Boston — The Tigers were up by five runs in the eighth inning Thursday night, trying to salvage the finale of a three-game series against a mixed-and-matched Boston Red Sox team.
You'd think it would be stress-free, but it never is — not against that team, not in this ballpark.
"You've seen it; it can turn into a pinball game in here with the balls bouncing all over the place," manager Ron Gardenhire after the Tigers finally closed out a 7-2 win at Fenway Park.
Joe Jimenez, who has been Mr. Reliable in the eighth inning for the Tigers, found himself in a base-loaded, one-out mess. The Red Sox were sitting on his off-speed pitches like they knew they were coming.
Because they did.
"We know what goes on in this game with men on base," Gardenhire said. "You've got to change your signs up. So we changed some things."
Pitching coach Chris Bosio walked to the mound — on a mission, Gardenhire said.
"He came out and we changed our (pitch) sequences," Jimenez said. "They were looking for off-speed."
Gardenhire said: "Boz just let him know, we've got to throw gas."
Jimenez bowed his neck, put away his secondary pitches, and played country hardball.
He blew three 97-mph fastballs by Sam Travis — strikeout swinging. Rafael Devers was next. He fouled off three straight 97-mph fastballs and the took a called strike three on a 98-mph heater.
Lead, victory, preserved.
"We came out with a little fire tonight," Gardenhire said. "It's tough to win here. But it's like I've said all year, this team doesn't quit. They went out like nothing ever happened the last two nights and just played the game."
It would have been a rough flight home if the Tigers had been swept by this version of the Red Sox.
They didn’t face Chris Sale, David Price or Rick Porcello this series. They didn’t see Mookie Betts or Dustin Pedroia. They faced a veteran knuckleballer making a spot start and a rookie lefty making his major-league debut.
"It was a good win," Gardenhire said. "We made them pay for some mistakes, just like they'd been doing to us the two previous nights. That's the way baseball goes."
The Tigers ambushed rookie Jalen Beeks, scoring five times in the first inning. With two outs, Jeimer Candelario ripped an RBI double and John Hicks followed with a two-run single.
The crowning blow in the inning came from Leonys Martin. The left-handed hitter came in hitting .149 against lefties. But he hit his eighth home run of the season, the second off a lefty — an opposite-field, two-run shot just over the Green Monster in left.
Martin also tripled in the third and scored on a double by Jose Iglesias.
That would be enough for Tigers starter Matthew Boyd, who evened his record at 4-4, limiting the Red Sox to two runs and four hits over 6 1/3 innings. The Tigers have won five of his last six starts.
"It's a win, man," said Boyd who walked four, threw three wild pitches and struck out six. "That's what everything is geared toward."
It was a little bumpy early, though. He needed 41 pitches to navigate the first two innings, 21 of those were pitches out of the strike zone.
The first batter he faced, left-handed hitting Andrew Benintendi, hit a long home run beyond the bullpen in right-center field. It was the first home run Boyd has allowed to a left-handed hitter this season.
The Red Sox loaded the bases in the second inning — two walks and a single. But he got Benintendi to ground into a fast 6-3 double play to end the threat. The normally stoic Boyd allowed himself a fist pump as he walked off the field.
Fun fact about Fenway Park: The bullpen mound is considerably flatter than the game mound. It took Boyd two innings to adjust.
"As the game went on, he got more comfortable," catcher Hicks said. "The mound in the bullpen is flat and the mound in the game is steep. It's kind of an adjustment once you get out there.
"But once he settled in, he had all his pitches we could to go to in any count."
Boyd gave up two hits from the third into the seventh.
"You want to stay aggressive," Hicks said. "We actually walked more people than we wanted to. If they are going to beat us, they had to drive in seven runs. We didn't want to give any gifts by walking guys."
Boyd showed the Red Sox a very interesting mix of pitches — 23 four-seam fastballs, averaging 89.9 mph and topping out at 92.5; 28 sliders and a season-high 23 curveballs. He got 11 swings and misses and 18 called strikes.
"Sometimes throwing the curveball to the back door gets my fastball back on line," Boyd said. "So that was a good call by Hicksey, good for him to see that."
Of his six strikeouts, none were more impressive than his three-pitch punch-out of J.D. Martinez. He threw him three straight fastballs — 90 mph (swinging), 91 mph (looking), 91 mph high and out of the zone (swinging).
"Good win, happy flight," Gardenhire said.