Detroit — Of course there was another false ending.
The Tigers again had a victory celebration halted by video review, but this one Monday, unlike on Opening Day, caused only a short delay.
After a game-ending double play was overturned — correctly — Warwick Saupold got Jorge Soler to fly out to right fielder Nick Castellanos and the Tigers could celebrate their first win of the year, 6-1 over the Royals at Comerica Park.
Castellanos presented the game ball to Ron Gardenhire, who after three straight losses, secured managerial victory No. 1 with his new ballclub.
“It means a lot to myself and my coaching staff,” Gardenhire said. “We’re here for a reason. We want these guys to play the game the right way and they’ve been doing that. These last three or four days have been tough with the weather and the whole package, but we’ve battled our tails off.
“To finally get a win is a relief for everybody.”
Gardenhire wanted to keep it about the players, but he was asked again about the importance of getting his first win as the manager of the Tigers.
“When I took this job, I knew what this city was all about and what this team is all about,” he said. “I am very proud to be part of it. Now I am in the history books. I’ve got one win.”
The Tigers broke open a 1-1 game with a four-run fifth inning off Royals right-hander Jason Hammel. Castellanos, fittingly, delivered the hit that seemed to break the seal.
With runners at second and third and one out, the Royals elected to issue an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera, who had singled in the Tigers’ first run in the third inning.
“My thought process was, that’s a mistake,” Castellanos said.
It was. He slapped a single to left field scoring the go-ahead run. Victor Martinez, who was 0-for-8 until he doubled in the second inning, followed with a two-run single.
“That situation, where they walk Miggy to get to Nick, I think a lot of teams are going to do that,” Martinez said. “Nick is becoming a really good leader for us and he’s going to take advantage of that situation.”
Castellanos and Martinez combined to produce the sixth run of the game in the seventh inning. Castellanos, the reigning American League triples leader, hit his second triple in two games and scored on Martinez’s sacrifice fly.
“Everybody wants results,” Martinez said. “Nobody wants to see you hitting the ball hard and making outs. At the end of the day, they’re going to look up the stats and you’re hitting .000 – so you are struggling.
“You hit a jam shot and get an RBI and you look in the paper the next day and it’s beautiful. You got a knock and an RBI. That’s what you want.”
Impressive too that the Tigers were able to score six runs without a home run.
“Sometimes you have to cut down on your swing and bang the ball around,” Gardenhire said. “Just put it in play and make things happen. That’s what we did.”
It was more than enough support for veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano, who in his first start with the Tigers flipped his own script.
Throughout his career, even when he was in his prime, he operated in high-volume pitch counts. That was his MO all through spring, too. Lots of base runners, lots of pitches, lots of damage control.
Not on this chilly afternoon. He was a model of efficiency.
He gave the Tigers 6.2 innings on 94 pitches (56 strikes) — allowing one run and four hits. He allowed only two runners to get into scoring position.
“Everything was working the way I wanted it to,” Liriano said. “I just tried to take it one hitter at a time, one pitch at a time and not try to do too much. Just hit my spots and go deep into the game.”
The only hitter to do any damage against him was Alcides Escobar — who doubled and scored in the third and tripled with two outs in the fifth.
Both times Liriano tried to beat him with fastballs. He had most of his success with his slider and change-up, effectively keeping Royals hitters off balance. According to Baseball Savant, the average exit velocity on balls put in play off him was 89 mph.
Lots of soft contact.
“It’s something that when he showed up to camp that he said he wanted to work on – trying to become more efficient with his pitches,” said catcher James McCann. “He did exactly that today. He ate up innings for us and took care of our bullpen, which has been taxed the last few days.”
Liriano struck out three. His slider was especially effective, with five swings and misses and nine called strikes. The Royals three left-handed hitters were blanked (0-for-9) and every hitter other than Escobar was 2 for 20.
“It’s good to get that first win out of the way — it’s huge for me and for Gardy,” Liriano said. “We’ve been playing some good baseball, even though we didn’t get the wins. If we keep playing like this, I think we’re going to be good at the end.”
It’s only four games into the season, but still, Gardenhire knows how small slides can turn into landslides.
“You don’t want to get into one of those spells where (losing) is all you guys talk about,” he said. “I don’t want to listen to that every day. This is fine. But it’s for the players more than anything else. It’s all about players getting a win.”