Cabrera, J.D. Martinez open Tigers' home stand with a bang

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Urgency, yes. Panic, no.

That’s the way manager Brad Ausmus framed the Tigers’ situation as they commenced a 10-game home stand Monday.

“There isn’t a lot of panic, but we’re at a point where we’ve got to produce,” he said.

The battle level was high again Tuesday, and so was the execution level — in all phases.

“We need to play well,” said Justin Verlander, who fought through seven innings in the Tigers’ 5-3 win over the Royals. “Bottom line: We need to play better than we have been. There’s no other way to put it.”

BOX SCORE: Tigers 5, Royals 3

Verlander gave up hits to the first five batters he faced and was in a 3-0 hole before he recorded his first out. And that was all the damage he allowed.

“I don’t know if it was a matter of my stuff getting better or just everything not finding a hole,” he said. “It’s baseball … You tell yourself, it was just the first inning; bear down and try to keep the damage to a minimum.”

He did exactly that, allowing just four hits, all singles, the rest of the way. On his 111th pitch, he got Lorenzo Cain to hit in the 6-4-3 double play to end the seventh.

Mahtook making a bid for everyday work in center field

“You’ve got to give him credit in the sense that he didn’t let it affect him,” catcher James McCann said. “He very easily could have let the frustration take over and it could have gotten out of hand. He came back and put up six straight zeros.”

The Tigers used some thunder to get back in it.

J.D. Martinez blasted his 13th home run of the season, a majestic solo shot well beyond the Tigers bullpen in the second inning off Royals starter Matt Strahm.

Then in the third, Miguel Cabrera, with one hand leaving his bat, swatted a change-up from Strahm into the right field seats for his ninth homer of the season — a three-run shot that put the Tigers up 4-3.

A two-out RBI single by Ian Kinsler in the fourth, off reliever Peter Moylan, gave the Tigers a two-run cushion.

That was also the last run scored in the game.

“The season is not lost by any means,” center fielder Mikie Mahtook said. “That (the eight-game losing streak) was about as bad as it’s going to get for us. We are still in striking distance. We have a hot two weeks – I mean, we can have a good two weeks just as easily as we had a bad two weeks.”

Mahtook did his part. He singled in the first, singled a scored in the third and in the fifth, made a remarkable running catch, crashing hard into the center field wall – robbing Salvador Perez of extra bases on a ball he hit 427 feet.

“I didn’t think he had a chance,” Ausmus said. “That was a tremendous play.”

Verlander certainly appreciated it.

“That was awesome,” he said. “He came off the field and gave me a high-five and said, ‘I owed you that one.’ It's always a great moment seeing your teammate lay out and sacrifice his body to make a play for you. It doesn't get much better than that.”

Mahtook was kicking himself for not running down a double hit in the same spot by Whit Merrifield to lead off the game.

“I thought I could’ve caught it,” Mahtook said. “In my mind, I should have caught it. When the next one (Perez’s ball) went up, I wasn’t going to pull up again. I was going to go until I got it.”

He hit the wall at full speed and still held on to the ball. He had the wind knocked out of him, but, with the ball in his glove, the pain didn’t last long. 

“The wall doesn't feel good ever,” he said, one eye on the clubhouse television, watching his alma mater LSU play Florida in the College World Series. “I don't care how much padding is on the wall. But you win games here because you want to play for the guys in the clubhouse. Everybody here wants to win for the other guy. To be able to come up with a play like that and have the guys out there and meeting you in the dugout, it was great — and something I feel I can do a lot more.

“The guys in here kind of give you the motivation to dive into walls.”

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Not that they are always sympathetic about the pain.

“Every bone in my back and my body cracked,” he said. “At that point, I was just trying to get air back in my lungs. Just had to realize, 'OK, I'm all right, I'm good.’

“J.D. (Martinez) didn't even ask if I was OK. He said, 'Hey that's probably going to be on SportsCenter tonight.’ I was like, 'Well yeah, I'm good. Thanks for asking.'”

Give a game ball to the Tigers’ bullpen, too. After working five scoreless innings Sunday, it put up two more zeros Tuesday.

Eric Hosmer led off the eighth with an infield hit off lefty Daniel Stumpf. Bruce Rondon replaced him and struck out Perez with a well-placed 94-mph fastball.

Mike Moustakas dumped a single into center field to put two on. But Rondon struck out Moss looking at a change-up that replays showed was above the strike zone.

Jose Iglesias ended the inning, making a superb play up the middle on a ball hit by Alcides Escobar, flipping it to Kinsler at second for the force.

Andrew Romine, after sitting for eight innings, made a pivotal play for the first out of the ninth. With closer Justin Wilson in, Alex Gordon hit a shot up the middle. It caromed off Wilson and was recovered on the charge by Romine, just inserted at third for defensive purposes.

Romine threw a seed to first base to nip Gordon.

“Game-changing play,” Ausmus said.

McCann agreed.

“Not a lot of people realize the difference for a closer between it being one out and nobody on, and no outs and one on,” he said. “That brings the tying run to the plate and one mistake ties the game. That play was huge.”

Wilson did the rest. He struck out Merrifield and Jorge Bonifacio.

“It’s two wins,” Ausmus said. “I don’t know that I’d call it a streak. But it’s a start.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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