Detroit — There were moments Thursday when the Tigers resembled their customary 2018 selves. But other than Matthew Boyd pitching six strong innings, this was something of a game-day makeover at Comerica Park.
The Tigers slammed James Shields for three sixth-inning home runs, all after Boyd had pitched shutout baseball, on their way to a rare, breezy victory, 7-2, over the White Sox.
Nick Castellanos started the sixth-inning burst with a high-caliber rifle blast of a homer that traveled 406 feet into the left-center field stands. Two batters later, Mikie Mahtook rammed a 387-foot drive to left-center for his third home run of the past week.
And then Ronny Rodriguez, who had yet to bag a big-league homer, lofted a Shields pitch 357 feet to left for his first four-base trot.
"You could see after that first one, he got a little mad," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said, speaking of Shields, whom the Tigers know so very well from his years with the White Sox and earlier with the Royals and Rays.
"And then he tried to throw it (his pitches) through a brick wall."
Shields is 36 and no longer burns four-seamers past hitters as he might have done a decade ago with Tampa Bay.
Then again, neither is Boyd known for heat, and such was the case again Thursday as he ran his usual 90-93 on the radar gun, mixing in a slider, change, and of course a curveball that spun 20-mph slower than his fastball.
He had potential pitch-count issues in the first two innings (43) as he and rookie catcher Grayson Greiner worked to find common ground on pitch selection.
But they straightened out and Boyd was able to last six innings, finishing with 103 pitches, while stopping the White Sox on six hits, six strikeouts, and a walk.
"Slow pace — that's what I didn't like," said Gardenhire, who wasn't keen on the Boyd-Greiner relationship early in Thursday's game. "That was a lot of pitches. But he hasn't worked a lot with Greiner, and there was a lot of shaking early."
Boyd agreed. He wanted to throw more curveballs during those first two innings. Greiner insisted on fastballs. They finally reached an understanding and Boyd's pitch counts steadily dropped as he won his eighth game of the season while dropping his ERA to 4.09.
"Didn't put 'em away the way I should have," Boyd said, talking about the early frames, which featured only one White Sox hit, a single, and two strikeouts, but still cost him too many pitches through two innings. "There were some deep counts of my own accord."
The White Sox would have scored at least once in the fifth against Boyd were it not for a sweet play from Mike Gerber, which helped an outfielder who struck out three times Thursday and who now is in an 0-for-30 dive.
With two out, and two on, Ryan LaMarre stroked a single to center on which lead runner Yolmer Sanchez, who had been on second, was about to score. That is, until Tim Anderson, who had been on first, romped past second and headed for third. Gerber's throw to Jeimer Candelario nailed Anderson just before LaMarre scored.
Rather than having one run in and a potential big inning roiling, the White Sox were finished in the fifth.
"Huge play," Boyd said. "That could have changed the dynamic of the entire game."
The Tigers had dented Shields for a couple of runs in the fourth when, after Jim Adduci singled, Mahtook was hit by a pitch and Rodriguez followed with a RBI ground-rule double over the left-center field fence for a 1-0 Tigers lead.
Greiner arrived for the second of three deep drives he delivered Thursday, this one a liner to distant center for a sacrifice-fly RBI that brought home Mahtook.
The Tigers were up, 7-0, after their home-run binge in the sixth and were still up 7-0 after Drew VerHagen pitched a scoreless seventh.
Louis Coleman, however, had a nasty eighth — two walks and Jose Rondon's long homer to left — that handed the White Sox their only runs.
Zac Reininger finished with a scoreless ninth, all before he headed for Triple-A Toledo as the player displaced when Michael Fulmer was activated following 33 days on the disabled list.
Fulmer will start for the Tigers in Friday night's 7:10 game against the White Sox as the two teams' four-game Comerica Park series continues.