Brandon Dixon, gritty bullpen help Tigers complete doubleheader sweep
Boston — Manager Ron Gardenhire, exhausted from a long, long day of baseball, provided a most fitting epitaph for the Tigers' 4-2 win in the nightcap of the split doubleheader with the Red Sox on Tuesday.
"There were a lot of moments in there I wasn't comfortable with," he said.
The entire game was an escape act for the Tigers' pitching staff. The Red Sox left 13 runners on base and were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
"It was a long day," Gardenhire said. "But we came out on top and we came out of it healthy. Nobody got too terribly beat up."
After winning the early game — the make-up of the rain-out on Monday — 7-4, the Tigers completed their first doubleheader sweep in Boston in 54 years (Aug. 20, 1965). It was their first doubleheader sweep anywhere since Sept. 22, 2016 at Minnesota.
"That's obviously the goal, to win them both," said first baseman Brandon Dixon. "But to get that done, that's big."
Dixon delivered the pivotal hit. His bases-clearing double in the fourth inning, one of his three hits in the game, somehow managed to stand up.
"I was getting good pitches to hit and I was able to put good swings on them," Dixon said. "It's as simple as that. I got some pitches over the middle of the plate and I did what I could with them."
The Tigers were limited to one hit through the first three innings by Red Sox spot starter Hector Velazquez. But in the fourth, singles by Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera, plus a walk to Niko Goodrum set the table for Dixon and ended the night for Velazquez.
Dixon came up against right-handed reliever Marcus Walden and laced an off-speed pitch into the left-field corner. All three runners scored, Goodrum just ahead of the relay throw.
Dixon, after hesitating around second, was an easy out at third. He has made two starts for the Tigers since being called up from Triple-A Toledo. He’s gotten five hits and has been thrown out on the bases three times.
"It's not something I'm used to," Dixon said. "During our last pitching change, I asked J-Hay (Josh Harrison), 'Hey, do I need to calm down or something? Tell me if I need to.'"
But Harrison told him the same thing Gardenhire has told him — stay aggressive.
"J-Hay said the first one was definitely my fault, and I knew that," Dixon said of being thrown out at third. "But he said, 'If you hit a ball off the wall, go for second.' I play aggressively, but I am not used to making that many mistakes on the bases."
He was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single in the eighth inning.
"That's the way you've got to play, you've got to try," Gardenhire said. "In this ballpark, you've got to go for it. That's a great baseball team over there. You've got to go for it."
The amazing thing, though, was that those three runs — with the insurance of a fourth run delivered by back-to-back doubles by Ronny Rodriguez and John Hicks in the ninth— held up.
In all but one inning, the defending World Series champions had runners on base and in scoring position.
It was an odd outing for Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull, who nevertheless picked up his first Major League win. He hit two batters, including former Tiger J.D. Martinez. He walked four others. The Red Sox, despite just three hits, had seven base runners in the first three innings and nine through five.
But none of them crossed the plate.
"Definitely had to battle tonight," Turnbull said. "I had a tough time finding the strike zone consistently. I was just trying to do everything I could to go as long as I could. I had a hard time gripping the ball.
"And definitely a hard time spinning it. If I had a slider or a curveball tonight it would've helped. I could've got through a couple of those innings quicker instead of spraying pitches all over the place."
Turnbull wriggled out of trouble in the first inning, getting Martinez to hit into a double play. In the second inning, he got a double-play ball from Jackie Bradley Jr. to strand a pair of runners.
The third inning was even messier.
Turnbull was the beneficiary of two deft defensive plays by center fielder JaCoby Jones. He cut off a hard-hit ball in the gap and held Christian Vazquez to a single. Then he made a sliding catch to take a hit away from Andrew Benintendi.
Still, the Red Sox loaded the bases with two out. But Turnbull escaped again, getting Xander Bogaerts, who homered twice in the first game, to pop out.
After a clean fourth inning, Turnbull gave up a hit and a walk with one out. But he got Mitch Moreland to hit into a 4-6 fielder’s choice (for the third time) and, with a 3-2 fastball at 96 mph, he struck out Martinez.
"I was pretty pumped up right there," Turnbull said. "You don't normally see a ton of emotion from me on the mound. But I am pretty sure I gave a loud scream or fist pump or something. I was pretty emotional at that moment."
He needed 94 pitches, and threw only 51 strikes, but it goes in the books as five shutout innings and, after sweating bullets for the next four innings, his first win.
"Pretty surreal moment," Turnbull said. "I enjoyed every second of it. It was a battle, but it was a lot of fun, too. It was some of the most fun I've had in a while on the mound. It's really a cool atmosphere, such an historic place.
"To get my first win here is pretty cool."
The Red Sox finally broke through in the seventh against reliever Joe Jimenez. A two-out bloop single by Bogaerts brought in Benintendi and left runners at first and second.
Left-hander Daniel Stumpf was summoned to face left-handed hitting Rafael Devers — though Gardenhire knew the Red Sox would counter with right-hander Steve Pearce to pinch-hit.
Stumpf struck Pearce out with a diving slider.
It was a 3-2 game in the eighth after Michael Chavis hit his first Major League home run off Victor Alcantara.
With two outs, Gardenhire brought in left-hander Jose Fernandez, who was just called up from Triple-A Toledo to replace the injured Blaine Hardy. He gave up a single.
Next. Gardenhire brought in Zac Reininger, also called up from Toledo as the 26th man for the doubleheader. He got the Tigers out of the inning, retiring Mookie Betts on a pop up.
"I told my pitching coach (Rick Anderson), that's enough, I'm not going back out there," Gardenhire joked. "I don't want to do that, but we did what we had to do to negotiate through their lineup."
That left it up to closer Shane Greene. He gave up a one-out single to Martinez, but pitched a scoreless ninth for his 11th save.
That might have been the only inning Gardenhire felt comfortable.