Tigers defiant in victory: 'We don't roll over'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Upton #8 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates with teammates after scoring in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 15, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Baltimore — Was it a stay of execution for manager Brad Ausmus? Only he, general manager Al Avila and owner Mike Ilitch know the answer to that.

But the Tigers' dramatic 6-5 win over the Orioles Sunday at least put a temporary halt to the misery of the past two weeks.

“With all the publicity we’ve been going through the last two weeks, it’s nice to go home with the momentum changing to our way,” said closer Francisco Rodriguez.

With the Tigers trailing 5-4 with two outs in the eighth inning, J.D. Martinez connected on a 3-2 fastball from sidewinding right-hander Darren O’Day and sent it over the wall in left center. Miguel Cabrera followed and hit the next pitch from O’Day over the 364 marker in left field.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Orioles 5

It was like a lightning strike.

"When we came back against one of the best relievers in the game, the momentum totally changed," Rodriguez said. "The atmosphere changed. They were one pitch away — that's just how a good team comes back. I hope this is something we can take advantage of."

Alex Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth and Rodriguez, in just his third appearance since May 3, blew through the top of the Orioles order in the ninth to earn his ninth save.

“The big picture is, this was a bad road trip,” said Ausmus who the last few days has had to answer questions about his job security as the team lost 11 of 12 games. “But we still, I know these guys still believe this is a good team. We had to get through this stretch.

“Now we need to go home and play well, right away.”

The Tigers open a three-game series with the Twins at Comerica Park Monday.

Asked if the win had a little more meaning given all the rumors swirling around Ausmus, J.D. Martinez said, “Oh, yeah, obviously. You hate to think your manager’s job is on the line if you don’t go out and win a game. Because it’s not his fault. But this was a big win, all the way around.”

O’Day, one of the nastiest right-handed setup relievers in the game, particularly against right-handed hitters, thought he had Martinez struck out on a 2-2 slider that would have ended the eighth inning.

First-base umpire Mark Wegner ruled that Martinez checked his swing. Orioles manager Buck Showalter was apoplectic in the dugout and O’Day later told reporters that Wegner “embarrassed himself” with the call.

“I might’ve,” Martinez said when asked if though he swung. “I don’t know.”

O’Day had alternated getting Martinez out with all sliders or all fastballs. Both are tough coming from the extreme sidearm delivery.

“His whole game is deception,” Martinez said. “He makes you uncomfortable in the box. That’s how you feel when you are up there. You have to try and harness it, control it and try to battle him. That’s all I was trying to do — battle.”

Martinez said the Orioles pitching plan all series was to throw him fastballs up in the zone. So when O’Day threw one on 3-2, Martinez was ready.

“That game was pretty much in the bank for them,” Martinez said. “We were able to steal it from them. We kept battling and we finally got things to go our way.”

The lead changed hands four times. Ian Kinsler contributed a double and home run. Steven Moya, making the most of his promotion from Toledo, had three hits including a double and a triple. Justin Upton had two hits and Cabrera knocked in two runs.

The Tigers produced six runs and 13 hits and still left 11 on base.

“This showed me the same thing it shows me every night,” said Upton, when asked about the team’s persistence. “We battle our butts off every single game. Today it worked out for us.”

But don’t try to sell Upton on the idea that the win should provide a sense of relief. He’s not buying that.

“Nobody feels sorry for us, man,” he said. “Maybe y’all do. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. Those teams that beat us are happy with those wins. And we’re happy with ours. We need every win.”

The Tigers bullpen, which has been on a miserable run of late (20 runs allowed in the last seven games), shut down the Orioles for the final 4 2/3 innings and got a surprise boost from rookie Warwick Saupold.

After making his major-league debut Saturday night, he pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, struck out four and earned his first big-league win.

“Just had a sit back and take a deep breath,” said Saupold, who struck out Pedro Alvarez with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. “They’re human beings just like me and everybody else. I just had to make my pitches and get guys out.”

It was the first lead the Tigers maintained longer than a half-inning the entire series.

“This team doesn’t roll over,” Ausmus said. “I know it’s been 11 losses in 12 games, but they never quit. They never stop. They never mope. They never come in and say, ‘I don’t want to do batting practice, I don’t want to take ground balls.’

“They do their work every day. It stinks to lose, but they go about it the right way. I’d be shocked if this team ever rolled over at any point.”

Ausmus was asked if, given the rumors, this win was more emotional for him, personally?

“I go home with the win or the loss, that’s my only stat,” he said. “So every win is emotional.”

Twitter: @cmccosky