Detroit — At times you wondered just what they were playing Friday night at Comerica Park.
Pinball? That was a thought as Aaron Hicks’ drive ricocheted off right-center field’s distant scoreboard for an inside-the-park homer in the second inning.
Twister? Leonys Martin had some interesting dives, stretches, and maneuvers as he enjoyed a less-than-stellar night in center, which was nearly matched by Nick Castellanos’ lost-in-space effort on Gary Sanchez’s double against the right-field wall, also in the second.
There was, however, just enough big-league baseball on display to earn the Yankees an 8-6 victory against the Tigers in the first of what is supposed to be a three-game weekend set at Comerica — if some ugly forecasts don’t sabotage plans.
“We made a couple mistakes and they scored early,” said Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers manager, after his team had lost its fifth straight game. “But we had opportunities late against a pretty good bullpen.”
In fact, the Tigers decided to squeeze optimum drama from a game the Yankees led at various times, 5-0, 6-1, and 8-3.
It was that 8-3 hole they attacked in the eighth when they scored three times on Jeimer Candelario’s monstrous home run into the right-center field seats, Miguel Cabrera’s single, Victor Martinez’s double, and two more singles by James McCann and Jose Iglesias.
They had the tying runs on base with two outs until Yankees manager Aaron Boone decided he had seen enough nonsense and brought on Chad Green, a one-time Tigers hotshot prospect who was shipped to New York in a deal that brought Justin Wilson to Detroit.
Green wiped out Dixon Machado for a strikeout, which was as close as the Tigers were going to get when Aroldis Chapman was an inning away from closing the game, which he did on 1-2-3 whiffs of Niko Goodrum, Candelario, and Cabrera.
The strikeout of Goodrum was neither appreciated by a good-natured rookie, nor by Gardenhire, both of whom jawed with home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth. The skipper, though, wasn’t overly blaming Culbreth for possibly missing a down-and-away third strike to Goodrum.
“I’ve known Field Culbreth for a long time,” Gardenhire said. “I think the ball just dove late, and he (Culbreth) didn’t have much to say. He was not trying to make a bad call. He’s a good umpire.”
The Tigers had earlier been down, 5-0, until McCann in the fifth drove a Jordan Montgomery fastball into the shrubs in deep center for his first homer of the season. McCann later added a 400-foot sacrifice fly, and a RBI single.
Batting .147 coming into the game, he was at .189 at the end. Not exactly All-Star stuff, but a better direction for a catcher who agreed Friday night’s above-freezing temperatures (53 at game time) were a nice retreat from the Abominable Snowman conditions the Tigers typically have known in March-April.
“I don’t like to make excuses,” said McCann, “but it does play into better success swinging the bats. If you’d have told me before the name we’d have that number of home runs (three total entering Friday), I’d have laughed.
“I don’t want to say baseball isn’t meant to be played in the cold, but it’s a different game in the summertime.”
The Tigers had earlier picked up a pair of runs in the seventh, thanks to another double by Martinez, a single from Castellanos, and the hammered sacrifice fly from McCann.
They could have dinged the Yankees more deeply in the seventh when, after Jose Iglesias doubled and Machado singled, they had a pair on with two out. Martin, however, struck out.
For all their rallies and spurts Friday, the Tigers’ problem was New York. The Yankees kept scoring.
Mike Fiers started for Detroit and, had his outfielders cooperated, might have done considerably better than 5⅔ innings, eight hits, and five earned runs. Fiers struck out four, walked only one batter, and was generally fine as he threw four pitches anywhere from 69-89 mph.
But those first two Yankees runs, in the second, hurt. And whether or not the outfielders were culpable depended upon who was being questioned.
Sanchez got it going with a one-out liner that probably would have carried against the right-field wall even if Castellanos hadn’t lost the ball and looked so awkward recovering. It slammed against the fence and bounded for a double.
“Casty said he was going for it, angling, and when he reached for the ball it was right in his face,” said Gardenhire, who wasn’t amending his postgame remarks that “mistakes” were part of that early Yankees rally.
Castellanos said, “I lost where the wall was. By the time I found where the ball was, it was over my head.”
Hicks followed with his drive to right-center that bounced off the scoreboard and shot 60 feet toward center field. Hicks was nearly home before Martin made his relay to the infield.
Hicks decided he liked his inside-the-park job so much he’d blast another homer — this time out of the park — in the sixth. It was a massive shot, halfway up the right-center field seats, and put the Yankees on top, 6-1.
They got two more runs in the eighth off Alex Wilson, who had an ugly stint: two-thirds of an inning, two hits, two runs, a walk, and a hit batter. Martin was a factor there, as well, as he took a bad angle on Miguel Andujar’s leadoff drive up the left-center field alley, which turned into a triple.
“He’s normally a pretty good center fielder,” Gardenhire said of Martin. “All I know is, he’s given us everything he can. Tonight, that ball was going all over the place.”
The Tigers still drew, officially, 21,363 for their first night duel of 2018, or about one-half what the Yankees would attract if these games were played at saner times and temperatures.
So much, perhaps, for those hopes. The forecast Saturday is abysmal. The conditions Sunday are expected to be slightly warmer, but wet.