'We needed this': Gardenhire's message helps Tigers vanquish five-game skid
Detroit — Ron Gardenhire was determined to break the tension Thursday morning.
With his club dragging through a prolonged losing streak and his hitters getting more frustrated every day, Gardenhire decided to reach into his bag of levity and maybe loosen things up a bit.
“I’m going to go into the hitting meeting today, which I don’t normally do,” he said. “Maybe I will show them my batting stance and how I used to hit. Then they will really think they are good.”
There was one problem with that.
"I told them we couldn't find video of it, it's all on Betamax," he joked.
Gardenhire, in his inimitable way, got his message across — let's stop grousing around and start having some fun.
"I told them to quit worrying about all that stuff," he said. "Let's not talk about it anymore. I don't want to talk about two-strike approach anymore. All I want to do is talk about guys having fun.
"Go up there, use your head at the plate, try to get a pitch and put the bat head on it."
Voila! There were a lot more smiles in the dugout before the game, the pregame hand shakes and shenanigans seemed more animated, the offense heated up and, lo and behold, the losing streak ends at five.
Sacrifice flies by Nick Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the eighth gave the Tigers a seesawing 9-7 win over the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.
“It’s always beneficial," second baseman Josh Harrison said of Gardenhire's meeting. "For the younger guys, it’s good for them to see the skipper not showing any panic. ...For guys who are here for the first or second year, the manager not showing panic and believing in us, I think that sends a good message.
“It’s no secret. Guys are trying to play well and win games. The main thing is, you’ve got to have fun. When you have fun, you play loose and you are able to come back in games like this.”
Crazy game. Windy and wet conditions. The Tigers made four errors, blew a couple of two-run leads and still prevailed.
"You don't win too many games when you make four errors," Gardenhire said. "We were fortunate in a way, but the bats came alive."
In the pivotal eighth inning, White Sox reliever Carson Fulmer loaded the bases, hitting both JaCoby Jones and Harrison with pitches. Jones was hit twice in the game and scored both times.
"We were trying to bunt (on both)," Gardenhire said. "Baseball really doesn't want us to bunt (laughter). But good for us. We got on and nobody got killed."
Harrison was hit in his left hand, the same one he's broken the last two years. Fortunately, he was hit in a different spot on the hand. He stayed in the game and X-rays taken afterward were negative.
“Having it done twice before, that’s the scary part about it," Harrison said. "I’ve been there before; that’s time missed. ...We’ve got to see how the body responds. But if you leave it up to me, I’m going to be fine. I’ve dealt with far worse — unfortunately.”
Castellanos, who had three hits, and Cabrera, celebrating his 36th birthday with a pair of hits and a pair of RBIs, hit fly balls to deep center field to plate the winning runs.
"Those are the big guys in the middle and we need them to pick us up," Gardenhire said. "That's what they do when they get going."
That flurry came just after the bullpen, which has been so stout in the early weeks of the season, surrendered a two-run lead in the eighth inning.
With two outs and a runner on second, right-hander Victor Alcantara hung a 2-2 slider to Wellington Castillo.The ball landed in the left-field seats — 7-7.
The Tigers had blown a 2-0 lead earlier, allowing three unearned runs in the sixth inning. Two-out errors by first baseman Niko Goodrum, catcher Grayson Greiner and shortstop Gordon Beckham, around a long home run by White Sox rookie Eloy Jimenez, ruined another otherwise strong start by Tyson Ross. There were four lead changes in this one.
Again, Gardenhire opted for humor.
"Been there done it," he told the team in the dugout. "I made three errors in an inning by myself. You just have to live with it. Keep regrouping and keep playing."
The Tigers made an impressive rebuttal, though, scoring twice to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Three straight singles, by Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario and Dustin Peterson, plus a wild pitch did the trick.
“There was no panic," Harrison said. "We’re not putting our heads down. It’s baseball. It’s nine innings for a reason. There is a reason you play until 27 outs. You don’t want to give away any of them. And when some are given away (to you), you got opportunities.”
The Tigers produced a season-high in runs and hits (14). Greiner had three hits and two RBIs. Peterson, playing left field in place of Christin Stewart (quad strain), knocked in a pair of runs.
"You could tell that a lot of guys were pressing out there (during the losing streak)," Peterson said. "It's so early we can't get too deep in that. We just have to play the game and have fun. That's big. When you are having fun, good things happen.
"This was a big win. We needed this win."
The seesaw finally came to an end in the ninth. Tigers closer Shane Greene shut it down to earn his ninth save, but the last out was symbolic of this game. Tim Anderson, representing the tying run, hit a high pop up that started out in shallow right field.
As the wind carried it back toward the infield, Goodrum had to break into a full sprint and dodged the White Sox first base coach to run it down in foul territory between home plate and first base.
"The guys were all over him after," Gardenhire said, laughing. "They said, 'Niko, you've been playing the whole game, you knew how the wind was blowing.' You know, Niko likes to run different routes once in a while."
As Candelario said after the game, "It's a long season and you've got to be positive and come to the park to have some fun. You can't be so serious. It's 162 games. If you are so serious all the time, it's going to be a long season."