'We need more of that': Tigers grind out win over Pirates, end 4-game skid
Pittsburgh — Not exactly the way you'd draw it up, facing Major League Baseball's RBI leader in a one-run game with two on and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. But every once in a while, Shane Greene seems to channel the old mentality of the 2004 Going To Work Pistons championship team:
"If it ain't rough, it ain't right."
Greene confronted Pirates slugger Josh Bell, who earlier hit his 20th home run, challenging him with a two-seam fastball on a 2-1 count.
"My mindset was, just make my pitch, one pitch at a time," Greene said. "I made a pitch and he grounded out."
Bell grounded it right back to Greene, who has a history of air-mailing throws around the diamond. This time, he calmly threw a seed to shortstop Niko Goodrum, who converted the game-ending double play.
"That's the first time I've ever turned a double-play in my life," said Greene, whose 21st save completed the Tigers' 5-4 win over the Pirates Tuesday night and ended a four-game losing streak. "So, yeah me."
Pretty gritty win for the Tigers, who blew a 4-1 lead and then scratched across a run with just one single in the top of the eighth.
"Tonight was big-time for everybody," Greene said. "We've been fighting our tails off all season. We had a couple of games here lately that have been a little embarrassing for us.
"So to come out tonight and fight a team like that and come out with a win is big-time."
The Tigers took advantage of a walk, hit batsman and a botched double-play ball to score the go-ahead run.
With the bases loaded and one out, Pirates reliever Kyle Crick got Brandon Dixon to hit a ground ball to second baseman Adam Frazier. Instead of flipping the ball to his shortstop at second base to start the double-play, he tried to tag Christin Stewart, who was running to second.
He missed the tag and barely got Dixon at first. Nick Castellanos, who walked to start the inning, scored from third.
"The ball kind of pulled him toward first base," said Stewart, who was hit by a pitch. "When he didn't turn and go to second, I was like, 'All right, he's going to try to tag me.' I just broke down so he couldn't tag me."
Stewart made a clutch defensive play in the eighth inning, too. With Melky Cabrera on first and one out, Stewart caught a fly ball moderately deep in left field and made a quick, strong throw to second, forcing Cabrera, who had tagged, to hustle back to first.
"It's what we've been talking about," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Understand the outs, understand the situation. Look around rather than just being out there. It's a beginning for him. He had a nice ballgame. We need more of that."
About that eighth inning. It took Joe Jimenez 31 pitches to extricate the Tigers from a mess he created with a single, a walk and a hit batsman. With Blaine Hardy and Carlos Torres warming quickly in the bullpen, Jimenez found a way to get out of it.
Pinch-hitter Corey DIckerson hit a tricky-hop grounder to Goodrum. He had to back up on it slightly, but he uncorked a bullet to first base, getting Dickerson by a half-step.
"It's about getting a hop you can handle, getting it out as quick as you can," Goodrum said. "Just trying to give us a chance to get an out. It was do or die. If we don't make the play they score."
The Pirates scored two unearned in the seventh inning to erase a 4-2 deficit, blighting a strong start by lefty Daniel Norris. A bad throw by right-handed reliever Victor Alcantara opened the gate.
Then the Pirates foiled Gardenhire's match-up game out of the bullpen. He called on lefty Daniel Stumpf to face left-handed pinch-hitter Colin Moran. Moran singled to make it 4-3.
Then he went with right-hander Buck Farmer against right-handed Kevin Newman — triple, tie game.
"It was a battle," Gardenhire said. "But the guys came through when we needed to at the end. Jimenez had a battle and Greeney, too. But we needed a win and it was our night tonight."
Norris allowed two runs on four hits in his six innings, and got 10 ground ball outs. One of the hits, though, was a 419-foot home run by Bell. Bell is slugging a MLB-best .640 on off-speed pitches and hit clubbed a Norris change-up with an exit velocity of 108 mph.
"I knew (his numbers) going into it, but the homer was just not a good pitch," Norris said. "I just didn't throw it correctly. But I have faith in all my pitches and I feel like I can get a swing and miss when I need to."
Flash forward to the sixth inning. Norris, protecting a two-run lead, was over 80 pitches and nearing the end of his night. He got ahead of Bell with a couple of 90-mph fastballs and showed him a slider and a curveball for good measure.
But with the count even, Norris, undaunted by what happened in the third inning, challenged him with another change-up. He struck him out swinging.
"I threw that one with more conviction and it did what it was supposed to," Norris said.
Norris got five swings and misses total, four of them with the change-up.
Castellanos was a catalyst for the offense, walking twice, scoring twice and knocking in a run with a double. Miguel Cabrera, who played first base for the first time since May 31, and maybe for the last time this season, had two hits and an RBI.
“He didn’t want to sit two games out and just pinch-hit,” Gardenhire said before the game. “He had a day off Sunday and we were off Monday, so this was the perfect time to do it. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, but we’ll probably let him sit tomorrow.”
The RBI was Cabrera’s the 1,665th of his career, putting him two back of Sammy Sosa for 27th all-time.
"We're fighting every day, trying to play the right way," Stewart said. "Today we lost the lead but we stuck with it, kept pounding the rock and ended up winning the game. Everyone did their part. It was a great game all around."