Lakeland, Fla. — Begin with a big wind blowing hot and heavy from the south. Add big bats, particularly of the kind historically swung by Miguel Cabrera.
What followed Thursday was a zany baseball party at Marchant Stadium’s Publix Field, with the Tigers finally putting away the Yankees, 15-11.
The Tigers slammed nine home runs, tying their Grapefruit League record first set in 2012 against the Braves.
In the first and second innings, Cabrera twice followed homers by Travis Demeritte with blasts of his own, the first a Cape Canaveral-grade launch that landed near the flag pole, atop the berm in deepest left-center field.
“Miggy crushed that first one,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s as far as I’ve seen a ball go in my time here.”
Cabrera popped another homer in the second, this one nudged by steady 20-mph gusts that helped carry the ball just over the 420 mark in deep center.
It was a near-copy of Demeritte’s second homer, which also sailed just over the fence in center.
Demeritte in the first had lined a Gerrit Cole pitch over the left-field wall for a two-run blast and his first homer of the day. His two bombs gave him four for the season, while Cabrera now owns three.
That Demeritte’s and Cabrera’s missiles came against Cole, the Yankees kingpin and owner of a $324 million contract, was all part of Thursday’s shock theater.
Five other Tigers batters starred Thursday in Detroit’s version of Gone With the Wind. Also homering: Jeimer Candelario, Brandon Dixon, Jake Rogers, Jose Azocar, and Brady Policelli.
Demeritte is trying to slam his way onto Gardenhire’s Opening Day roster.
And he could be getting closer to a spot that, at spring camp’s start, appeared to be more of a prayer for Demeritte, who in 48 games last season for the Tigers batted .225, with a .630 OPS and 63 strikeouts.
“He’s more aggressive,” Gardenhire said of Demeritte, who started Thursday’s game in right field. “His swing plane is better, and he’s taken healthy cuts.
“He can hit a baseball,” said Gardenhire, who recalled words to Demeritte after he came to Detroit from Atlanta as part of last July’s trade involving Shane Greene.
“We said, ‘You’ve got to win a job here.’ And I think he senses that.”
Casey Mize started for the Tigers and was imposing: two innings, no hits, no runs, one walk, and two strikeouts.
“He was in control out there,” Gardenhire said of Mize, one of the Tigers’ prized pitching proteges. “He knows how to read a hitter.
“He gets them off his fastball real well.”
Mize was one of the few pitchers Thursday who enjoyed pitching in a Polk County wind tunnel.
“Overall, a pretty happy day,” Mize said in the Tigers’ clubhouse afterward.
He was indeed happy with a 3-2 cutter that struck out Gio Urshela two batters into the first.
He liked even more a slider he threw to No. 3 batter, Miguel Andujar, for a second strikeout.
It was set up by Mize and catcher Jake Rogers who had first burrowed into Andujar with two-seam fastballs.
“That’s what I think we accomplished there,” he said, giving heavy credit to Rogers for the pitch sequence.
Mize followed in the second by walking leadoff batter Gary Sanchez. But a double-play grounder, and a follow-up groundout to short ended Mize’s two-inning stint that included 30 pitches, 17 for strikes.
The Tigers ripped into Cole for a 6-0 lead. The game later was tied 8-8 before more pitches began sailing past Publix Field’s walls en route to a triumph that pushed the Tigers’ spring record to 6-5-2.
Mize fared better Thursday than two of his farm-system brethren who in weeks or months could be pulling into Comerica Park.
Alex Faedo’s slider was, per usual, frighteningly tough on hitters. But his fastball, which once hit 96 on the scoreboard radar, was not as precise.
Faedo lasted two-thirds of an inning, with his line score a string of 2s: two hits, two runs, two walks, two strikeouts.
“He seems over-amped,” Gardenhire said of a right-handed prodigy who was a Tigers first-round pick in 2017. “He’s trying to throw 8,000 miles per hour.
“I think he’s got great stuff. He’s just over-throwing. He’s funky, and he’s got a good arm. A really good arm.”
Matt Manning, another of the Tigers’ first-round stable, also had issues Thursday in two innings of hard labor. He was slapped for four runs on four hits and a walk. He struck out two.
“Just overthrowing,” Gardenhire repeated.
The Tigers had 17 hits Thursday, with Cabrera and Demeritte collecting two apiece, all homers.
… Rogers also had two hits, with a homer and line single suggesting his new front-leg-down approach is paying off. Rogers is batting .600 in spring games.
… Gardenhire will dish managing chores to Triple A Toledo manager Tom Price during Friday’s home game against the Phillies.
… The Tigers will fly to the Dominican Republic later Friday for Saturday’s game against the Twins at Santo Domingo.