Houston — You play nine full innings. No matter what. Nine full.
Isn’t that what Jim Leyland used to preach?
The Tigers continue show a high battle level in the early going this season.
Down 3-0 after Justin Verlander was tagged for two first-inning home runs, the Tigers scratched and clawed and came away with a hard-earned, 5-3 win over the Houston Astros on Saturday.
“I don’t know if that’s something that’s developing,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whose sixth-inning home run put the Tigers in front. “I think it’s been here, long before I got here. When I faced them and caught, it’s not an easy team to call a game for.
“But I can see that’s the way they still are.”
Saltalamacchia has hit three home runs this season, and each one put the Tigers ahead. This one was a two-run shot off the foul pole in right field off Astros starter Collin McHugh, taking the Tigers from a run down to a run ahead.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have guys on base,” he said. “I’ve been getting a lot of opportunity, which in the past I’ve never really had in the seven hole. It just goes to show how deep this lineup is.”
According to BaseballReference.com, 22 of Saltalamacchia’s 101 career home runs put his team in the lead.
“With our offense, I gave up three early but if I can settle down and keep us in the game, we have a chance to win,” Verlander said.
That’s how it went.
Verlander gave up a ringing single to Jose Altuve and a home run to George Springer; just six pitches into the game he was down 2-0. After two strikeouts, he gave up a long home run to Tyler White.
At that point, he had allowed 13 hits and 10 runs in his last 5 1/3 innings, going back to his previous start. But he quickly turned the page.
“It was his fastball (the home run pitches),” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But I think it woke him up and he started going to more of his off-speed pitches. The curveball was good, his change-up was good and so was his slider.”
After a quick and clean second, Verlander sandwiched a pair of walks around a single by Springer. But he picked off Altuve at first base (his 25th career pickoff) and then struck out White looking at an inside fastball with runners at first and third.
It was the last real trouble he was in. Verlander wound up going six innings, allowing just the three runs with eight strikeouts.
“Verlander was good,” Saltalamacchia said. “His stuff was crisp. He had a good fastball that he was locating. There were a lot of pitches on the corner that I thought were pretty good pitches, but he didn’t give in. He kept sticking his spots.”
Saltalamacchia was surprised to hear the radar gun readings on Verlander’s fastball were 89-91 mph.
“I would have guessed it was harder than that,” he said. “It was coming out good. His deception was nice. He was holding the ball, keeping it hidden and it was popping out good.”
The Tigers added an important run in the top of the ninth off fireballer Josh Fields. Miguel Cabrera (who had three hits) singled and scored on a double by Victor Martinez.
A rested back end of the bullpen sealed the deal.
Justin Wilson gave up a lead-off single to pinch hitter Marwin Gonzalez in the seventh but erased him on a 4-6-3 double play and struck out Altuve.
Mark Lowe pitched a clean eighth — two ground outs and called strike three on Colby Rasmus.
And closer Francisco Rodriguez ended the game with three quick outs for his third save.
“We are getting into a rhythm,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been pretty good lately. Obviously this is what the organization and the fans are expecting from us. So we’re going to try and continue to keep it the way it is.”
It was quite a night for Castellanos. He had a double and two singles — all in two-strike counts (0-2, 1-2, 2-2). He also made two athletic defensive plays at third base in the sixth inning, both going quickly to his left on hard-hit balls.
The sixth through ninth hitters in the Tigers lineup — Castellanos, Saltalamacchia, Anthony Gose and Jose Iglesias – combined for eight hits, three runs and three RBIs.
“It’s just a matter of trusting each other,” Saltalamacchia said. “No one feels any pressure like they have to be the one to do it. One through nine, we’ve got guys who can get the job done and have gotten the job done.
“We don’t have to depend on Miggy all the time, or Victor or Kins.”