Detroit — If you wondered what it might look like if the Tigers ever put all the pieces together for one game — witness their 13-4 pounding of the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.
“Yeah, I guess,” left fielder Justin Upton said. “We did our job tonight. We put together good at-bats and we got rewarded for it.”
You want offense? In the fourth and fifth innings alone, the Tigers sent 18 batters to the plate, scored 10 runs, banged out nine hits and took advantage of two walks and an error.
“It can be contagious,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “I also think we’ve got good hitters. We’ve been a little quiet the last few days and I think when you’ve got a good-hitting team you’re going to hit well at times.
“The weather’s warming up. I’m hoping our bats warm up with it.”
You want power? Ian Kinsler led off the first inning with his first home run since May 21 (64 plate appearances). It was his 43rd career leadoff homer, sixth most in major league history.
The amazing Alex Avila continued his offensive renaissance by pounding his 10th home run of the season — one of his patented left-field missile shots that ignited the five-run fourth. It was one of his two hits.
He’s hitting .313 with a .430 on-base and .611 slugging percentages.
“I think health is a big component of it,” Ausmus said. “I think he’s a little bit more aggressive in the strike zone and I think he’s using the whole field more. That’s probably the three things.”
The Tigers batted around and scored five runs in each of the fourth and fifth innings. Rays starter Erasmo Ramirez took the brunt of it, allowing 10 runs (eight earned) in 4 2/3 innings.
The final hit tally was 13, and seven extra-base hits. Upton had a double, single and three RBIs. Nick Castellanos had a two-run double and a two-run triple. J.D. Martinez had a pair of singles and scored three times.
You want defense?
The Tigers staged a highlight show in the fifth. Shortstop Jose Iglesias drew a standing ovation for his two gems. First he charged hard on a slow roller hit by speedy Peter Bourjos and made a quick flip to first.
Next he took a hit away from Steven Souza Jr. Running 88 feet (according to Statcast) into left field, Iglesias caught the pop up on a dead sprint with his back to the infield, streaking between Upton and center fielder Alex Presley.
“Just try to make a play,” Iglesias shrugged. “That's something that you practice and also you're kind of born with. You just try to make a play for the team.”
The ovation, particularly the one after the running catch, was noticed and appreciated.
“That was huge,” he said. “The fans appreciated baseball, not just homers. It was huge for all of us. J-Up, the whole inning was great. I believe defense turned to offense and that was a great game."
Upton’s play might have trumped him. The third batter of the inning, Corey Dickerson, blasted a long fly ball that seemed headed for the bullpen in left. Upton got back, timed his jump perfectly and snagged the ball high over the yellow railing atop the fence.
“Any time you can help your pitcher out and keep a run off the board, it’s a great feeling,” Upton said. “It was high enough to where I could kind of peek and make sure I had some space to jump. I knew I could catch it for sure.”
The Comerica Park crowd stood and applauded as the Tigers came off the field.
“It’s a momentum-killer for the other team, all three of those plays,” Ausmus said. “It knocked their momentum down and created momentum for us.”
There was one more for the reel, though. Ian Kinsler ended the sixth inning by leaping high and snaring a liner by Tim Beckham — then flipping to first to double-up Taylor Featherson.
It made for a happy start for Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris.
“Those were huge plays,” Norris said. “I told Iggy, ‘I know the one over your shoulder was sick, but the one before that was almost as impressive.’ Bourjos flies and that was just a get-rid-of-it great play.
“And J-Up’s catch was sick, too.”
Norris (4-4) dealt with some traffic on the bases, but he minimized damage and struck out a season-high eight, working into the seventh inning for the second time in seven starts. He didn’t give up any home runs, but triples by Bourjos and Mallex Smith led to runs.
“I was just going to go out there and compete, no matter what,” he said. “The one thing that stands out is just the one walk. As long as I can stay in the strike zone and attack guys, good things happen.”
Norris' most tense inning was the fourth. The Rays took a 2-1 lead on a single by Daniel Robertson and had runners on first and third and one out. The runner at third, Smith, got a little greedy and tried to steal home on a pick-off throw to first.
Avila, playing first base, threw home and James McCann applied the tag. It was a big play to keep the score 2-1 before the Tigers broke the game open in the bottom of the fourth.
Norris gave up the triple to Smith and RBI single to Robertson, before he, too, walked off to a standing ovation.
Three standing ovations — quite a different chorus than Thursday night when boos rained down.
“That's probably the best game we've played all year,” Kinsler said. “We hit, Daniel threw the ball well, we played good defense and we were aggressive on the bases. We need more of those games.”