Tigers shut the door on slumping Cubs, make 2 early runs stand
Detroit — As the Tigers were paying silent tribute to the late Aretha Franklin before the game Tuesday, a spectacular rainbow broke through the clouds and hovered in the sky for a couple of minutes.
Was the Queen of Soul looking down on her beloved Tigers?
Who’s to say?
If she was, the Tigers treated her to a pretty good baseball game.
It came down to the final at-bat — Tigers closer Shane Greene against left-handed hitter Jason Heyward, with the tying run at first. The crowd at Comerica Park, maybe a 60-40 split with Cubs fans, were on their feet.
"Atmosphere is huge," Greene said afterward. "I can't tell you how much it plays for the players to be out there when the atmosphere is like that."
It took 10 pitches, five straight foul balls with the count at 2-2. Finally, on the 10th pitch, Greene threw a 96.4-mph fastball by Heyward to close out the Tigers' 2-1 win over the Cubs, owners of the best record in the National League.
"It was fun, but mainly because I came out on top," said Greene, who earned his 27th save.
Of the 10 pitches, four two were two-seam fastballs. He threw one cutter, on the seventh pitch, and Heyward put a good swing on it. He also mixed in two sliders at 80 mph — the last of which, on the ninth pitch, Heyward barely got a piece of. He tipped it in and out of catcher James McCann's glove.
"At that point, it's just don't make a mistake," Greene said. "Because a homer and they get the lead. I made some good pitches and he fouled off some good pitches. I don't throw my four-seam much, but (on the 10th pitch) I gripped my four-seam and threw it as hard as I could.
"And here we are."
Undeniably, the Cubs are in an offensive funk right now, which is why they moved to acquire Daniel Murphy from the Nationals earlier in the day. They mustered four runs total in the four-game series against the Pirates — one solo home run in each of the four games.
Same story Tuesday. They are now the only team ever to score one run in five straight games, with each of those runs produced by a solo homer.
They came in hitting a major league-low .146 with runners in scoring position this month and were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position Tuesday.
That said, the Tigers pitchers didn't let them off the mat.
"That's a good lineup," said Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann, who soldiered through six innings, allowing only just the solo home run to Anthony Rizzo. "Any one of those guys can take you deep at any moment. You have to make your pitches and keep them uncomfortable.
"Mac and I were able to do that tonight."
The bullpen made that skinny lead hold up.
"We did our job tonight," Greene said. "We did what we are supposed to do."
Drew VerHagen pitched a scoreless seventh. Joe Jimenez, who gave up a two-run home run to Twins' Mitch Garver in his last outing on Saturday, walked Rizzo to start the eighth. But he buckled down, striking out Kyle Schwarber and David Bote with 96-mph fastballs.
"We were hesitant about using him," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) said he had a couple of days and he wants the ball, he wanted to go back out there. So you give the kid the ball.
"Early on it didn't look like he had his best stuff, but the last couple, the ball started jumping and you could see the confidence and he started to get emotional. He got some big outs."
The Tigers jumped on Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks right out of the gate. Jeimer Candelario, the former Cub, dunked one into shallow center and hustled his way to second base. Jose Iglesias singled him to third and Nick Castellanos sent him home with a groundout.
With two outs, Victor Martinez, who had himself a night, slapped a single to right field to score Iglesias.
Martinez singled in his first three at-bats, the third one was a beauty. With the Cubs over-shifting dramatically to the right side of the field, Martinez, age 39, dropped a bunt past Hendricks. He beat it out with no throw.
That was the second bunt single of his career, and he got a warm ovation from the mostly Cubs crowd at Comerica Park.
"That was entertaining," Gardenhire said. "He just wants to win and he wants to play and to get on any way he can."
Gardenhire was asked how he felt about the strategy there, bunting against the shift.
"I don't give a flip what he does," he said. "I don't care. I just want him to be here and to keep pumping these guys up and doing what he does. He wants to bunt, who am I to second-guess him? I love it."
Zimmermann’s effort was downright grimy. The Cubs hit some balls hard, average exit velocity on 90 mph on the 20 balls they put in play against him.
They had seven hits and a walk, a baserunner in all six innings. But he worked his way out of all the mess.
"The biggest thing, I was able to get the fastball up and in on both righties and lefties," he said. "When I wanted to go up and in, I got it up and in. Nothing really ran back over the middle.
"Going up and in set up all the off-speed."
He bailed his defense out in the fourth. The Cubs put runners on the corners and one out — thanks to a walk (his first walk in 15 innings) and an error in both judgment and execution by shortstop Iglesias.
Bote was running from first on the ground ball to Iglesias. He thought he had time to get the force at second anyway — he did not — and he ended up throwing the ball past second baseman Niko Goodrum.
But, unruffled, Zimmermann got Willson Contreras to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play.
"Yeah, you are hoping to get at least one out there and you don't get any," Zimmermann said. "But you just have to grind a little more and pick your guys up. I was able to pick them up on that one."
The home run Rizzo hit came off an 80-mph off-speed pitch. Rizzo fell to a knee on the swing and toppled over in the box. Still, the ball flew out onto the Belle Tire canopy in right field.
"It didn't sound that great," Zimmermann said with a smirk. "I must've supplied all the power."