Tigers hit five homers, complete sweep of Cubs

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Chicago — Kicking and screaming, to be sure, the Tigers had to head home late Wednesday night.

They're sure going to miss their home away from home.

For the second time in as many games at Wrigley Field, the offense absolutely erupted, en route to a 15-8 victory -- one that has to feel awfully comforting for a Tigers team that has long-shot playoff hopes, but is heading into a 11-game stretch that includes 10 games against wild-card contenders.

Nick Castellanos had two homers, two doubles and five RBIs in headlining a 21-hit shellacking of a good Cubs team that not only got beat up pretty badly on the field, but also in the stands. Tigers fans took over the Friendly Confines for a second straight night and might have made up the majority of the crowd of 40,310.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 15, Cubs 8

Detroit racked up 25 runs on 40 hits in the two-game sweep — which was the Tigers' first sweep since they started 6-0.

"Wow," Rajai Davis said, shaking his head. "I can't believe that."

It got so bad for Cubs pitchers, that even Tigers pitchers were getting in on the act.

In his first at-bat in a regulaton game since high school, Tigers starter Daniel Norris, batting lefty against Cubs lefty Jon Lester, smashed a moon-shot home run to center field, bringing the crowd to an ear-shattering roar.

He was the first Tigers pitcher to homer since Jason Johnson in 2005, and the first pitcher to homer in his first major league at-bat since Tommy Millone in 2011.

"It was kind of surreal," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.

Norris put on an impressive display of power during batting practice Tuesday, even hitting one home run so hard that it broke a light fixture on the electronic scoreboard over the ivy-covered wall in right.

Norris, who walked his second time up as Lester tried to get him out with off-speed stuff, didn't get cheated with any swing. Of course, one has to wonder about possible repercussions.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, he suffered a strained right oblique muscle and had to leave the game.

Norris took a couple warm-up tosses with a trainer and Brad Ausmus watching, and on the second one, he was visibly upset. Ausmus said will go on the disabled list; Norris wants to wait until the results of Thursday's MRI before making that official.

Norris did say this much: He doesn't think swinging the bat did any damage.

"Honestly," he said. "I would tell you if I thought it did. I was kind of disappointed."

The early exit made for another long night for the Tigers bullpen, which used Tom Gorzelanny, Al Alburquerque, Drew VerHagen (just up from Toledo), Matt Boyd and winning pitcher Neftali Feliz (3-3). None of them pitched a clean inning, making for dicey times in the middle innings, before the Tigers put it away.

Detroit jumped all over Lester (8-9), on a night Murphy's bar across the street lit up its sign with "Lester is More."

More hits for the Tigers, maybe.

Castellanos homered off him in consecutive at-bats, the first a solo and the second a grand slam — and was the first Tiger with four extra-base hits in a game since Pudge Rodriguez in 2006.

Clayton Richard, the Michigan alum, relieved Lester, and quieted the Tigers enough for the Cubs to at least make it interesting, with Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant touching Norris for a pair of wind-blown homers in the third inning.

Things got really tense for Detroit in the fifth, after Gorzelanny relieved Norris and promptly walked the first two batters he faced to load the bases.

That brought the potential tying run to the plate in Anthony Rizzo, who popped out. Alburquerque then came on and got Jorge Soler to pop out to end the threat.

The Cubs kept scoring off VerHagen — brought in for the seventh inning instead of rested Alex Wilson, despite the heart of the Cubs lineup coming in — and Co., but the Tigers offense remained relentless, thanks to the first opposite-field homer of Davis' career, an RBI triple by Anthony Gose and RBI doubles from Tyler Collins (one at-bat after he was asked to sacrifice bunt, with the wind blowing out hard to right) and Victor Martinez.

J.D. Martinez capped the Tigers scoring with a two-run shot in the ninth, his 32nd homer of the season. The Tigers scored in each of the last four innings, taking some of the pressure of their depleted bullpen.

"They kept tacking on," Ausmus said, "when the other team was chasing. We swung the bats well."

In two days, the Tigers' sent the Cubs' team ERA from 3.38 to 3.56, an almost unheard-of rise this deep into a season.

Ian Kinsler had a couple hits and an RBI, making up for a couple errors in the field. Miguel Cabrera had three hits and RBI, plus another spectacular diving play at first base, cutting off a Cubs rally in the eighth inning.

Speaking of defense, shortstop Jose Iglesias made a dazzling play in the hole to cut off another Cubs rally an inning earlier.

The Tigers, somehow, someway, remain on the fringes of the wild-card race, and now head home to play one of those teams ahead of them in the standings — the Rangers — for a four-game set, followed by three at home against the Rays and three on the road against the Blue Jays, with a one-game makeup against the Reds sandwiched in there.