Detroit – It was just a relatively meaningless September baseball game between a pair of teams with 203 combined losses, but goodness, the Tigers’ dramatic 8-4, 12-inning, walk-off win against the Orioles Saturday night was a beauty.
John Hicks’ grand slam in the bottom of the 12th grabbed the headlines and the highlights, but there were plenty of other intriguing sub-plots and sidebars that deserve a second-day look.
Sidebar: Victor Reyes
“He’s comfortable now, he feels he belongs,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the game. “He’s gotten stronger. He’s comfortable. He feels he belongs in the big leagues and he’s playing like it.”
What didn’t Reyes do Saturday night? He got two hits, stole a base, knocked in three runs and he hit a clutch, two-out game tying home run in the bottom of the ninth off Orioles closer Mychal Givens, and that was only half of his contributions to this victory.
“I was really happy,” he said, with the help of translator Carlos Guillen, of his game-tying blast, just his third big-league homer. “Two outs, bottom of the ninth, I always try to be aggressive. You try to be focused like that on every at-bat but that was special. I was very happy for that.”
He got a 3-1 fastball from Givens and he didn’t miss it. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 103 mph, but it was launched high in the air, so there was doubt it would clear the right-field wall.
“Yeah, I thought it was pretty high and you know the dimensions of this ballpark,” Reyes said. “I know first-hand you can go deep and get nothing, just an out. So I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was out, that’s why I was running so hard.”
Reyes sprinted around the bases and didn’t slow down until he got into the dugout, where he was greeted by his jubilant teammates. Reyes is hitting .301 on the season and over the last 15 games is on a .373 tear.
And his defensive play in center field was just as significant Saturday. He made a diving catch in the second inning to take a hit away from Austin Hays. In the seventh, he threw out Renato Nunez at second base. Nunez, leading off the inning, hit a ball into the left-center gap.
Reyes got to it at the edge of the warning track. He spun and threw a seed to second base, where Harold Castro applied the tag.
“That ball was in the gap so I knew he was going to try to take second,” Reyes said. “I knew I had to get to that ball and try to make a quick throw to second base. Fortunately, it went well.”
So much has for Reyes since he's been a regular in Gardenhire's lineup.
The Tigers pitching tandem of Daniel Norris and Drew VerHagen continues to impress. They combined for seven scoreless innings Saturday, three by Norris, who is on an innings restriction. They gave up four hits total and allowed a runner to second base only once.
“I throw with Daniel a lot and his stuff is filthy,” VerHagen said. “We both have good, solid stuff and I think there is a contrast there. We’re coming at them from different angles, lefty and righty. I think it just plays really well.”
One of the big moments of the game came in the sixth inning. The Tigers were up 2-0 and with one out, VerHagen hit a batter and walked another. Which brought the Orioles’ Nos. 3-4 hitters to the plate. With David McKay and Daniel Stumpf warming in the bullpen, VerHagen got Trey Mancini to fly out on a 2-0 pitch.
Then he won an intense battle with Anthony Santander, getting him looking at well-conceived 2-2 curveball after throwing him nothing but two-seam and four-seam fastballs in the at-bat.
“On the first two hitters I was getting too far in with sliders that were backing up and I felt like the hitters were seeing that," VerHagen said. "He was probably thinking I was going to another heater there. It was 2-2, I had two pitches to play with so I might as well spin one and it just froze him.
“It was a big pitch and kind of a gamble, a little bit, but I set it up pretty well by elevating the four-seam fastball early in the at-bat.”
Subplot: Bryan Garcia
The Tigers believe rookie Garcia has the stuff and the mentality to be a late-innings set-up reliever next season and Gardenhire threw him into the first Saturday, giving him the ball in the eighth inning with a 2-0 lead.
“I’m really impressed with him,” Gardenhire said. “He’s throwing the living crap out of the ball. He’s got a good arm and we’ve talked about the kid has a chance to be in our future next year. We’re going to take a look at him.”
Garcia struck out pinch-hitters D.J. Stewart and Rio Ruiz, but things went south quickly. He gave up two-strike singles to Hanser Alberto and Jonathan Villar — and they advanced to third and second on an ill-advised throw by left fielder Christin Stewart.
The stage was set for Garcia’s first, and certainly not last, teachable moment.
With first base open, the Tigers had the pick-your-poison option to walk Mancini and pitch to Santander. Pitching coach Rick Anderson walked to the mound to discuss it with Garcia.
"We told him he didn't have to attack (Mancini), just make good pitches," Gardenhire said. "There was a base open. But just putting him on and put all that pressure on the kid isn't great either. Let's just see what he can do, see if he can pitch around a guy.
"We wanted to make him chase, but he just hung one."
Mancini blasted his 32nd home run of the season to put the Orioles up 3-2.
The Tigers will be meeting next week – front office, coaching staff, development staff and analytics department -- to lay the early groundwork for the 2020 roster. Three players who contributed to the win Saturday most likely have locked up their spots – Norris, Reyes and Harold Castro, who continues to hammer the baseball.
Castro had two more hits including his fifth home run of the season. He’s got 27 multi-hit games, which is fourth most in the American League. Since July 2 he is hitting .312 with seven doubles, two triples, four homers, 33 RBIs and 20 runs scored.
“I just think he’s a player,” Gardenhire said. “I think he can hit. I think he’s got talent. I think he’s ready for this. Of all the guys here, I think he’s ready. I really believe that.”
Orioles at Tigers
First pitch: Monday, 4:10 p.m.
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
LHP John Means (10-10, 3.47), Orioles: He’s allowed two runs or less in his last five starts and back at the end of May he limited the Tigers to a run on three hits with seven strikeouts over six innings. Opponents are hitting just .208 off his change-up and .143 off his slider.
LHP Tyler Alexander (0-3, 5.40), Tigers: This will be his fifth start, but his first since Aug. 7. In his last four appearances in long relief, he’s allowed four runs in 12 innings, with a 12-2 strikeout-walk ratio and an opponents’ batting average of .182.