Arlington, Texas — It still comes down to making plays. You can have the best data base, the best analytics team, you can make the most educated decisions and still get beat if players don’t execute.
On Monday, the Tigers didn’t execute in a couple of pivotal situations, blew a four-run lead in the sixth inning and lost the game.
On Tuesday, the Tigers made several clutch plays, and got some big outs late, and were able to rebound and beat the Texas Rangers, 7-4.
“We’ve had some tough ones,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ve been in the mix a lot of games and you have to win some. Guys need this feeling. They’re competing. As you saw, they came out ready to play after a tough one yesterday.”
The Tigers ambushed Rangers left-handed starter Mike Minor and built an early 5-0 lead. Jeimer Candelario, the second batter of the game, lined one 417 feet into the Tigers bullpen in left-center field for his fifth home run of the season.
After Nick Castellanos singled, Victor Martinez lofted a shot down the line and into the right-field seats — 3-0.
In the second inning, Jose Iglesias hit his first home run of the season, an opposite-field, two-run shot to the right field seats.
Then it became a matter of hanging on — or as Gardenhire put it, working a little magic.
Starter Mike Fiers looked very strong for five innings. The only damage was a solo home run by Jurickson Profar leading off the fifth inning.
“That was probably the best I’ve felt all year,” he said. “I spun all my pitches and I was locating really well. And I was making big pitches to get out of innings. I felt really good, just didn’t go as deep as I wanted to go.”
Key moment No. 1: It was 5-0 and Fiers gave up a pair of two-out singles. Power-hitting Joey Gallo was next. Fiers got him to hit a sky-high pop up at the plate. He, catcher James McCann and first baseman John Hicks converged.
The ball fell foul, right in the middle of them.
“I should make that play,” Fiers said. “I was relying on McCann. I was telling him where it was. It was right above him. I thought it was going to hit him in the head. But he didn’t see it. The thing was hit a mile in the air.”
Fiers in past starts has come unglued after similar defensive lapses. This time, he came back and struck out Gallo to end the inning.
“That’s my job,” he said. “Baseball is baseball and nothing is going to go as planned, as much as you want it to. You just settle down and focus on the next pitch. We got out with no damage.”
Fiers struck out the last two hitters in the fifth. Both were long battles, a total of 14 pitches. In the dugout, pitching coach Chris Bosio and Gardenhire were fretting about Fiers going through the meat of the Rangers lineup a third time.
“Third time through, in this (hitter friendly) ballpark with those guys who can hit it out, it starts to get dicey,” Gardenhire said.
So with one out in the sixth, after Fiers gave up a leadoff single to Delino DeShields, and with left-handers Nomar Mazara and Gallo – sandwiched around Adrian Beltre — due up, Gardenhire went to lefty Daniel Stumpf.
Stumpf walked Mazara after having him in a 1-2 hole and gave up an RBI single to Beltre to make it 5-2. He got Gallo to pop out and gave way to Buck Farmer.
Key moment No. 2: Farmer, who has allowed just three runs in his last 16 innings, left two runners on in the sixth, getting Profar to fly out. Then he struck out two in a clean seventh.
The Rangers cut the lead to 6-4, roughing up Joe Jimenez in the eighth inning. He gave up an RBI double to Shin-Soo Choo and an RBI single to Beltre.
That brought left-handed hitting Gallo to the plate as the tying run.
“We were trying to figure out a way to win the game,” Gardenhire said. “We saw how it lined up. When Jimenez had some issues and misfired a little bit, we figured we’d have to use Blaine Hardy to get a lefty and then Shane Greene was going to have to make a four-out save, at least.”
Key moment No. 3: Hardy, who a week ago was starting games at Toledo, threw five cutters to Gallo. He swung wildly and missed the first two and the fifth.
“I wasn’t going to let him beat me with a fastball,” Hardy said. “So I went with the cutter. The two I threw in the dirt on purpose, to see if he’d chase. I have all the faith in the world in Mac (McCann) to block those.
“He didn’t bite on the two, so I threw one a little closer to the plate. Sure enough, I got a swing. That was the most my adrenaline has pumped in a while.”
Gardenhire would prefer never to use Greene for more than one inning for a save. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
“Plus, he needed to pitch,” Gardenhire said. “He was going to pitch no matter what the score was.”
Key moment No. 4: Greene got Profar to hit a hard ground ball to the left side of the infield. The Tigers were shifted and third baseman Candelario was playing near the shortstop position. He made a quick move to backhand the ball, spin and throw out Profar to end the eighth.
“You have to have big plays — that’s what we’ve talked about,” Gardenhire said. “We missed plays yesterday and tonight we get the big plays.”
Greene then struck out the side to close it out.