Tigers claw way to victory over Twins, end skid
Minneapolis — The Tigers didn’t care how it looked or how they got it done. After four straight losses, style points were immaterial.
By hook or crook, slop or slug, ball or brawl, they needed to win a baseball game in the worst way here Saturday afternoon.
And, by God, they did. They slopped and they slugged. They balled and they brawled (a little), and when the dust settled after some four hours, the Tigers were on the sunny side of a 5-4 score.
“That’s not how you’d draw it up, for sure,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But we needed a win and we got it.”
An RBI double by Nick Castellanos and a sacrifice fly by James McCann broke a 3-3 tie in top of the sixth inning — after both benches emptied in the bottom of the fifth.
Earlier in the game, Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones was struck in the mouth by an 89-mph fastball by Twins reliever Justin Haley — in an inning where both Castellanos and Justin Upton had homered. Jones left the game immediately and took nine stitches to close the cut on his upper lip. He did not lose any teeth, however.
After the game Jones was placed on the 10-day disabled list. Veteran outfielder Jim Adduci was called up from Toledo to replace him.
“It sounds like (Jones) will be all right,” reliever Alex Wilson said. “It busted him up pretty good. At least his teeth are still there, so that’s good. Maybe it will make him better looking (laughs). He will be all right.”
But after Victor Martinez and Justin Upton were both hit by Twins pitchers earlier in the month in the series in Detroit, tensions were high.
So when Tigers starter Matthew Boyd threw a fastball waist high and behind Twins slugger Miguel Sano in the fifth inning, Sano took a couple of steps toward Boyd before catcher McCann got between them.
Sano shoved McCann — McCann may have given Sano a face wash with his glove — and both benches and bullpens quickly emptied. No other punches were thrown. Both Sano and Boyd were ejected — though there was no previous warning.
“The umpire just came out and said I was tossed,” said Boyd, who said he there was no intent to throw at Sano. “I was surprised. Real surprised.”
The Tigers were leading 3-2 at the time.
Joe Mauer stepped in for Sano and Blaine Hardy for Boyd. The game was tied in two batters. Mauer doubled to center, on a ball nearly run down by Andrew Romine, and an RBI single by Robbie Grossman.
It was put up or shut up time for the Tigers — and they put up.
“We need to win every game,” Ian Kinsler said. “I know it gets rhetorical, but you have to win every game regardless of what happens during the course of a game. We have to win them all. This league is very competitive and it comes down to one or two games at the end of the season.
“It’s nice to get over these last four losses and get a win.”
They entered the game short-handed and a little desperate.
Miguel Cabrera (right groin strain) was placed on the disabled list before the game, joining starting shortstop Jose Iglesias and starting right fielder J.D. Martinez. John Hicks, the starting catcher at Triple-A Toledo, was called up and started at first base (chipping in a single and double).
Then they lost Jones in the third inning.
“We can’t be worried about who’s not playing,” Kinsler said. “That’s not how sports work. Everybody is here for a reason. If somebody goes down, the next guy has to step up.”
Boyd, from the start, labored with his command, but he soldiered his way into the fifth inning allowing only two runs. And he seemed like he was finding himself. He struck out Jorge Polanco before the ejection.
“I was just a little out of sync early,” Boyd said. “After that second inning (when he allowed two runs), I felt like I made the mechanical adjustment and I was feeling really good out there, actually — as good as you can after walking all those guys.
“Unfortunately the day was cut short.”
The two runs in the second were setup by two shaky defensive plays — neither scored an error. Shortstop Dixon Machado bobbled a ground ball hit by speedy Eddie Rosario, and then with two outs, Hicks overran a foul pop up by Polanco that would have ended the inning.
Polanco drilled the next pitch to the wall in left, scoring two runners.
Boyd, though, allowed only one hit the rest of his outing.
The Tigers wrested the lead back with the long ball.
In the third, off starter Adalberto Mejia, Castellanos and Upton both hit solo home runs. Upton’s was a 410-foot low-flying missile into the bullpen in left-center field, struck with 112 mph exit velocity.
After Castellanos’ double and run scored in the sixth, the game was in the hands of the bullpen.
Hardy (1⅓ innings) and Shane Greene (strikeout of Dozier), got them through the sixth. Alex Wilson made quick work of the Twins second, third and fourth hitters in the seventh — dispatching Polanco, Mauer and Grossman.
“That’s my job,” he said. “Right now I am working the seventh inning slot and I am glad to have it. Going through the heart of their order — somebody’s got to do it. Whether you are pitching the seventh, eighth or ninth, sometimes it falls in your slot. You just have to get outs.”
Justin Wilson similarly dispatched the Twins in the eighth — three quick outs. He has now pitched 8⅓scoreless and hitless innings this season.
That left it to closer Francisco Rodriguez, who hadn’t worked since blowing a save and taking the loss Wednesday in Tampa. It got a little tense.
He gave up a one-out home run to pinch-hitter Jason Castro, followed by a single to Dozier. Polanco flew out to the wall in right field and then Rodriguez struck out Mauer to notch his sixth save.
“Overall the bullpen did a nice job,” Ausmus said. “Frankie got the save and that’s what he’s supposed to do.”
This wasn’t about aesthetics. It was about winning.