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'It was an honor': Tigers' Boyd twirls gem on Morris' day

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers starting pitcher Matthew Boyd works in the third inning.

Detroit — On the day the Tigers took Jack Morris’ No. 47 out of circulation and mounted it on the wall of fame in center field between Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer, Tigers skipper Ron Gardenhire had the temerity to take No. 48, starting pitcher Matthew Boyd, out of the game after pitching six innings of two-hit ball.

"I know Jack was yelling at me because I took him out after six innings," Gardenhire said, with a chuckle, after the Tigers beat the Twins, 4-2, on Sunday. "I wanted to do it just to irritate him on his day."

Not really, but it provided some symmetry, and some good laughs, on Morris' day.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Twins 2

"Jack probably didn't like me only going six innings," Boyd joked.

Truth be told, Boyd didn't like getting pulled either. He was at 88 pitches and hadn't allowed a hit since a triple by Mitch Garver leading off the second inning. He dispatched 13 Twins hitters at one stretch. 

"I can't even tell you what he told me (in the dugout)," Gardenhire said of Boyd's protest. "It was great. It was one of the greatest lines ever. You will see it on a T-shirt one day. It was beautiful. 

"That's exactly what you want — a guy to fight for staying in the game."

In the wonderfully executed tribute to Morris before the game, much was made of Morris' reluctance to come out of any of his starts. Had Sparky Anderson tried to pull him in a two-hitter, at 88 pitches, there may have been a fistfight on the mound.

"The game has changed," Gardenhire said. "Jack wouldn't do very well in this era. We had to fight to get the ball from him. I know he's mad at me today."

Morris completed 38 percent of his starts with the Tigers. In 78 starts, Boyd has one complete game. 

"I trust everything (Gardenhire) does," Boyd said. "He's our general. He's our leader. He told me I was done and that's that. He knew how much I wanted to stay. But he made the call and I trust him."

Boyd left with a 3-1 lead and the bullpen made it stand up. Alex Wilson pitched a clean seventh inning. Joe Jimenez gave up a 427-foot home run to Max Kepler — the first home run against him at Comerica Park this season — and closer Shane Greene struck out two in a crisp ninth to earn his 25th save.

"He was at 88 pitches," Gardenhire said. "You send him back out there, the first guy gets on and you take him out of the game anyway. Just bring in your bullpen guy and if he makes a mess on his own, so be it. 

"(Boyd) gets it. But I love it that he doesn't want to come out of the game."

Jack Morris' No. 47 cut into the outfield grass seen in the fifth inning while Tigers' Matthew Boyd pitches.

Boyd and Morris have formed a bond over the last couple of years. They talked at length during the Tigers last winter caravan and they talked again before the game Sunday.

"It was an honor to pitch on the day his jersey was retired," Boyd said. "Getting to talk to him before the game was really special. He told me he was going to get me in line every year. He said, every offseason he was going to get me in line.

"And I told him I was all ears for that."

In terms of pitching styles, Boyd couldn't be more unlike Morris. Boyd, though his fastball was hitting 94 mph Sunday, relies on the precise command of a five-pitch mix. Of his 88 pitches Sunday, he threw 23 four-seam fastballs, 21 two-seamers, 21 sliders, 14 curveballs and nine change-ups.

The average exit velocity on the 16 balls the Twins put in play was a soft 78 mph.

Morris was a power-pitcher with a devastating split-fingered pitch. He posted 2,478 strikeouts over his career.

But in terms of mound presence and attitude, Morris can and has taught Boyd a lot.

"The theme around everything we talk about is compete," Boyd said. "You go out there, you take the ball and you compete every single pitch. You don't get pushed around. You don't get disrespected.

"You go out there and you put your team in a position to win every single time. Be that presence out there — that's what he was. I just hope I can be anywhere near the competitor he was. He was the ultimate competitor and that's why his plaque is hanging on a wall at Cooperstown."

Gardenhire and Twins manager Paul Molitor both had their players sitting at the top step of the dugout watching Morris' ceremony. Morris, of course, is a native of Minnesota and helped the Twins win a World Series, as well.

"It was really cool," Gardenhire said. "He's one of the great ones and we all know him. We had all the guys out there because we want to make sure they see these things, to know how important it is to show respect to these guys. We will do it again for Tram (Alan Trammell) in a couple of weeks.

"That's Tigers history right there. We want to show these what it's all about here."