Martinez ends homer drought, but Tigers come up a run short
Kansas City, Mo. — It seemed like Tuesday's game was following the same script from Monday night.
On that night, a Royals rookie pitcher named Heath Fillmyer befuddled the Tigers for 5 2/3 innings, but they rallied against the Kansas City bullpen and stole the game in the ninth.
On Tuesday night, it was a 28-year-old rookie, a Rule 5 draftee who hadn’t pitched more than four innings in an outing all season who had them flailing away.
Burch Smith, making his third start of the season, allowed one hit, a Niko Goodrum single in the fourth, in six shutout innings.
The Tigers rallied again, but this time the comeback fell short and the Royals held on for a 5-4 win.
The "comeback," in this case, consisted of one, world-class at-bat by Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez in the seventh inning.
"I've tried to tell people, I've tried to tell you guys (media), he probably gives us our most professional at-bats consistently," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He doesn't always get hits, but he has professional at-bats. He doesn't chase out of the zone crazy. It's because he's been around a long time.
"He just doesn't run well enough to stay out of double-plays and that drives everybody crazy. But he has quality at-bats and I hope some of our young guys can learn from that."
The Tigers were down 5-0 in the seventh. Starter Jordan Zimmermann, making his first start in 13 days, was rusty and gave up home runs to Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez in five innings of work.
They had managed to put just three balls into the outfield against Smith in six innings. But with one out in the seventh, Nick Castellanos and Jeimer Candelario walked against the tiring Smith.
Royals manager Ned Yost brought in sidewinding left-hander Tim Hill to face Martinez, forcing the switch-hitter to bat from the right side.
Martinez hadn’t hit a home run since May 19, 187 homer-less plate appearances.
"I have never in my career worried about home runs," Martinez said. "I get paid to drive in runs. I can drive in a runner from first with a ball in the gap. But I'm not doing it. I worry about producing runs and trying to help the team.
"Home runs, they come and they go."
Martinez put up one heck of a fight against Hill. He saw 10 pitches, seven fastballs (most of those sinkers at 90 or 91 mph) and three sliders. After falling into an 0-2 hole, he fouled off four straight. Then he laid off two fastballs off the plate. The ninth pitch was another fastball that he fouled off.
"The kid has a lot of movement on his pitches," Martinez said. "I was just trying to hang in there and see what happens."
The 10th pitch, after three straight 90-91 mph fastballs, was an 80-mph slider, and Martinez crushed it. It left his bat at an exit velocity of 102.6 mph and traveled 399 feet over the wall in left field.
"He tried to throw a back-door slider and he got a little bit too much of the plate," Martinez said. "I'm just trying to be a tough out and finally I get to drive in a run and help the team come back a little bit."
Martinez would bat again in the ninth inning, representing the tying run. The Tigers cut the deficit to 5-4 on a triple by Castellanos and ground out by Candelario. This team he was batting left-handed against Royals closer Wily Peralta.
Again, Martinez battled — seven pitches this time — before flying out to right field.
"That's just me; I got tired of giving away at-bats in the minor leagues and I learned from it," Martinez said. "Honestly, I am just trying to do something to help. These kids here battle their butts off and I am trying to be a part of it."