'Fantastic' Edwin Jackson helps Tigers topple Royals in triumphant return
Detroit — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was asked if it felt odd writing 35-year-old Edwin Jackson’s name on the lineup card.
“With the year that we’ve had? It’s not strange,” Gardenhire said. “It’s normal. That we actually have six starting pitchers on the lineup card, that’s amazing.”
So it goes in Tigerville 2019.
Jackson, who has pitched for 14 big league teams in 17 seasons and was released by two teams already this season (Oakland and Toronto), returned to the mound wearing the Olde English D for the first time since he was an All-Star here in 2009.
"Detroit always feels like home to me," said Jackson, after he breezed through 6.1. innings, allowing a run and four hits as the Tigers beat the Royals, 5-2, to win consecutive games for the first time since they won three straight over the Orioles and Braves on May 28, 29 and 31.
"Regardless of what side I'm on, every time I come to the city it feels welcoming, and I take that feeling to the mound with me."
Jackson's fastball was sitting at 95 mph and he even reached back and hit 97 a few times. When he was asked if that was a sign of adrenaline, he jokingly acted offended.
"I still got a little bit in the tank," he said with a wry smile. "I try to be young once a week."
In Jackson's last start with the Tigers on Oct. 2, 2009, White Sox's Scott Podsednik led off the game with an inside-the-park home run off him. Ten years later, the first batter he faced Friday, Whit Merrifield, hit an inside-the-park home run off him.
"Really?" Jackson said. "I've given up a few so I forget them."
You can’t script this stuff.
Merrifield hit a rocket that caromed off the center-field wall. Center fielder Victor Reyes chased it to the wall and it bounded past him. Right fielder Travis Demeritte was late getting over.
"It's funny, you start the game off like that and I kind of laughed to myself — 'OK, that's how we're going to start the game. Here we go,'" Jackson said. "Just went back and started attacking."
That was all the damage the Royals did against him.
Through six innings Jackson was at 88 pitches and had allowed just three hits. Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson talked to him about calling it a night.
"I told him he'd only gone five innings at Toledo," Gardenhire said. "And he said, 'Let's do this thing.' He said, 'You can come get me if one guy gets on.' And I said, 'You got that right.'
"He was fantastic, man. He threw the ball great."
Jackson gave up a single with one out in the seventh, and left to a standing ovation. He waved his hand and applauded back to the fans.
"I appreciated that a lot," Jackson said. "The fans of Detroit are great. I will never forget 2009 how they were and it was just my way of showing my appreciation."
It was the longest outing by a Tigers starter since Matthew Boyd went 6.1 innings in Seattle on July 27, and based on Jackson's performance the past few weeks, completely unexpected.
“He’s been doing this a long time,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t think there’s anything he doesn’t really know. He gets it. We talked for a while this afternoon and he just said, ‘I’m an old man trying to hang on. I love to pitch.’”
Jackson had allowed five earned runs in 7.2 innings in two starts at Triple-A Toledo and earlier this season with the Blue Jays was tagged for 10 runs in 2.1 innings in Colorado. This was an incredible turnaround.
"Sometimes in the game of baseball, the ball rolls your way and some times it doesn't," he said. "But one thing about myself, I've never been afraid. I've never been afraid to fail. And if you are not afraid to fail, I feel like that's the only way you can succeed.
"I've been a second-half pitcher most of my career and I know my talent. I know what I can do. Not once have I questioned ability and I take the field like that regardless of results."
Jackson was pitching in his 403rd big-league game. His battery mate was 24-year-old Jake Rogers, playing in his ninth big-league game and had never caught Jackson before.
You’d never know it. They worked smoothly, Jackson expertly mixing three different fastballs (four-seam, cutter and two-seam) with a sweeping slider.
"Jake, man, he did a great job," Jackson said. "I'm tough to catch, especially him never catching me before. But he's a special kid. There's a reason he's the future here."
Rogers did his part with the bat, too, highlighting a 12-hit attack with his third home run — a high-arching drive that curled around the foul pole in left in the sixth inning.
"That was fun," Rogers said of catching Jackson. "He had a good idea before the game and I gave him my game plan and they were pretty close. We just went after them. He was locating everything well. He's fun to catch."
Third baseman Dawel Lugo had his best night in the big leagues, with three hits including a two-run, two-out single in the first inning. He also made two sparkling backhanded plays at third base.
Miguel Cabrera walked twice and rapped an RBI single in the fifth, scoring Niko Goodrum who had tripled to the gap in right-center.
Jordy Mercer also had a pair of hits and scored a run.
"A lot of people look at this as a tough situation," Jackson said of joining a team with the worst record in the major leagues. "I look at it like, you take a group like this that's had a tough year and teach it how to have fun at the end of the year.
"You can always take something from a season, whether it's a good season or a bad season."
Gardenhire after the game was asked about finally winning consecutive games after a two-month drought and he conjured up one of the famous scenes from the movie "Major League."
"You win a game and if we win tomorrow, that's two games," he said. "And if you win the next day, that's called a winning streak. So let's go get 'em."