Detroit — If you are going to lose a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning, all you want, if you are the pitcher, is to get beat with a clean hit on a good pitch.
Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd threw a 2-0 change-up to White Sox Tim Anderson Sunday with two outs. To that point, Boyd had allowed one base runner — a walk to Rob Brantly in the third inning.
The pitch was down and away, right where catcher Bryan Holaday had positioned his glove.
“He hadn’t really been seeing the ball that well,” Holaday said. “It was 2-0 and we figured he’d be geared up for a heater right there. Threw him a good change-up and that’s what happens with big-league hitters — they hit it.”
Anderson stayed back and whacked it over right-fielder Nick Castellanos to the wall in right-center field for a double – ending Boyd’s bid to throw the eighth no-hitter in Tigers history.
“He crushed that ball,” Holaday said, after Boyd finished off his first complete-game shutout and 12-0 romp over the White Sox. “When the ball left his bat, it’s just more of a hope.
“You are hoping Nick can grow wings. But give him credit, he put a great swing on a good pitch.”
If you expected Boyd to be crushed or frustrated at coming that close and losing a no-hitter, you would be disappointed. It seemed to barely register on him — while he was on the mound and after the game.
“Honestly, I didn’t really think anything of it,” he said. “I threw the pitch I wanted. A 2-0 change-up, down and away. I executed my pitch and he hit it, man. Hats off to him.”
Here’s the thing: Boyd’s reaction probably would have been just as stoic had he completed the no-hitter. That’s how intensely he’s trained his focus on his process.
“It was a good outing,” he said. “Finishing the game was awesome. But I am just going to show up tomorrow, execute my routine and get ready for my next start.”
Ask him what his thought process was:
“It was just one pitch at a time; attack one pitch at a time,” he said. “If you start to get beyond that, then you start to take away from being in the moment.”
Ask him if that thought process changed as he got into the later innings with the no-hitter intact:
“That’s when you become even more entrenched in the process of attack one pitch at a time,” he said. “You just lock in even more.”
Ask him about his emotions in the ninth inning.
“I guess you can liken it to a higher-pressure moment when you are playing on the ultimate stage, right — it shouldn’t change your approach whether it’s opening day, spring training or the seventh game of the World Series,” he said. “Just go out, attack and be loose and have fun.
“We’re playing a game.”
Boyd turned his season around after he got pounded by the Yankees on Aug. 22. He and pitching coach Rich Dubee worked to simplify and streamline his delivery — taking his hands and a lot of motion out of it, forcing him to bring the ball straight to the plate.
The White Sox were the first team to see it on Aug. 27. They scored five runs off him in the third inning, but managed only two hits in the other five innings that day. That was the first step.
They saw a much more refined and efficient version of that delivery Sunday.
“It’s a little frustrating because I think what happened is we’re looking at what this young man is doing against us,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s staying primarily away. He’s showing it. I think the coaches are talking to the players about what this guy is doing in his attack, which is staying primarily away with off-speed, bust one in every now and then to keep you honest, going away soft.
“You have to give him credit, because he was changing the variance and velocity of his change-up, and he was turning it over pretty well.”
Renteria kept telling his hitters to take Boyd’s off-speed to the opposite field — easier said than done.
“I mean, we tried,” Avisail Garcia said. “Everybody tried. I think he was really good, and we have to give the credit to the pitcher … He was making good pitches, hitting the strike zone really well, going to the fastball in, change-up inside. I think he pitched really well, and thank God we had the hit in the last inning.
“Nobody wants someone to throw a no-hitter against your team, but it’s baseball, and everything can happen.”
Turns out, Anderson was not looking for a fastball on the 2-0 pitch.
“He pitched a heck of a game,” he said. “Just kind of looking for something slow. I kind of thought he was going to throw a change-up there, because he’d been doing it to me all game. I was able to get a good pitch to hit.”
Boyd was pounding the strike zone with four pitches — fastball, slider, change-up and a curveball. He threw a career-high 121 pitches (51 fastballs, 34 change-ups) and got 17 swings and misses and 16 called strikes.
“All of his pitches were especially good, that’s why he got the results he got,” Holaday said. “His change-up was awesome and down. He attacked both sides of the plate with the heater, and he used it up (high) when he needed to. The breaking ball he used on both sides. We went at them with a good mix.”
Boyd didn’t need a lot of defensive help, but he got a couple of sterling plays. Shortstop Dixon Machado ranged deep into the hole in the second inning to rob Avisail Garcia of a single. First baseman Efren Navarro made a tough scoop on the throw.
Navarro made a long running catch in foul territory to catch a pop up by Tim Anderson in the sixth. JaCoby Jones in center and Mikie Mahtook in right both ran down a couple of fly balls. But mostly, Boyd was recording routine outs.
“I really didn’t have to do too much (to keep him calm),” Holaday said. “He was focused and he was making his pitches. In the middle of the game we had a pretty big lead and had some long innings, so I had to remind him, ‘Hey, keep attacking the strike zone. Get ahead and don’t lose your focus here.’
“He just continued to make pitch after pitch.”
Boyd got more than enough offensive support. Castellanos extended his personal-best hitting streak to 14 games with a two-run double in the third inning. He also blasted a two-run home run (23) in the sixth.
Mahtook hit his 12th home run of the season, a two-run shot to left, in the fifth.
Jeimer Candelario, who made two strong defensive plays at third base, continues to get on base. In five plate appearances, he walked twice, singled twice and hit a three-run home run in the eighth — six total bases and four RBIs.
Candelario has walked 10 times in 54 plate appearances over his last 13 games. White Sox Anderson has walked 13 times total in 134 games.
The only time Boyd got emotional afterward was when he was asked about the standing ovation he received from the small (25,663 tickets sold) but lively crowd.
“Pretty cool,” he said. “We’ve got great fans and we are grateful they are sticking with us despite our struggles this year. That means a lot to everybody in this locker room. We’re grateful they’ve got our back.
“We will turn this around eventually. There is another side of this coming.”
DETROIT TIGERS NO-HITTERS
July 4, 1912 – George Mullin, Tigers defeated St. Louis Browns 7-0
May 15, 1952 – Virgil Trucks, Tigers defeated Washington Senators 1-0
Aug. 25, 1952 – Virgil Trucks, Tigers defeated New York Yankees 1-0
July 20, 1958 -- Jim Bunning, Tigers defeated Boston Red Sox 3-0
April 7, 1984 – Jack Morris, Tigers defeated Chicago White Sox 4–0
June 12, 2007 – Justin Verlander, Tigers defeated Milwaukee Brewers 4-0
May 7, 2011 – Justin Verlander, Tigers defeated Toronto Blue Jays 9-0