Tigers send Martinez out with a spirited performance, top Royals

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
The Detroit Tigers' Mikie Mahtook is greeted at home after a two-run home run during the eighth inning.

Detroit — After the Detroit Tigers made three physical errors and a couple of mental ones in the 4-3 loss on Friday, manager Ron Gardenhire took a page out of Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s book.

He told his players to go home and don’t come back any earlier than 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Game time was 6:10.

“Just regroup,” he said. “We needed a break from this long summer. I know Maddon has done it a few times, just to give them a mental break.”

The show-and-go approach seemed to work. Or maybe it was the emotional farewell tribute to Victor Martinez — who rolled an infield single in the final at-bat of his splendid 16-year career. But the Tigers certainly played with more verve and proficiency Saturday night.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 5, Royals 4

More: Tigers' Victor Martinez bows out in grand style

Mikie Mahtook's two-run home run off reliever Jason Hammel in the bottom of the eighth inning sent the Tigers to a 5-4 win over the Royals. It was Mahtook's ninth home run since he was recalled from Toledo on Aug. 13.

"This was unbelievable," Mahtook said of the day, not his home run. "Vic is the epitome of what a professional is. He's had an unbelievable career and for him to go out on his own terms is pretty special.

"The day couldn't have been any more perfect and I am just happy I was able to help us get the win. He deserves every minute of this day." 

The home run came after the Royals had tied the score in the top of the eighth. Tigers right-hander Joe Jimenez had dispatched 18 straight hitters in his previous six outings, but this time he couldn't preserve a skinny, one-run lead.

A two-out double to left field by Tiger-killer Whit Merrifield scored speedy Brett Phillips from first base and tied the score 3-3 in the eighth inning.

The Tigers made a well-executed relay — from left fielder Christin Stewart to shortstop Pete Kozma — but Phillips’ left hand swiped across the plate just before catcher James McCann could apply the tag.

Salvador Perez homered off closer Shane Greene in the ninth to halve the lead, but that was the last gasp.  

The Tigers had taken a 3-2 lead into the eighth, scoring three times in the first four innings off Royals starter and another nemesis Jakob Junis. Junis had beaten the Tigers in four previous starts this season, allowing six total runs.

Niko Goodrum, back in the lineup after missing 10 days with a quad bruise, had a two-out RBI single in the first inning and a two-out RBI double in the third. He also singled and scored ahead of Mahtook's homer in the eighth. 

"It was good to have him back," Gardenhire said. "He brought energy and had a few nice swings."

The Tigers took advantage of a pair of wild pitches to break a 2-2 tie in the fourth inning. JaCoby Jones singled and Kozma walked. They moved up to second and third on the first wild pitch. Then with two outs, Junis bounced another past rookie catcher Meibrys Viloria, which allowed Jones to scamper home.

"This all starts with Zimm, though," Gardenhire said. "He went deep into the game and put us in a position to win the game."

After two rough starts (10 runs in 8⅔ innings), Tigers’ starter Jordan Zimmermann was back on point. He breezed through seven innings, allowing just three hits.

One of them was a lead-off triple in the first by Merrifield — on which Jones nearly made a phenomenal catch. Merrifield scored on a sacrifice fly. Then in the fourth inning, Zimmermann hung a curveball to Alex Gordon. That ball ended up in the right field seats.

It was also the last hit Zimmermann allowed through seven innings. He set down 11 of the last 12 Royals hitters.

"They came out swinging," Zimmermann said. "Merrifield swing at the first pitch of the game. They knew I was throwing strikes and they were swinging. After the first three innings, I started to get into a better groove."

He and catcher McCann were in perfect harmony, both in plan and execution. Zimmermann, with excellent command of both his fastball and slider, had the Royals hitters guessing wrong all night.

He got 12 called strikes on 42 four-seam fastballs, which is an indication he caught them sitting on his off-speed pitches. He got five swings and misses on 31 sliders and four swings and misses with 17 curveballs.

"After the third inning, I picked up the tempo a little bit," Zimmermann said. "The slider was better and the curveball was better. The first three innings I wasn't very sharp, but I got better as the game went on. I got into attack mode."

The Tigers played stellar defense on this night. Zimmermann picked Merrifield off first base after he walked him in the third inning.

In the sixth, Stewart, who made a physical and a mental error on Friday night, made a brilliant sliding catch in front of the barrier down the left field line on a slicing foul-line drive by Adalberto Mondesi.

Gordon, the next hitter, hit one sharply in the hole between short and third. Kozma backhanded it and threw a seed across the diamond to get him.

"This was a very special night for Victor and well-deserved for the career he had," Zimmermann said. "He's been a big part of this team ever since I've been here and we're definitely going to miss him.

"Players like him don't grow on trees, let me tell you. He had a great career. He was a heckuva ballplayer."


Twitter: @cmccosky