Boston – Simply getting out of Fenway Park alive, with at least one night of baseball to cheer, was worth perhaps a splash of something wet and sassy on the team charter home.
The Tigers will never opt for backslaps and bottles of bubbly after a series defeat. But, given that two games had already gotten away with them, and given that they had won only once over the past week, the 8-3 victory Sunday night at Fenway was soothing.
“We definitely needed that after the last two,” said manager Brad Ausmus, cooling off afterward in the visiting manager’s office, wrung out from a hot night and four-hour game, and from having lost the series’ first two contests and four of his team’s last five games.
The Tigers did it Sunday the way teams are supposed to win at Boston. They bashed their way to victory. They socked the Sox with 14 hits, including a grand slam homer by Justin Upton, who normally pulls 400-plus-foot thunderbolts into the distant left-field seats in a given ballpark, but who Sunday night went for a more novel route.
Upton’s fifth-inning homer was an opposite-field ricochet off the landmark Pesky Pole – a 40-foot-high tower of bright yellow that sits in the tucked-away right-field corner, marking fair territory from foul, not even 300 feet from home plate.
“I had a good angle,” Ausmus said, speaking of his dugout perch. “From the time it left the bat, I was saying: Pesky Pole, Pesky Pole, Pesky Pole.
“Ten feet away it looked like it would hit it.”
The blast was Upton’s 13th homer of the year and his first grand slam as a Tigers batter. It also turned what had been a 3-2 Tigers lead into a 7-2 breakout that became 8-2 when James McCann followed with a double and Ian Kinsler drove him home with a single as the Tigers made it a five-run, 10-batter fifth.
The Tigers had suggested early Sunday this would be a different game from their Friday-Saturday tumbles against Boston.
Kinsler led off Sunday night’s ESPN-televised stage show with a single and scored a batter later when Nick Castellanos slammed a 2-0 Drew Pomeranz fastball 448 feet beyond the Green Monster’s heights in deep left-center field. Later in the first, J.D. Martinez singled, sprinted to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Upton’s single to right, his first of five RBIs on the night.
Castellanos, who batted twice in the flash-fire fifth, got the Tigers’ going on a bit of defensive irony.
Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who had pretended he was Ozzie Smith with three preposterous plays in the first three innings, this time threw away Castellanos’ easy ground ball to start the fifth.
Miguel Cabrera followed with a single that was not merely a single. It was a torched liner that rattled the Green Monster’s metal in left and might well have been the hardest ball Cabrera has hit in three weeks.
Victor Martinez hit into a fielder’s choice force at third. But when J.D. Martinez walked against Pomeranz, Upton had a shot at piling on, like an ice cream sundae, some sweet numbers on what is becoming a big offensive year for the Tigers left fielder.
He caught a 2-2, outside-corner fastball from Pomeranz and steered it on an arc toward the corner. It hit halfway up the pole and caromed onto the field for Upton’s 13th homer in 59 games, and a five-RBI evening that gives him 40 for the season.
“I thought when I hit it it had enough (distance),” Upton said. “And I thought it would run out of time to curve. It was elevated enough, and it did.”
Upton’s typical home runs tend to be moon shots to the pull-field. This was more of a trick-shot homer and Upton loved it.
“I’ll take ‘em any way I can get ‘em,” he said, with a grin.
This was also a game the Tigers bullpen protected handsomely after starter Daniel Norris fled after five innings and 96 pitches.
Norris was Norris: seven hits, a pair of runs, two unintentional walks, and six strikeouts. A decent effort, for sure, but it came with the usual excess pitches that a young left-hander is still trying to pare.
Shane Greene allowed a run, although it came courtesy of some low-gear defense by Upton when Jackie Bradley Jr. doubled into the left-field corner and when Christian Vazques, who appeared to be struck out by Greene, got an extra pitch he turned into a RBI single.
Francisco Rodriguez (one inning, one hit, one walk, two strikeouts), Alex Wilson (one inning, one hit), and Justin Wilson (one inning, one hit, two walks, two strikeouts) finished for the Tigers. Justin Wilson’s stint turned tense after he walked a pair of batters and with two out had what would have been a game-ending ground-out overturned on review.
But he got Chris Young on a liner to Jose Iglesias for the clincher.
The Tigers were free to shower and dress ahead of was an early hours charter to Detroit, with a honey-I’m-home arrival set for probably sometime around 5 a.m.
The Tigers, though, are off Monday and aren’t kicking. They’re two games under .500 with the Diamondbacks arriving Tuesday.
For one day, they’ll rest, say thanks for a badly needed victory, maybe light the grill later tonight, and savor that lone victory extracted from a very tough team and town.