'We don't back down': Tigers find their power against Bauer, get a milestone win for Gardenhire
Detroit — There was a very uncomfortable pause during manager Ron Gardenhire's news conference Wednesday.
The Tigers, behind a pair of home runs and a gritty pitching performance by Matthew Boyd, beat the Indians 4-1. It was the 1,140th managerial win for Gardenhire, tying him for 50th all-time with his mentor, former Twins manager Tom Kelly.
The news of the milestone took him by surprise.
"I can't think of a better manager I'd rather be tied with," Gardenhire said. "He took me under his wing and hired me as a third base coach ... He gave me my opportunity and pulled for me to get a manager's job, too.
"I am proud of that. If we are tied, that's fantastic. I'll just retire right now, I'd rather stay tied with him."
Nah, he's not going to retire. Truth be told, he's having too much fun coaching this mostly young Tigers team, which for the moment resides in first place in the Central Division.
"We just want to compete every day," he said. "We played a good baseball game today against a real good baseball team, one of the premier teams in our division. You have to really compete against them and we're doing that.
"We don't back down from anything."
Coming into play Wednesday, only two Tigers had hit home runs. And the pitcher they faced, Indians’ right-hander Trevor Bauer, hadn’t allowed a home run and just one hit in two starts this season.
You already know how this went:
Niko Goodrum and John Hicks both homered, and the Tigers banged out 10 hits off Bauer in 5.2 innings.
"Just aggressive with pitches in the zone," said Goodrum, who jumped a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball with a man on and two outs in the first inning. "I'm not trying to wait around with him. Just try to get a pitch in the zone I can do some damage on."
Hicks' home run came leading off the sixth inning after the Indians had cut the lead to 2-1. He laced a 1-2 change-up on a line (108-mph exit velocity) into the Tigers' bullpen in left.
"We had a great approach (against Bauer)," said Hicks, who like Goodrum had a pair of hits. "I think he made a few more mistakes than he's used to making, but we took advantage of them, which was huge.
"And Niko hitting that home run in the first inning, that's always a big momentum swing for us to get ahead and kind of put a guy on his heels."
Boyd and the Tigers' bullpen (with a big assist from second baseman Josh Harrison) kept the door closed on the Indians offense.
"I thought he threw well, but I don't think his stuff was as good as it was his first two outings," said Hicks, who has caught all three of Boyd's starts. "Which is a testament to him, because he allowed one run and four hits to that team and didn't have his best stuff."
Boyd was touched for four runs in the fourth inning of his first start of the season at Toronto. In the 16 other innings that he’s pitched this season, he’s given up just two runs.
"My fastball was working early, but my slider didn't get working until the fifth and sixth inning," Boyd said. "We were kind of fighting it a little bit, trying to get it where we needed it. But Hicksy called a great game and got me through it."
The one run he allowed Wednesday came in the sixth, and it might have been the most regrettable pitch he’s made all season. With two on and two out, Boyd left an 0-2 slider up and over the plate to Hanley Ramirez, who lined it into the gap in left-center for an RBI double.
"It was a slider and we were trying to bounce it at his back foot," Hicks said. "It just stayed up a touch. (Boyd) was kicking himself in the dugout, but we talked about it. It was just one mistake. You tip your cap that he got to it. I still don't know if it was a strike."
Boyd stuck out six, raising his season total to a major-league best 29 in 17⅓ innings.
"Boyd did a really good job today, in and outside the strike zone, he had pretty good command," Indians center fielder Leonys Martin said. "He’s a tough lefty. He’s got a good breaking ball and when he gets on top of the count, he’s difficult.
"But we’ll see next time and we’ll see if we can get a better approach."
The Indians had one more push, it came in the eighth inning. Joe Jimenez got the first two outs and then walked three straight hitters to load the bases.
"I think he was just trying to be too fine today," Gardenhire said. "He wouldn't just pour it in there. With that fastball, just go at them."
Gardenhire brought in right-hander Buck Farmer to face right-handed hitting Roberto Perez. Indians manager Terry Francona countered with left-handed pinch-hitter Greg Allen.
Allen hit a ball up the middle that had two-run single written all over it.
Harrison, despite standing on the chilly field for the long inning, ranged to his right and backhanded a tricky hop. The ball nearly ran up his arm, but he collected it and shuffled it to second for the force.
"Those guys up the middle, man," said Boyd, referencing Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer, "Salt and Pepper, they were good. They were huge."