Kansas City, Mo. — There was a big smile on Victor Martinez's face as he spoke to the media Monday night, following the Tigers' dramatic, come-from-behind 5-4 win over the Royals.
Martinez, who had two hits and a walk, had been a catalyst in both the two-run seventh and the three-run ninth.
"I am just trying to be a tough out," he said. "It doesn't matter the result. I'm too old for that. I am just trying to help the team somehow. Today, I put two good swings on the ball, but the best thing is, everybody battled.
"We came out in the ninth inning against a pitcher who had really good stuff and put three runs on the board. That was good to see."
For six-plus innings, the Tigers were stymied by a young right-handed pitcher making his second Major-League start.
Heath Fillmyer allowed three hits in 6.2 innings and departed with two runners on and a 3-0 lead.
But he is still looking for his first big-league win.
"You know, we have a little history of coming back in game," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We play to the end."
The Tigers were down 4-2 entering the ninth. Royals closer Wily Peralta pitched in the three previous games and was unavailable. Right-hander Brandon Maurer, whose fastball hits 98 mph on the radar gun, took his place.
Jeimer Candelario blooped a single to get it started. Martinez then raked a double into the corner.
Jim Adduci lined a two-run double to tie the game, ending the night for Maurer. Jason Hammel took over.
James McCann hit his first pitch into the gap in left-center, his third hit of the game, scoring the go-ahead and ultimately the game-winning run.
"You know what, I am really, really proud of this group," Martinez said. "They don't quit. It doesn't matter how the game is going. They battle. They battle. And a lot of good things happen when you keep battling."
What a day it was for McCann. Tigers starter Francisco Liriano was wild from the start, bouncing balls up to the plate, most bouncing off some part of McCann's body.
"Our catcher took a beating out there," Gardenhire said. "He got the living fire beat out of him. To take a beating like he did — balls bouncing off his face, off his thumb — and then he steps up and got a big hit for us. That was huge."
Funny thing about that go-ahead double — McCann's first thought when he stepped into the box was bunt.
"Honestly, I talked to (hitting coach Lloyd) McClendon and (third base coach Dave) Clark about, 'Hey, if they're going to give me a bunt here, I may try to bunt for a base hit, get the guy to third with one out and let (Jose) Iglesias drive him in,'" McCann said. "But obviously they're playing in. Once that happened, really I was looking to drive the ball the other way.
"It was a hanging slider and I was able to put a good swing on it and ended up pulling it. But honestly, the approach was to try to drive the ball the other way and get him to third with less than two outs."
After Alex Wilson shut down Royals' scoring chances in the seventh and eighth, Shane Greene worked a scoreless ninth for his 20th save.
"We have been positive all year," Greene said. "You just have to show up every day and compete your tail off. It hasn't gone the way we wanted it to this year, but there's a lot of season left."
The Tigers were completely befuddled by Fillmyer. He gave up a broken-bat single to Martinez and an infield single to McCann in the second inning — but got out of the inning. Then he retired 15 straight before walking Martinez with two outs in the seventh.
Things got a little messy for the Royals after that.
Adduci followed with an opposite-field blooper that fell in, ending Fillmyer’s night.
Right-hander Kevin McCarthy entered and gave up an RBI single to McCann. After a passed ball put runners on second and third, Iglesias hit a soft ground ball. Third baseman Hunter Dozier’s throw to first pulled Salvador Perez off the base.
It was scored an RBI single.
So, Fillmyer’s line got smudged a little — 6.2 innings, two runs (one earned).
With a gaggle of scouts present looking at trade prospects on both teams, Liriano showed both his good and bad side. He gave up six hits, walked three, hit one, threw a wild pitch and had several others rescued by McCann.
But he also posted six strikeouts in 4.2 innings and got 13 swings and misses — 10 on the 40 sliders he threw.
"I was just trying to keep the team in the ballgame," Liriano said. "I was just trying to find a rhythm, but I was up and down, getting behind in the count. The command wasn't there. I think I was trying to do too much, overthrowing, and I missed my spots."
More aggravating for him, all three runs were knocked in by left-handed hitter Lucas Duda. Duda delivered a two-out, two-run single up the middle in the first inning after Liriano had walked a pair and given up an infield hit.
That ball left Duda's bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph and it knocked Liriano down.
Then, in the fifth, again with two outs, Duda singled in Jorge Bonifacio.
That was the last batter Liriano faced. He was at 95 pitches.
"It was a battle for Liriano," Gardenhire said. "He was fighting it and he was frustrated, I could tell. But the game didn't get blown out, that's the big thing. He hung in there.
"This was a nice win, a really good win on the road and a good way to start this trip."