'Unreal': Brandon Dixon's walk-off blast helps Tigers take series against Royals
Detroit — Truth be told, manager Ron Gardenhire didn't do Brandon Dixon any favors Sunday.
Bad enough he inserts him into the game in the eighth inning of a tie game to face tough Royals left-hander Jake Diekman and his 97-98 mph fastball and wipeout slider.
"He's kind of nasty," Dixon said after striking out on three pitches.
But Gardenhire then sent him out to play left field — a position he hasn't played since spring training — again, in a tie game.
"But I think that's what this team does well," Dixon said. "One through nine, we are all out there from the first inning to the last inning, all doing our best. And at any given time, anyone can come through."
In the top of the 10th inning, Dixon made a diving catch on the foul line to retire Alex Gordon. Then in the bottom of the 10th, when it looked like another glorious scoring chance was going to go begging, Dixon whacked a two-out, three-run home run into the right-field seats at Comerica Park to give the Tigers a 5-2 walk-off win.
"It was unreal," Dixon said of his first home run as a Tiger. "Honestly, I didn't think it was going (out) by the right fielder's reaction. I hit it well, but he (Kansas City's Jorge Soler) was kind of jogging back and I was like, 'Oh man, maybe I didn't get it as well as I thought.'
"Then I saw him jump up. Pretty exciting to see all your teammates waiting for you at home plate."
The Tigers had been handed a gift in the inning. Against reliever Ian Kennedy, Nick Castellanos and Niko Goodrum hit soft ground balls, neither of which were handled by third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez.
Both were scored singles. But Kennedy struck out Ronny Rodriguez for the second out and had Dixon in a 1-2 hole, throwing him three straight four-seam fastballs.
"He was kind of living on the corner, just a little bit off, trying to get those calls," Dixon said. "I was just trying to protect the outer half and trying to put the ball in play, and he threw me a breaking ball (knuckle curveball) that kind of popped out of his hand.
"I saw it right away and I was able to stay on it and hit it the other way."
The Tigers have won three of their first five home series, taking five of the first six from the Royals.
"That's a little better feeling," Gardenhire said, referencing the 15-3 loss on Saturday. "We got good pitching — Spencer Turnbull was fantastic — and it came down to who is going to get the last best swing."
The Tigers used five relievers in the loss Saturday, so it was paramount for Turnbull to pitch into the later innings. He did exactly that — with a flourish. Turnbull went a career-high seven innings, allowing a run on six hits with seven strikeouts, and he left with a 2-1 lead.
Turnbull didn’t allow a runner into scoring position after the second. In his last four starts, covering 24 innings, Turnbull has allowed just two earned runs.
"I always try to go deep in games," said Turnbull, who threw a career-high 102 pitches. "That's always one of my goals. Today I was actually able to get into the seventh. It really wasn't about what happened yesterday.
"I didn't try to put any extra pressure on it. I mean, it helps, but I'm trying to do that every time I go out there."
Alas, there would be no 'W' next to his stat line.
Right-hander Joe Jimenez, after striking out Adalberto Mondesi and Gordon in the eighth, surrendered a game-tying home run to Hunter Dozier. The right-handed hitting Dozier clubbed a 97-mph fastball on an 0-1 count into the right-field seats.
Jimenez had retired eight straight hitters, with six strikeouts, over his last three outings before Dozier's blast.
Shane Greene pitched a scoreless ninth, then Daniel Stumpf (two outs) and Buck Farmer combined to get the Tigers to the bottom of the 10th.
JaCoby Jones, who seems to be taking to his new swing mechanics, scored the first two Tigers runs. He doubled to lead off the third inning — a smash down into the left-field corner that left his bat with an exit velocity of 107.5 mph.
He scored on a single by Castellanos, tying the game at 1 at that point.
Jones then led off the fifth inning with a walk — just his third walk this season. He was at second base after Royals starter Brad Keller walked Jeimer Candelario. He tagged and aggressively took third base on a line drive to center field by Castellanos and scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera.
Jones has been on base 12 times this year and scored six runs.
"It was a good win for our ballclub," Gardenhire said. "You can't carry stuff like Saturday's game with you, even though you know when you get to the park the next day you remember what happened.
"But once this game starts, that's over with. We play a lot of baseball games in a row and you have to be able to forget. Short memory. That's what these guys did today."