‘Starting to feel special’: Tigers cruise to 6th straight win
Detroit — Sometimes there’s an incident that a club rallies around. Maybe a team leader or the manager reads the riot act in the clubhouse. Maybe there’s a come-to-Jesus session that lights a fire.
Maybe it’s a lineup change — addition or subtraction.
With the Tigers, there’s been no eureka moment.
“I think we just kept pushing in the right direction,” reliever Alex Wilson said. “It wasn't like there was a certain thing or certain event. We've been trying to do this all year and finally it just happened for us. I don't think we really changed. We stayed the course and kept grinding. Now we're getting paid off for it.”
The winning streak is a season-high six games after they swept the three-game set with the Houston Astros, taking the finale 11-0 Sunday.
"Caught fire? I don’t know about that,” said Cameron Maybin. “We've been playing well for a while, at least we feel like we've been playing well for a while. It's just a matter of having more things go our way. It makes our team look even stronger.
“We don't feel like we're playing our best baseball yet. We feel like we are starting to get there. But to come here every day being confident and still not feeling like we're playing our best baseball, it's kind of scary to think about."
They are nine games over .500 and a game behind the Red Sox for the second wild-card spot.
"It seems like we're growing closer as a group,” Maybin said. “That's what I enjoy the most, just that team chemistry, the energy we come with every day. I think just being around each other, it's starting to feel special.
“We believe in what we have and every day we come in more confident in our ability as a team. We feel like we're going to be tough to beat.”
There was an incident in the seventh inning that illustrated the Tigers’ growing chemistry.
They were up 8-0, having blitzed reigning Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel for six runs in the first inning, capped by catcher James McCann’s first career grand slam. But in the top of the seventh, reliever Bruce Rondon hit George Springer with a 97 mph fastball. Earlier in the game Mike Pelfrey had hit Jose Altuve.
Astros reliever Scott Feldman retaliated, hitting Maybin with the first pitch in the bottom of the seventh. Maybin was miffed.
"I guess they thought we hit two people on purpose,” he said. “It just kind of got to me a little bit. Usually the way the game goes, you don't hit the leadoff guy. I wanted to let them know, too, we weren't trying to hit anybody. It's just one of those things, it kind of woke me up a little bit.
“We're still playing the game. They decided to hold me at first so I decided to take the base. I'm one of those guys you don't really want to fire up. I take that stuff personally."
Maybin stole second on the next pitch, which he normally wouldn’t do in an 8-0 game. Miguel Cabrera, who had hit a line-drive home run to right field in the fifth inning, hit Feldman’s first pitch deep into the seats in left field.
Both Maybin and Cabrera were fired up rounding the bases and Cabrera said something to Maybin at home plate.
“He just let me know I got your back,” Maybin said. “He felt like he wasn't going to stand for it. … That really did something for me. All these guys have my back, but a guy who can swing the bat like he can and can dictate what he can do on the field — that made me feel real good.”
Cabrera’s homers were his 22nd and 23rd this season and he knocked in four runs.
“When you hit a home run after a hit-by-pitch, you can say whatever you want to,” Cabrera said about having Maybin’s back.
Justin Upton added a home run in that seventh inning.
“When you’re playing the game the right way, and you can hang your hat on the fact that you’ve gone and done everything you can do, it’s easy to be confident,” Upton said of the Tigers’ surge. “If we continue to go out and do the small things, and play the game the right way, then we should have no problem remaining confident.”
The Tigers outscored the Astros 28-8 in the series and have won eight of the last 10 – the two losses coming against the White Sox in walk-off fashion last Sunday.
“In the short term, the Boston series seemed to be big, in terms of the way we won the games, the closeness of the games and the way we got contributions from all over,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I think that carried over into this series.”
Wilson, who pitched another scoreless inning Sunday (that makes 9 2/3 in a row), agreed.
“You win a few close games against a really good team, you get a lot of confidence,” he said. “We were able to roll into this series against another hot team, a super talented team and we were kind of able to have our way with them in two of the three games. That's huge for us."