Tigers gunning for Fenway sweep after wild win
Boston — Fenway Park Game.
Big-league students know all about the strain of baseball so often played at a place in Boston where scores can mutate in minutes and seconds and turn nine-inning order into disorder.
Hello, Tigers and Red Sox.
They staged a vintage Fenway Park passion play Tuesday in Back Bay as the Tigers, who were either up by a lot or down by a lot — check this moment’s scoreboard, please — finally and officially won, 9-8, thanks to the winning run scoring on a bases-loaded walk in the seventh.
The Tigers, who limped into Boston after having lost a pair to the White Sox on Sunday, have, true to their 2016 ways, pivoted with back-to-back victories against the high-octane Red Sox.
“Tonight, they counter-punched us,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose team had a pair of big leads that melted away amid Fenway’s 92-degree heat and a scorching Red Sox offense. “It was kind of ironic, in a game with so many runs, that a walk was the difference.”
The Tigers had taken a 4-0 lead, been tossed into a 5-4 hole, then taken an 8-5 edge, the Red Sox stormed back to tie the game, 8-8, in the sixth. A half-inning later, Tyler Collins worked a two-out, bases-loaded pass from reliever Robbie Ross Jr., which pushed home Justin Upton, who had begun the surge when, with two outs, he was hit by a pitch.
Bruce Rondon pitched a diabolical seventh — 1, 2, 3 on triple-digit fastballs and venomous sliders — ahead of tidy mop-up work by Shane Greene and Francisco Rodriguez to hand the Tigers a second consecutive conking of their friends from Boston.
Rondon’s blistering put-away was perhaps the most dramatic single inning of relief by a Tigers pitcher this season.
“We need to see more of it, though,” said Ausmus, who is mindful that Rondon has had his flashes and fade-outs the past three years, two of which were impacted by Tommy John surgery. “But I really liked the way he attacked the hitters.
“Quite frankly, we need to see more of it.”
The tone, as much as it existed during Tuesday’s frolic, was established instantly.
Miguel Cabrera pole-axed a Steven Wright knuckleball into the distant right-field seats three batters into the game, his 20th homer of 2016, which put the Tigers on top, 2-0.
An inning later, and three conveniently slapped singles (Mike Aviles, Collins, Jose Iglesias) coupled with a wild pitch produced two more runs and a 4-0 lead.
Of course, the Red Sox still employ a man named David Ortiz. And he was bound to do something dramatic and injurious to a visiting team from Detroit.
In the third, with Mike Pelfrey having put too many runners aboard, Ortiz got him. Big Papi, who allegedly is retiring at the end of the season, smashed a Pelfrey fastball into the right-field seats, not far from where he pretty much ended the Tigers’ world series plan in the 2013 American League Championship Series.
Ortiz’s three-run bomb made it 4-3, and the tumult was just beginning.
“The third inning came and I stopped getting ahead,” said Pelfrey, who had allowed a couple of early singles but no runs through his first two innings. “With Ortiz up there, I maybe should have thrown a change-up and walked him.
“But the crowd was amped up, and I made a pitch (93-mph fastball) that got too much of the plate, and I paid for it.”
The Red Sox got two more runs against Pelfrey in the fourth and suddenly they were ahead, 5-4.
The Tigers scored four in the fifth to roll back on top, 8-5. They opened with a pair of walks against Wright, who had an uncommonly rough evening, and followed with three singles, the last of which was a two-run lash to left by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitter who preferred to bat right-handed against the right-handed flutter-ball maestro, Wright.
Saltalamacchia, who played for the Red Sox from 2010-13, knows what can happen at Fenway, especially when a right-handed batter dances with the Green Monster, 300 feet away in left.
“I thought if I could pop it up or hit a fly,” said Saltalamacchia, who had three singles, the only time in his career he’s had three hits batting right-handed, “there’s a good chance to bounce one off that wall.”
The Red Sox snorted and pushed back with three more runs in the sixth to tie the game, 8-8. Jackie Bradley, Jr. began with a homer against Pelfrey’s successor, reliever Kyle Ryan, who then hit a batter. Toss in a throwing error by Ian Kinsler, and a single and RBI fielder’s-choice grounder, and it was 8-8.
At some point the upheaval would end. It did in the seventh.
Upton was conked by a pitch from Ross. Mike Aviles arrived and spanked a single to center. Saltalamacchia walked to load the bases. And then, on a 3-2 pitch, Ross missed. Collins strolled to first as Upton trotted home with the go-ahead and as it turned out, winning run.
Greene put down the Red Sox minus issues in the eighth and Rodriguez, after spotting a one-out single to Xander Bogaerts, got the Tigers’ good friend, Ortiz, to slam into a game-ending double play grounder to Kinsler at second.
The Tigers needed Tuesday’s game to stick within 5½ games of first-place Cleveland, which beat the Nationals, 7-6. The Tigers are still sifting through games and weeks trying to craft an identity in 2016 — contender, pretender, no one’s quite sure — but they’ve at least maintained life five days ahead of the trade deadline as a front office plots blueprints for August and September.
It’s up to Michael Fulmer, the on-fire rookie right-hander, to see if the Tigers have a shot at a series sweep in Wednesday afternoon’s series curtain-call.
“I’d like to get greedy,” Ausmus said, “and see if we can win three of three.”
Forge any expectations of the Tigers at your own risk. But a team might also remember how it has won two tough games in Boston, and how a bullpen came through on consecutive evenings to seal games for the Tigers earlier this year might well have forfeited.