Tigers blast way to Game 1 victory over Twins, Gardenhire ejected

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — Tigers bench coach Steve Liddle was a bit surprised to see Ronny Rodriguez wear his gray spikes before the game.

"I asked him where his orange shoes were," Liddle said. "He said, 'Oh Papi, the grey ones are hot.' And he wasn't lying. I think everybody is going to be wearing  gray shoes for the night game."

Detroit Tigers' Ronny Rodriguez rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run off Minnesota Twins pitcher Michael Pineda in the fourth inning.

Ronny Rodriguez, the Tigers surprise home run leader, blasted a pair of second-deck shots Saturday that helped setup the 5-3 win over the Twins in the opener of this make-up doubleheader.

"You mean, Babe?" said catcher John Hicks when he was asked about Rodriguez afterward.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 5, Twins 3, Game 1

Rodriguez hit a 454-foot shot to left-center in the second inning and a 414-footer down the line in left in the fourth, 868 feet of home runs, both off Twins starter Michael Pineda.

"How much?" Rodriguez asked. "Oh, OK. I mean, I've been hitting those homers in batting practice. I don't look for homers. I just try to make good contact and then put the bat down and run the bases."

Those were his fourth and fifth home runs of the season, in 66 plate appearances. He hit five home runs in 206 plate appearances in his debut season last year. He's hit safely in 12 of the 17 games he's played since being called up from Triple-A Toledo, with 14 of his hits going for extra bases. 

"I've been working hard to get to this point in my career," Rodriguez said. "I've gotten a lot of advice from a lot of people who've been around the game a long time. It's something I am starting to take advantage of."

Brandon Dixon hit a solo home run off Pineda, as well.

But it was Hicks' line drive home run in the top of the ninth that proved to be the game-winner. And it was a redemptive shot, at that.

"I was kind of kicking myself," Hicks said.

With the Tigers up 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Hicks called for reliever Joe Jimenez to throw a high fastball on an 0-2 count against Twins slugger C.J. Cron. Cron sent the 95-mph pitch soaring 422 feet into the seats in right-center. 

"We should've thrown the slider," Hicks said. "I wanted to go up high for a ball and then throw the slider. We should've just went right to it because the second pitch was a good slider and he looked bad on it.

"I was kicking myself, but you've got to turn the page."

Hicks had hit two rocket shots that were caught earlier in the game — exit velocity off the bat of 101 and 96 mph. But his 92-mph liner off the end of his bat on a Trevor Hildenberger slider just cleared the wall in left.

"He's got a funky delivery and you don't see guys like that too often," Hicks said. "But the times I've faced him, he's thrown a lot of first-pitch sliders. I was looking for it. My approach against guys like that is always dead center to right-center.

"But he threw me a slider down and I was able to pull it. It was a perfect situation."

The Tigers added an insurance run on a double by Gordon Beckham and an RBI single by Christin Stewart, and Shane Greene pitched a scoreless ninth for his American League-leading 14th save. 

"I'm proud of the way the guys fought back," said Liddle, who took over the club after Ron Gardenhire was ejected in the third inning. "We gave up that late home run to tie the game — Joe made a pitch to a hot hitter.

"But we came right back. Proud of the way we fought back."

It was another wild ride for Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull. He only allowed four hits, one a solo home run by Jason Castro on his career-high 111th and last pitch of the day in the sixth.

But he walked four, hit another and threw a wild pitch, all in 5⅔ innings.

"I was a little wild and struggled with my command again," Turnbull said. "Mostly I was frustrated with that last pitch. If I could have that last one back, it'd be a better day."

Liddle will take some of the blame for that one, though he made the right call.

With two outs in the sixth inning, Turnbull appeared to hit Castro with a pitch. He was sent to first base, but Liddle challenged, saying the ball hit the bat, and got the play overturned — a foul ball. Two pitches later, Castro sent Turnbull’s 2-2 cutter into the right field seats, making it a 3-2 game.

"I almost wish they'd left him out at first after that," Turnbull said, laughing.

Liddle was also indirectly responsible for Gardenhire's ejection. Liddle was chirping at home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt because he felt was squeezing the strike zone on Turnbull.

"I think Ron was sticking up for (me) on that one," Liddle said. "I was yelling at him and I don't think Gardy liked the answer I got back. Yeah, he's going to protect the players and apparently he's going to protect me, too.

"I don't know if I'm going to have to pay the fine on that one or not. That's up for discussion."

Gardenhire came out of the dugout and delivered a very animated argument. It was his second ejection of the season, the 79th of his career. It was also the sixth time he was broomed by Wendelstedt.


Twitter: @cmccosky