Detroit — This game was bananas.
“This team is fun to watch,” said catcher John Hicks, chuckling softly. “Nobody can deny that. What’d we hit, four home runs today? And everybody did their part.”
Eight runs were scored in the eighth and nine innings and the lead changed hands four times. But when the dust cleared, the Tigers had beaten the Orioles for the second straight game – this time 6-5 on a walk-off home run by Dixon Machado in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“Walking to the plate, I was thinking, ‘What if I hit a homer right here,’” said Machado, who had hit just one home run in his previous 328 big-league plate appearances. “He (Orioles right-hander Pedro Araujo) came in with a pitch and I was ready for it.”
Machado hit it on a line over the left field fence and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate.
“They were punching me, throwing water and ice, everything,” he said. “But that’s OK. If we are winning, then that doesn’t matter.”
The music was pumping in the clubhouse afterward. Miguel Cabrera, who celebrated his 35th birthday with a home run in the sixth inning, had rigged up strobe lights around the room. It was festive.
“To come back in the eighth and come back in the ninth, that means this team never gives up,” Cabrera said. “We’re always going to fight. We don’t really care what people said, how bad we’re going to be this year. Our focus is going out there, trying to play hard – no, not try, play hard – and give us a chance to win.”
“You can hear it in that clubhouse,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s very exciting, winning baseball games. We had some good moments and then we had a couple of down moments, which can bum you out. But there’s two ways you can go.
“You can either sit there and let it go on or you can do something about it. These guys did something about it today.”
Things started calmly enough. Starter Matthew Boyd was ultra-stingy for the third straight start, allowing just a home run (to Danny Valencia) and a double in 6.1 innings. Home runs by Jeimer Candelario (a 404-footer to right center) and Cabrera, had the Tigers up 2-1 entering the eighth inning.
“We had it set up pretty good,” Gardenhire said.
Then all hell broke loose.
The Orioles scored three times off a pair of relievers in the top of the eighth to take a 4-2 lead.
Left-hander Daniel Stumpf gave up a two-strike double to Trey Mancini and a single to Craig Gentry to start the rally.
“Stumpfer couldn’t get the ball in the dirt on the 0-2 pitch,” Gardenhire said. “That was disappointing because he’s pretty good at bouncing balls in those situations.”
Right-hander Drew VerHagen took over at that point and gave up an RBI single to Manny Machado, a sacrifice fly to Adam Jones and, with two out, a long single to Chris Davis that bounced off the top of the fence in left field.
“Sure that was a shocker,” Gardenhire said. “But it happens. You go play. They didn’t quit. I’ve told you that a thousand times already this year, but these guys don’t quit."
The Tigers countered with three runs in the bottom of the eighth against a very tough, side-arming right-hander Darren O’Day.
Nick Castellanos doubled with one out and Victor Martinez singled. Hicks swatted the first pitch he saw down the line in left and just inside the foul pole -- a three-run home run to put the Tigers back on top 5-4.
“Honestly, with a side-arm guy, I was thinking, try to get something I can hit to right field,” said Hicks, who was 0 for 3 and hitting under .100 at that time. “Because as a hitter, when you get pull happy off a side-arm guy, you will get yourself in trouble.
“But he threw me a slider that spun. It was just hanging inside. I couldn’t help but pull it.”
That celebration didn’t last long. Orioles pinch-hitter Luis Sardinas, leading off the ninth against closer Shane Greene, hit an opposite field home run to right field. It was Greene's first blown save of the year.
“We had a couple of hiccups in the bullpen from guys who had been throwing the ball great,” Hicks said. “That’s just the way it is. But today, our offense picked us up.”
Gardenhire chafed at the characterization of Machado as an unlikely hero.
“That’s you saying that,” he said. “That man can hit. He can drive the baseball. He is finding his way and we’ve seen him put some really nice swings on the ball. But that was a big moment, and I am sure he won’t forget it.”
The Tigers serenaded Cabrera in the clubhouse before the game and as he typically does, gave himself a nice present during the game with a double and a home run – both pulled, and both struck well over 100 mph. The home run, off a hanging slider from Orioles starter Kevin Gausman, left his bat at 109.9 mph (per Baseball Savant).
Cabrera, now 35th on MLB's career home run list (464), is now hitting .388 (21 for 54) on his birthday with six doubles and three homers.
“Beautiful,” he said. “Now I can go home and watch TV with my family and get ready for tomorrow … I'm good now: We win. I hit a home run. The ball goes out.”