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Detroit — Brilliant starting pitching. Superior defense. Timely hitting.

It was a performance the players from the 1968 world-championship Tigers, who were honored in a pre-game ceremony, could appreciate. It may even have looked a little familiar to them, especially with the team wearing replicas of their 1968 road uniforms.

"They rubbed off on us a little bit," said Tigers starter Matthew Boyd, who pitched another gem. "To see those guys walking around with the confidence they have 50 years later — it's pretty special."

After blowing a two-run lead in the top of the ninth, the Tigers posted their second walk-off win in as many nights against the playoff-chasing St. Louis Cardinals. This one on a walk-off wild pitch, beating the Cardinals 4-3.  

"These Cardinals are in a pennant race and you can tell how tense it is for them over there," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who afterward was admiring an autographed baseball from his late brother's favorite player — Mickey Lolich. "And we're getting a piece of this from the other side, that we wouldn't get if we weren't playing a team in a playoff race.

"The guys are pretty fired up in the dugout and getting after it pretty good. There is definitely a different emotion going on right now."

BOX SCORE: TIGERS 4, CARDINALS 3

After Boyd pitched seven-plus innings of two-hit ball, the Tigers took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning. Closer Shane Greene was an out away from his 29th save when he hung a slider to Cardinals slugger Marcell Ozuna.

Two-run home run to left, just out of the reach of a leaping left fielder Mikie Mahtook -- tie game. 

Mahtook had robbed Harrison Bader of a home run in the fifth inning with a leaping catch at the wall.

More: Henning: You had to have been there to appreciate '68 Tigers

"I should've caught that one, too," Mahtook said of Ozuna's blast. "He hit it really high and I was just trying to time it. I may have jumped just a little bit early."

He missed the ball by four or five inches, he said.

"Shane is fine," Gardenhire said. "He hung a slider. He needed to keep the ball down or away from him in that situation. He made a bad pitch and it ended up in the seats."

It was Greene's sixth blown save, which turned into his sixth win when the Tigers scored in the bottom of the ninth.

A two-base error by first baseman Matt Carpenter on a ground ball by Victor Reyes set the table. Jeimer Candelario, Friday night's hero, walked. Jim Adduci laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners.

The Cardinals then walked Nick Castellanos intentionally -- as Gardenhire knew they would when he gave Adduci the bunt sign.

"That's what we talked about," Gardenhire said. "It just came down to, if we get the guy to third base, anything can happen. And then the craziest thing happened."

Bud Norris' first pitch to Victor Martinez went to the backstop and Reyes raced home with the winning run.

But it was Boyd who put the Tigers in position to win this game. He set a career-high with 11 strikeouts. With his four-seam fastball topping out at a season-best 95 mph — he threw 10 pitches at 94 and 95 mph in the first two innings — he racked up nine strikeouts in the first four innings.

He struck out the side in the first and fourth innings.

"He's who I have caught the most up here (in the big leagues) and that was as good as I've seen him," catcher Grayson Greiner said. "I looked up in the first inning and he was 94-95 mph with wipe-out stuff. I've never seen him with that type of stuff. 

"And the fact that he was able to spot it up on both sides of the plate -- he was phenomenal tonight."

More: Reyes steal disarms Castellanos, but creates other scoring opportunities

Boyd needed just 88 pitches to work through the seventh inning. At that point, he’d allowed just one base runner, a two-out double by Yairo Munoz. Of his 63 strikes, at that point, 17 were swinging and 15 were called.

"If you look at how I've been, my velocity always goes up as the year goes on," Boyd said. "Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and I have been working on stuff, getting me more out and front and it's just continuing to get better and better."

One of the few balls hit hard off him came with two outs in the fifth inning. Bader hit a slider that was heading into the Tigers bullpen beyond the left field fence. Mahtook, though, tracked the ball and, running full-tilt, reached the wall just as the ball was leaving the yard.

He leaped, crashed and caught the ball in nearly the same motion. It was a spectacular play.

"I've played here enough to know where the wall is," Mahtook said. "I felt the track and I assumed the ball was there. It was hit too low for me to peek. It feels good, anytime you can do something to keep a run off the board.

"Matty was shoving tonight. He deserved to get that type of defense behind him. But I wish I would have got the other one, too. I am mad about that."

Boyd’s night would end after two batters in the eighth inning — and he may have earned himself another Boyd-ism from Gardenhire.

He lost his shutout to the first batter he faced in the eighth. Paul DeJong got a hold of a two-seam fastball and drove it out to right field. Boyd fell behind the next hitter Munoz, 3-1 — his first three-ball count of the night — and walked him.

He was at 98 pitches. He lobbied with manager Ron Gardenhire to stay in the game — to no avail. Boyd left to a warm, appreciative ovation and a 3-1 lead.

"He said, 'I only made one mistake,'" Gardenhire said, with a chuckle. "That's another Boyd-ism t-shirt. Maybe we'll just add it to the one we have."

Gardenhire had Boyd-ism t-shirts made earlier this season after Boyd had said, "This is what I train for," and "I was programmed for this," after he was pulled after 88 pitches of a two-hitter he was throwing against the Twins.

"I'm glad there's no velcro on that shirt so he can't tack it on," Boyd said, laughing. "I am sure I say enough stupid stuff when I am in the moment...But, up until that last home run, this was one of the best outings I've had in a big-league uniform."

Would you say it was Lolich-esque?

"I don't think I can be mentioned in the same breath as him," Boyd said. "He was one of a kind in terms of what he did for this team and this city. It was pretty cool to see him out there today."

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/cmccosky

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