Detroit — You just never know when the skies are going to clear.
It's been a dark stretch for the Tigers. Enmeshed in a five-game losing streak and 21 games under .500 on the season, they'd gone homer-less and scored five runs in four straight losses to the Indians. They hadn’t managed a lead, let alone a win, in the previous five games — not since Justin Upton and Justin Verlander were traded.
And when Anibal Sanchez, making his first start since Aug. 16, lasted just five pitches on Tuesday — KO’d by a line drive off the bat of lead-off hitter Whit Merrifield – the “here we go again” feeling was strong.
But, six home runs chased some of the clouds away Tuesday and the Tigers enjoyed a 13-2 romp over the Royals.
“It rolls downhill, you know,” said John Hicks, who contributed a pair of home runs and four RBIs. “You get a few early and everyone is more comfortable in the box. It’s like a weight comes off everyone’s shoulders.”
Hicks hit two homers, JaCoby Jones hit two, and Jose Iglesias and Mikie Mahtook each hit one.
“It was good to see an offensive explosion,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We hadn’t seen one in a while.”
The Tigers unleashed their fury on Royals All-Star left-hander Jason Vargas, scoring seven times in the second inning.
It started with a two-run double by Jeimer Candelario. Then Jones and Mahtook both clubbed two-run home runs.
For Jones, it was his first home run since his game-winning blast off Jose Quintana on Opening Day in Chicago. And, it was a rare opposite-field blast.
“I hadn’t hit a home run oppo in a long time,” said Jones. “It felt good.”
Jones, who has been working tirelessly on some swing changes with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, smashed his second home run of the game to left field in the seventh inning.
“It paid off,” he said. “Me and Mac have been working since I’ve been called up, just with different stances and approaches. Obviously, you’re going to say you felt comfortable in the box after you hit two home runs, but the last couple of games I have felt good and getting more confident.”
McClendon is trying to get Jones to stay taller in the batter’s box.
“I was getting too low and losing my leverage,” Jones said. “So, I am trying to stand more upright. It’s paid off the last two games. I’ve got some hits and put more balls in play. I just have to keep moving forward.”
Mahtook’s home run felt good, too. He had been robbed of a three-run homer by Royals left fielder on Monday. This one cleared the bullpen.
“I hit this one the same as the one yesterday; just as hard,” Mahtook said. “But this one I got up in the air, got more loft on it.”
The seven runs allowed by Vargas in the second inning alone were more than he’d allowed in any start this season.
Hicks, who hadn’t hit a home run since Aug. 1, hit a two-run bomb to center field in the fourth and a solo shot to left field in the eighth.
“I never want to go in the box thinking about home runs,” Hicks said. “If I am, that’s causing another set of problems. But when I hit them, I tend to bunch them up. That’s just how I’ve been.”
Iglesias rang one off the foul pole in the left, a solo shot in the fifth.
The X-rays on Sanchez’s right calf were negative, but he was still in considerable discomfort after the game.
“It’s no big deal, thank God,” he said. “I don’t think it hit me all that hard, but it was in a spot that it sent a charge through my knee down to my ankle. That was why I was unable to push off even on the practice throws.
“I’m still moving real slow, but hopefully I will be OK.”
The bullpen had his back, though, allowing just one run over the final eight innings.
Right-hander Myles Jaye, who threw 47 pitches on Saturday, was hurried into the game. Although the Merrifield wound up scoring — run charged to Sanchez — Jaye went 2⅓ scoreless innings and earned his first big-league win.
“For Myles to get thrown into the game like that, warm-up in front of the other team and basically show them what’s working for him that day, then basically keep us in the game and get his first big-league win, something he’s going to always remember, was awesome,” said reliever Blaine Hardy.
“He’s a competitor. And to see him so poised out there, that was also very impressive.”
Hardy was just as impressive. He’d struck out two in a scoreless ninth inning on Monday. And he followed that by recording eight straight outs – at one point striking out Brandon Moss, Alcides Escobar and Gordon in a row.
“I thought Myles Jaye and Hardy did an outstanding job of keeping the game right there in the early and middle innings, and allowing that seven-run inning to win the game,” Ausmus said. “If they let the Royals start chipping away in the second, third and fourth innings, it gives them some momentum and a feeling like they are not out of it.”
The door was closed and by the seventh inning, the Royals had pulled most of their starters out of the game.
Lefty Daniel Stumpf gave up a home run into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center to Lorenzo Cain in the sixth. Jones, with a valiant leap at the fence, nearly brought it back.
“If my glove was two inches longer, I’d have caught it,” he said.
Right-handers Drew VerHagen, Alex Wilson (returning from his three-game suspension) and Victor Alcantara (making his major-league debut) closed it out. Alcantara, acquired in the trade for Cameron Maybin, hit a batter and gave up a single before ending the game.