when he was asked about Thursday's wrap-up of a 10-game road trip, which saw the Tigers go 5-5 against the Twins, Royals, and White Sox.
"If we hold on (Wednesday night), it's a great road trip," Ausmus said. "Now, it's just an OK road trip."
The Tigers are 18-11 on the season but only 11-10 in their last 21 games. They get ready for a Royals team that does just about everything right. And so this series, even one week into May, classifies as something bigger, something bolder, than the Tigers typically play 30 games into a new season.
"It's an amiable rivalry," Ausmus said of this steadily intensifying drama with the Royals. "It's also tough. It should be good baseball.
"When I played for Houston we had almost that same kind of rivalry with the Cardinals. There's more energy in the ballpark, not only for players, but for the fans, too."
Midwest weather is suddenly better and so should be the baseball this weekend. It was 86 degrees at game time Thursday in Chicago. Detroit's forecast is for the 80s and high 70s through this weekend.
That should help hitters this weekend at least as much as the pitchers. It seems to have agreed with Victor Martinez, who had three hits, including his first home run of the season on Wednesday, and followed up with a double and two singles Thursday.
Martinez got help Thursday from Ian Kinsler (double, single, scored a run), as well as Miguel Cabrera (1-for-3 plus two runs scored and an RBI, with an intentional walk and a hit-by-pitch pass included). The Tigers also got a lift from Nick Castellanos, who had a RBI single and who was responsible for a possible game-turning double play in the fourth.
With the bases loaded, one run in, and none out, Castellanos snared Alexei Ramirez's ground ball, dance-stepped across third base for a force-out, then lofted a throw to catcher Alex Avila, who tagged out Abreu for the second out.
"Heads-up play by Nick," Ausmus said.
"If it was (Adam) Eaton or (Micah) Johnson," he explained, referring to a pair of White Sox speedsters, "I probably would have gone home with the throw (forgoing the force at third)."
But he knew he had time to make both moves. It helped win a baseball game Thursday the Tigers needed as badly as they needed to forget about Wednesday's debacle.
It explained why the clubhouse music was cranked to a deliriously high decibel-level.
A huge victory crafted by a substitute starter wrapped up a thorny road trip and sent the Tigers to their team charter feeling restored, perhaps, as they got ready for an evening at home and some impending voltage at Comerica Park.
David Price pitches tonight for the Tigers. Yordano Ventura, whose fastball might as well be measured in BTUs as in mph, will go for the Royals.
Don't expect the Tigers or Royals to make anything undue of this series, however it plays out.
But the pennant race is on.