Detroit — Ron Gardenhire had only been here for four of them, but still, his baseball team came into the game Monday having lost 11 straight games to Central Division-rival Cleveland.
And with four starters still out of the lineup, facing the Indians’ dominating right-hander Carlos Carrasco, odds were long against stopping the skid on this night.
“This is a great baseball team, we know that,” Gardenhire said before the game. “But we don’t worry about the name on the front of their jersey. We just play baseball. Yes, they’re a good team. But they still have to put their uniforms on the same way we do.
“I think. I’m pretty sure.”
They must. Because look-it here: The Tigers, behind a masterful pitching performance by right-hander Mike Fiers and some offensive fireworks from Niko Goodrum, beat the Indians 6-3. Losing streak over.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Indians 3
“We believe in ourselves,” said Fiers, who allowed a run and three hits over six innings. “That’s the main. People are going to watch and have their own opinion. But we realize how good we are and how good we can be if we put it all out there and play our game.
“Tonight was a good example.”
And not for nothing, the Tigers are two games behind the first-place Indians in the Central Division.
“We’re just going out and competing,” Gardenhire said. “You can’t think about it like that. We’re just going out and playing. We’ve had some good stretches and we’ve had some rough stretches. You can’t start thinking in those terms, just go day by day and try to win tomorrow.
“We need to just keep doing what we’re doing – going out, getting our work in, grinding it out and having some fun doing it.”
Speaking of having fun. Goodrum, getting another start in right field for an injured Nick Castellanos (left pinky finger) broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning with a monster two-run home run over the cut-out in right-center field.
The ball left his bat at 107.4 mph and traveled on a line, 391 feet.
Then in the bottom of the eighth, in a 3-2 game, he buggy-whipped a 96-mph fastball from Zach McAllister with two runners on and sent it to the same spot – only deeper. This one left the bat at 106 mph and traveled 401 feet.
He’s hit three home runs over two games – one off Mariners’ James Paxton, one off Carrasco and one off McAllister. With the two homers and five RBIs, he doubled his season totals in both categories.
“Everyone can come out and compete,” he said. “Whoever is on the mound has to throw the ball over the plate. I just try to put my best swing on it.”
Goodrum, a switch-hitter, hit both his bombs Monday left-handed. Earlier in the year, he struggled mightily from the left side.
“Goodness gracious,” Gardenhire said. “He’s coming back from where he couldn’t swing left-handed. And now I don’t think I’m even letting him bat right-handed again. You guys saw him hit a few balls out in spring training. He can do that.
“He’s just not sitting for three and four days in a row. He’s getting consistent at-bats and that always helps. You get in that groove as a hitter. I had that once in my career (laughter). It was big night for him and for our ball club.”
Fiers left after six innings with the Tigers up 3-1. Warwick Saupold worked a scoreless seventh, striking out Brandon Guyer with runners on second and third.
Things got tense in the top of the eighth.
It looked like a breezy 1-2-3 inning for reliever Joe Jimenez. He got Francisco Lindor to fly to left and he struck out Michael Brantley with a 97-mph fastball. Jose Ramirez then hit a soft bouncer to second base. Dixon Machado, though, rushed and booted the play.
Edwin Encarnacion followed with an RBI double to right-center field, a ball that Goodrum seemed to short-arm on the warning track.
Left-hander Daniel Stumpf was summoned to face lefty Yonder Alonso. In the past couple of weeks, lefties had gone 6 for 9 off Stumpf. Not this time. Stumpf ended the inning with one pitch – a pop out to shortstop.
“That’s a start,” Stumpf said. “Now I have to come out and do it again tomorrow.”
After Goodrum's second blast provided a four-run cushion, Shane Greene gave up a run and had to get Michael Brantley out with two runners on in the ninth to lock it down.
“It got a little hairy at the end,” Gardenhire said. “But there is a little belief in that clubhouse that we can do some things. Those guys are getting after it.”
Early on, though, this was about Fiers. Coming into the game, left-handed hitters were clubbing him at a .310 clip with a .954 OPS. Five of the seven home runs he’d allowed were hit by lefties. And the Indians crowded their batting order with six left-handed hitters.
That ended up being inconsequential data. Indians’ lefties went 3 for 15 against him. The only damage done against Fiers was a first-inning, solo home run by Ramirez – who now has hit 12 homers in 23 games against Tigers pitching since the start of 2017.
“Command was the biggest thing,” Fiers said. “Going into a game, you’re not going to have certain pitches, but command is the biggest thing. Keep them off-balance. Slow them down, speed them up.”
Once again, he seemed to use his change-up, curve ball and slider to set up his four-seam fastball – which he threw with a velocity range of 85-91 mph. He wound up getting 10 swings and misses and 16 called strikes – six whiffs and seven called strikes were with his four-seamer.
The Indians average exit velocity on balls put in play against Fiers was just 83.6. Anything hit at 95 mph or faster is considered hard contact.
“I’m getting better every start,” he said. “I wasn’t 100 percent to start the season, but I definitely felt like I could give this team a chance to win every time out. Now I’m getting more flexible and my strength is coming back.
“I feel healthy. It’s a world of difference, really.”