Detroit — Niko Goodrum is adamant about it. He gets no extra juice, no extra fire in his belly when he plays against the Minnesota Twins. Yes, he spent the first eight seasons on a slow rise through their farm system, finally getting a September call-up last year.
But, nah. Just another team, another opponent, somebody else he wants to help the Tigers beat. No special emotion tied to it.
"That's what it is for me," Goodrum said. "The guy on the mound has to throw the ball and I have to try to put a good swing on it. That's it."
Be that as it may, he continues to do significant damage against them.
He broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning on Friday with his 11th home run of the season, a two-run shot onto the Belle Tire canopy in right field, sending the Tigers to 5-3 victory, ending their six-game losing skid.
"He was a No. 1 pick over there (second round, actually) and they gave him a great opportunity," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It didn't work out for him, but he's grown a little, gained a little maturity and he's learned. He's playing within himself now, and that's a great thing.
"He has no worries over here. He's comfortable and relaxed and just trying to play. I don't think it's about who he plays. It's just going out and having fun and being relaxed that he's here."
Goodrum had been scuffling mightily the past few weeks. He was 1 for 23 on the West Coast trip, and 8 for 57 in his last 15 games. So when he hit a ball 419 feet to the wall in center field in his first at-bat Friday, even though it was caught, it had to feel good.
"It felt great," he said. "I had a day off to get my mind away from it, then we came back today and got back to work. I kind of tweaked some stuff, simplified some stuff and got myself back in a better position to put a good swing on the ball."
He is now 7 for 22 against the Twins this season, with three home runs and six RBIs.
The Tigers had just three hits against the Twins' two pitchers, starter Ervin Santana who went six innings and reliever Oliver Drake. But they made them count.
Jose Iglesias added a two-run home run, a 402-footer to left field, in the fifth inning.
The third hit was a manufactured triple by JaCoby Jones in the third inning, which led to the Tigers' first run. It was a classic bit of Jones' daring-do on the bases.
He bounced one over the third baseman’s head and into the corner in left field. He raced around second and was halfway to third when left fielder Eddie Rosario picked up the ball.
Jones stopped. When Rosario fired the ball back to second, Jones broke for third.
"I don't know what Jonesy was doing," Gardenhire said, chuckling. "He stuck in the middle and he screwed everybody up. We didn't know which way he was going to go and neither did they.
"They were actually a little bit in limbo. If Rosario lobs it to third, then Jones goes back to second. If he throws to second, then he breaks for third."
Jones scored on a sacrifice fly by Mike Gerber.
"We hit a couple of home runs and we played some good defense," Gardenhire said. "We played some not so good defense, too. But Candy (third baseman Jeimer Candelario) and Nick (Castellanos) made great plays late in the game to save us a little bit, and Zimm gave us strong six innings."
Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann broke his personal four-game losing streak. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowed eight hits and a pair of unearned runs. But it was a grind.
"I don't know if it was the West Coast or what, but my legs felt heavy and my body was tired before I even got out there," Zimmermann said. "If you would have asked me if I was going to have this outing going into the game, I probably would have said it was going to be a four or five-run game.
"I didn't feel that good so I didn't try to do too much. I just stayed within myself. I felt like I was basically throwing batting practice out there, but I located great (no walks) and my off-speed pitches were working well."
The Twins pushed two unearned runs across against him. The first, in the third inning, scored on a throwing error by Goodrum. A two-base throwing error by Candelario leading off the sixth set up the second run.
Zimmermann departed to a warm ovation after a one-out single by Ehire Adrianza in the seventh. He was at 96 pitches.
The Tigers, with Daniel Stumpf back in Toledo, don’t have a left-handed reliever in the bullpen. And the Twins had left-handed hitters Joe Mauer and Eddie Rosario coming up. But right-hander Alex Wilson, whose cutter makes him effective against both righties and lefties, took over and got both hitters out.
"He can get lefties out," Gardenhire said of Wilson. "He can cut the ball in on them and he can back-door a cutter. Plus he has a nice sinker. I always feel like he can get some people out and that was a big spot."
Mauer, who broke Wilson’s leg and ended his season with a line drive late last season, was robbed of a hit by Candelario, who made an Iglesias-like over-the-shoulder catch running into left field.
Joe Jimenez, with a little defensive help by Castellanos in right field, pitched a scoreless eighth.
With two outs in the eighth, Castellanos tracked a towering fly ball into the corner in right, just in front of the 330-foot marker. He timed his leap perfectly and took at least a double from Max Kepler.
"I asked him, 'Is that more exciting than hitting a home run?'" Gardenhire said. "He said, 'One-hundred percent. That was way more exciting.' And we could see it by his reaction. He works hard out there. We all know it's a battle for him. He's trying hard to get better and making a play like that was huge."
Shane Greene closed it out, earning his 24th save. But not without drama.
With two outs, he gave up a broken-bat single to Jake Cave and an RBI double to No. 9 hitter Adrianza. That brought up Mauer, representing the tying run.
Greene got Mauer to ground out to shortstop Iglesias to end it.
"You always have to protect your home," Gardenhire said. "We still have a lot of fans coming out (24,849 tickets sold) and that's good to see. Fans are supporting this team and that's what I expected, that's what I knew from being on the other side.
"That's what happens around here. They love baseball and we need to keep playing good baseball in front of them. I hope they continue to do it, playing the game right, respecting the game. We will keep working for them."