Detroit — It snowed earlier in the day. The temperature at first pitch was 36 degrees and a 15-mph wind was blowing out to left field. Not pleasant, by any means. But after postponements Saturday and Sunday and an off-day Monday, the Tigers finally played a baseball game Tuesday.
And, lo and behold, they ended a five-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. It was the Tigers’ first win in nine days.
“It was a nice win,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’d been waiting a pretty good while to get one.”
Before the game, Gardenhire praised his team’s compete level — six of their nine losses were by two runs or fewer — but said it’s not enough to just put up a good fight.
“We’ve gotten lucky a couple of times, but not enough,” Gardenhire said. “The way they’re playing and the way their attitude has been, I can live with that. But they want to win. We need to win some of these games, rather than saying we gave it a good try.
“Nobody wants to say that constantly. We’ve got to figure out a way to win some of these games.”
Victor Martinez staked the Tigers to an early 2-0 lead with a two-run, opposite-field home run to left in the second. It was his first home run since Aug. 18, 2017. Martinez banged out three hits.
After the Orioles tied it in the top of the fifth off starter Francisco Liriano, Jeimer Candelario blasted a one-out, 400-foot-plus triple to the cutout in right-center, scoring Leonys Martin, who reached on a bunt single.
The Tigers bullpen made the skinny lead hold up.
“We have a lot of hungry guys in this clubhouse,” said Shane Greene, who worked a clean ninth inning for his third save. “Our record might not speak to how good we actually are, and I think we all believe in that. I hope we rattle off a couple wins and get our confidence through the roof and then see what happens.”
Buck Farmer pitched a scoreless sixth inning. Daniel Stumpf got the first two outs in the seventh, after walking Luis Sardinas to lead off the inning. Joe Jimenez entered to strike out pinch-hitter Anthony Santander on three pitches – 94 mph, 96 mph, 95 mph.
Jimenez held the fort in the eighth inning, as well — impressively. He dispatched the heart of the Orioles order — Machado (line out to left), Jones (strikeout looking), then, after a broken-bat single by pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez, he struck out Chris Davis looking.
“He’s game-on right now,” Gardenhire said of Jimenez. “He’s pitching well and we like to use him in that situation (set-up man). If things change, we will make changes. But right now, he’s running with it.”
Jimenez, who has pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings this season, froze Jones with an 85-mph slider after pumping 95 and 96-mph fastballs at him. Davis looked at a high fastball.
“Everybody in this clubhouse just gives everything they can to win,” Jimenez said. “There’s no single guy here that doesn’t want to win. It doesn’t matter what the score is, just compete every inning, every pitch.”
As for Gardenhire’s vote of confidence, he’s not taking anything for granted.
“Like I said at the start of the season, I’m just going to pitch, just going to do my job whenever they want me to,” Jimenez said. “I don’t know if I am the set-up man yet. People are saying that but I don’t know. I am just going to compete and do my job.”
Greene, who has battled circulation issues in his arm and in the past has had trouble commanding the baseball in cold weather, closed the door in the ninth on 12 pitches.
“My fingers are what they are,” he said. “It’s a battle between, do I keep throwing (in the bullpen) and make sure my arm is loose, or go sit and make sure my fingers are warm? I just get as loose as I can and try to keep my fingers warm until I have to go out there.
“I have to deal with it. I have no choice but to deal with it. Just get them out as fast as I can and get back to the dugout.”
The Tigers gave Greene an extra run to work with in the bottom of the eighth. Victor Reyes, running for Martinez, scored on a wild pitch with two outs.
Liriano went five labor-intensive innings. It took him 88 pitches to get through those innings. He struck out seven, but he walked three and went to three-ball counts on five of the final nine batters he faced.
“I feel good,” he said. “It was a battle out there because of the weather but I kept the guys in the game and we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
He dodged a two-run bullet in the fourth inning, thanks to a terrific, though not textbook, running catch by left fielder Niko Goodrum. With the Tigers up 2-1, Liriano walked both Danny Valencia and Tim Beckham.
With two outs, Luis Sardinas hit a line drive directly over Goodrum’s head. Goodrum turned one way, then the other and somehow caught up to the ball just before hitting the fence.
“I don’t know what you call it, I’m just glad he caught it,” Gardenhire said. “He turned 360 degrees — just the way we teach it (laughs). Jog a little bit, speed up a little bit, then spin and catch it. Perfect.”
The crowd was announced 15,530 but at least 10,000 of those didn’t brave the conditions.
“I know the history here and I know we have die-hard fans,” Gardenhire said. “They will come in droves when we get to playing better and the weather warms up. We appreciate those that hung in there today. They’re tough. They’re Lions fans, too, so I know they’re tough.”