San Diego — There was darkness. A lot of darkness. And then, suddenly, a light.
The Tigers, mired in an eight-game losing streak, fell behind 3-0 and 5-3 Sunday.
But a two-run, opposite-field home run by Nick Castellanos in the sixth inning tied the game. Then, with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Mikie Mahtook slapped a single into right field, scoring Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton and the Tigers left San Diego with a 7-5 win over the Padres.
The music was back on and bumping in the post-game clubhouse, but if you expected champagne being popped, you’d be disappointed. There was relief but no cause for celebration.
“You can’t be relaxed when you are in last place,” Miguel Cabrera said. “We have to keep winning. It’s only one game.”
Asked if the win at least released some of the pressure that would naturally build during a prolonged skid, Cabrera just shrugged.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what I say. We have to go out and play. We have to go out the next game and win again.”
That was manager Brad Ausmus’ take on it, as well.
“It was good to get the monkey off our back,” he said. “It was a good game, but this was not a good series. ... There is no pressure in a losing streak that a win can’t release. But it is just one game.
“We’ve dug ourselves a hole on this road trip and we need to dig ourselves out from it. It’s one step. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up.”
Castellanos’ home run came off Padres starter Clayton Richard and it offset a potentially back-breaking, two-run bottom of the fourth inning by the Padres.
“It was really good to see that ball land in the seats and not in somebody’s glove,” said Castellanos, who has hit the ball far better than his .238 average would suggest. “Nobody wants to win more than the guys in this clubhouse. When everybody can chip in and take part in a win like this, it’s a good feeling.”
The Tigers had erased a 3-0 Padres lead in the top of the fourth. Upton — who has been a tower of power during the losing skid — hit his second double of the game and scored on a triple by Mahtook.
James McCann ripped an RBI double and scored on Jose Iglesias' single, which snapped his 0-for-22 drought.
“He’s been the heart and soul of our lineup since Day 1,” Castellanos said of Upton. “Hitting homers, driving guys in, taking the extra base and playing good defense. He’s been a huge part of this team.”
The momentum died in the bottom of the fourth. A bunt single by Erick Aybar and a walk set the table. With runners at first and third, pitcher Richard bunted, which everybody in the park, including the Tigers, knew he would.
Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann, who didn’t make it past the fourth inning, fielded the ball in front of an on-charging Cabrera and inexplicably threw to the plate. He had no chance getting Aybar.
Jose Pirela followed with an RBI double to make it 5-3.
It was the kind of play that has buried the Tigers during the losing streak. But Zimmermann got Wil Myers to ground out, leaving runners on second and third to keep it a two-run game. That would prove to be a critical out.
Castellanos' two-run home run tied it. Then in the top of the ninth, with runners on second and third and two outs, Mahtook put together a clutch at-bat against Padres closer Brandon Maurer. He got ahead 3-0, then fouled back a 98-mph fastball.
He took a change-up that just missed, then was able to slap another fastball into the hole between first and second.
“They gave me the green light on 3-0 and said if it’s there, go for it,” Mahtook said. “I tried to zero in on an area and he threw it there. I felt like I took a good swing at it, then he backed it up with a change-up.
“I had to bring myself back down a few notches and try to stay within myself and just get the barrel to it. He threw a fastball away and I hit it in the hole.”
The Tigers' bullpen, which has been ravaged on this trip, gained a measure of redemption by locking down the final five innings.
Warwick Saupold, Alex Wilson, Daniel Stumpf and Bruce Rondon put up zeros in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Then closer Justin Wilson, pitching for the first time since he took the loss in the first game of the road trip Monday in Seattle, locked it down in the bottom of the ninth with two strikeouts and a pop out.
“Any time you have a long streak like that, it’s nice to get that win and get the monkey off your back,” Mahtook said. “But everybody in this clubhouse, no matter the score or the situation or what’s been going on, everybody has stayed positive and we expect that we were going to come through this.
“It’s a credit and a testament to the guys in here and going forward, this is going to mean a lot.”