Detroit — It’s not always overt. When you are four games under .500, you have to pick and choose when you show your swagger. But there is a feistiness to this Tigers team, a resiliency.
“This team fights,” said closer Shane Greene, after he locked down the Tigers’ 2-1 win over the Rays Tuesday. “We're going to keep fighting all year long. So, whenever we match up with somebody, I hope they bring their A-game because we’re not going to give up.”
It was bounce-back Tuesday for the Tigers. Not only did Greene bounce back after giving up two home runs in the ninth inning in the loss Monday, but center fielder Leonys Martin bounced back after missing a game with a sore hamstring and starter Matthew Boyd bounced back strong from his worst start of the season against the Pirates last week.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 2, Rays 1
“Boyd pitched really well,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “And we were able to get our closer back out there, which was a big thing. He got back in there and he did his thing. That was good to see.”
Start with Martin, though. Gardenhire joked before the game that he had to put him back in the lineup because, “I can’t take him on the bench anymore. He’s driving me crazy — that high-pitched voice.”
Can’t take him on the bench, can’t do without him in the lineup.
Martin banged out two hits Tuesday, including the go-ahead RBI double in the fifth inning.
“He’s our igniter,” Gardenhire said. “We all know that. We got him feeling better. His leg is better and he had a good night.”
Martin also saved a run with a pivotal defensive play earlier in the game.
“Props to Leo, man,” Boyd said. “He doesn’t take a play off … He brings energy, jokes, enthusiasm. He’s a great clubhouse guy. Lot of experience, valuable information. He’s awesome to have in this clubhouse.”
Martin knows a thing or two about resilience, too. He saw his average plummet to .172 last year and he was relegated to a defensive replacement and pinch-runner. Not what you are looking for in your free-agent season.
“It's fun to be out there and help the team win ball games,” he said. “It's fun. It's been a little bit tough the last couple days with my legs, but thank God I'm feeling pretty good right now.”
It was a 1-1 game in bottom of the fifth when Martin, who had singled in the first inning, laced a double into the right-field corner off Rays right-hander Chris Archer. James McCann scored.
Boyd, the bullpen and Martin’s arm helped preserve that skinny one-run lead over the next four innings.
It was at times a grind for Boyd. The Rays, without hitting the ball particularly hard, put nine runners on base over the third, fourth and fifth innings, but Boyd surrendered only one run.
“It’s just attack one pitch at a time,” said Boyd, who scattered seven hits over six innings and earned his first win of the season. “You can’t control what happens behind you. You can’t control the last pitch. All you can control is your emotions on the current pitch.
“That’s something that Boz (pitching coach Chris Bosio) preaches and it’s something we lived by tonight.”
He got out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the third inning — both runners reaching on infield hits. Boyd got C.J. Cron to pop to short and he struck out Matt Duffy on three pitches.
The Rays singled three times off him in the fourth inning and didn’t score — thanks again to Martin and his powerful throwing arm.
Rays catcher Wilson Ramos tried to score from second on a single by Rob Refsnyder, waived home by third base coach Matt Quatraro. Mistake. Martin threw him out by 20 feet.
“He’s got a really strong arm and he’s been accurate up to this point,” Gardenhire said. “They took a chance, which all third base coaches do — I know I did for a long time. You hope they don’t make it, but he came up with a good throw.”
Since 2013, Martin ranks fourth among active players with 52 outfield assists.
“I try to take advantage of any opportunity,” Martin said. “I knew he was a slow runner, so I had no reason to be rushed. Thank God I made a good throw.”
The Rays did break through for a run in the fifth inning, though. After a one-out single by Adeiny Hechavarria, Cron hit a slow ground ball (68.7 exit velocity) to the right of first baseman Niko Goodrum. Goodrum went immediately to cover first base and the ball rolled into shallow right field.
Hechavarria advanced to third base and then scored on a fielder’s choice — the Tigers narrowly missed turning a 3-6-1 double play.
Not a lot of damage for all that traffic on the bases.
“He can do that because he commands all of his pitches,” Gardenhire said. “He can throw them at any time, so they can’t just sit on any one thing.”
Boyd struck out a season-high seven, all swinging strike threes. Of his 96 pitches, 36 were sliders. Of his nine swings and misses, six were on sliders. And the average exit velocity on balls put in play by Rays hitters was a meek 79.5 mph.
Gardenhire then put the game in the hands of his bullpen.
First, Alex Wilson pitched a scoreless seventh. He gave up a single to Denard Span on his first pitch and got a 5-4-3 double play on his second pitch — to Hechavarria.
Joe Jimenez pitched a clean eighth inning, with two strikeouts. Then came Greene.
He struck out Carlos Gomez on three pitches and then struck out pinch-hitter Brad Miller on four pitches. Miller had hit one of the home runs off him Monday. He finished it off by getting Mallex Smith to tap back to him — he ran the ball over to first base himself.
“I got three outs and they didn’t score,” said Greene, jokingly when asked what the difference was in the two outings. “I stayed within myself a little bit. I felt like I was rushing last night. I stayed over the rubber longer and it worked out.
“It’s always good to get right back out there the next day to eliminate those negative thoughts. But every day is a new day. We have to show up tomorrow and get another W.”