Resilient Tigers rally, bullpen holds on in thriller
Detroit — You can’t overreact to a win in May, even one as improbable and impressive as the one here Tuesday night.
“Today is over, go get 'em tomorrow,” Nick Castellanos said. “Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low.”
Right. But at the same time, you can’t deny there might be something special percolating with this young Tigers baseball team.
“Absolutely,” said Castellanos, who returned from a two-game absence (finger) and delivered his fourth home run of the year. “Anytime we have a win like this, it continues to build and to reassure us that we can do it. We can do it. Just keep feeding the beast.”
The Tigers looked dead in the water a couple of times, trailing 5-1 early and then 8-3 in the sixth inning.
But they kept punching and kicking and clawing and with a five-run outburst in the bottom of the seventh — much of it against elite Indians reliever Andrew Miller — they found a way to beat the Central Division-leading Indians for a second straight game, 9-8.
“I’ve said this from Day 1, we aren’t quitting,” said lefty reliever Daniel Stumpf, who worked a Houdini-like escape in the eighth inning. “We are going to battle to the very last out.”
This has been a rough stretch for Stumpf, who had allowed five runs in his last 1 2/3 innings entering play Tuesday. But he was one of the few rested arms left in the bullpen.
So, when he took the mound in the eighth inning, there was nobody getting up to bail him out. The one-run lead was his alone to protect.
“We told him, ‘You got it,’ ” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He needed to pitch. He needed to give us an inning. We honestly talked about him maybe giving us two innings He hadn’t pitched in a while and he’s a live arm. A lot of guys down there were beat up from the doubleheader (Saturday) and the other games.”
Stumpf promptly loaded the bases with no out — a double, and back-to-back walks. Pitching coach Chris Bosio went to the mound to reinforce to Stumpf, it was up to him, sink or swim.
Nobody was warming up in the bullpen.
“Stumpf got himself in trouble and he had to get himself out,” Gardenhire said. “He created the stinking mess, clean it up.”
Bosio, who went out to give Stumpf a breather and get him refocused, told him to attack the next hitter, right-handed hitting Brendan Guyer. Two left-handed hitters were up after him.
“My main deal was, there’s two guys I wasn’t going to let beat me,” Stumpf said. “Just stay composed and attack that guy.”
Guyer had hit a grand slam in the first inning off starter Francisco Liriano, but Stumpf struck him out on four pitches. Then he got left-handed swinging Jason Kipnis to bounce into an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double-play.
“After I struck Guyer out, I had a lefty coming up and I just said, it’s time to get back to my element,” Stumpf said. “Got him to hit the ground ball and I got great defense behind me. My team really picked me up.”
There was drama in the ninth, too. Closer Shane Greene worked his fourth straight game.
“He’s the one guy who comes in every day and walks up to me right before the game and says, ‘I’m good,’ ” Gardenhire said. “’Closing situation, I got it.’ He’s one of those rubber-armed guys who knows what he’s doing. I don’t worry about him as much as some others.
“But there is a breaking point and there will be a day when somebody else is going to have to close.”
Greene got the first two outs quickly, and had the third out in his hand — a tapper by Rajai Davis back to the mound. But he threw it wild and Davis, the tying run, was on second base.
“He made a mess for himself right there,” Gardenhire said. “He had to collect himself and get a big out, and he did.”
Greene regrouped and got the dangerous Michael Brantley to ground out to end the game.
“That was some kind of ballgame, all the way around,” Gardenhire said. “Guys kept competing. And we had a big inning against a guy not too many teams get big innings against.”
About that five-run seventh inning: The Tigers sent 11 batters to the plate.
First against reliever Dan Otero, John Hicks got his second single of the game and scored on James McCann’s second double of the game.
After Jose Iglesias moved McCann to third by hitting a ground ball to the right side of the infield, Dixon Machado brought him home with a ground ball to shortstop Francisco Lindor, whose throw bounced off catcher Yan Gomes.
It was 8-6 at that point and manager Terry Francona summoned Miller, who had recently come off the disabled list.
JaCoby Jones, who homered in the first inning, greeted Miller with a double, scoring Machado. Pete Kozma singled to score Jones and tie the score.
Then, with one out, Miller shockingly walked three straight hitters — Victor Martinez and Niko Goodrum to load the bases, then Hicks to bring in the winning run.
“The first pitch was a heater away that wasn’t close,” Hicks said. “Then a slider close to me that was kind of an easy take. Then I got to 3-0. I was taking the whole way. He threw a strike, then throws me another slider that was down and in that wasn’t (tempting). I was looking small spot at that point.
“He threw me pitches that I wasn’t looking for, so it worked out.”
The Tigers will be up against it in the series finale Wednesday afternoon. Lefty Ryan Carpenter was called up from Toledo to make his second spot start of the season. And the bullpen is taxed.
Here’s the usage the last four days, including Saturday’s doubleheader.
Buck Farmer — three outings, 2.1 innings.
Joe Jimenez — three outings, 2.2 innings.
Greene — four outings, 4 innings.
Warwick Saupold — three outings, 3.1 innings.
Stumpf — three outings, 1.2 innings.
Zac Reininger — two outings, 2.2 innings.
Louis Coleman — two outings, 2.2 innings.
Right-hander Artie Lewicki was also recalled to add a fresh arm. The Tigers sent infielder Dawel Lugo and right-hander Zac Reininger back to Toledo.