Cincinnati – Everything seemed good and right at the beginning. Opening Day of the 2020 season, nearly four months late, but here at last.
The Tigers and Reds both lined up along the baselines, the Tigers socially distant along the third base line and the Reds well-spaced on the first base line, all kneeling on a long black ribbon while Black Lives Matter messages were relayed in a video on the giant scoreboard in left field.
“We all know what we’re trying to do here — awareness,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, like the rest of the Tigers’ and Reds’ players wearing a BLM T-shirt before the game. “We want to make people aware of what’s going on in our country. This is for respect…There are things in this country that need to change.
“We made a statement with these shirts.”
But somewhere between the national anthem and the first pitch, Tigers lefty ace Matthew Boyd lost his mechanics.
It took him six hitters to find it but by then two runs had scored and the Reds were on their way to a 7-1 Opening Day romp over Detroit on Friday.
"It was pretty much the whole package," Boyd said. "Usually, I go out with the ability to make the adjustment when something is going wrong. I can feel that. Tonight there was just something wrong right in the foundation.
"I had a little mechanical twitch, just how I lined up on the rubber and I didn't make that adjustment really until the third inning, slowing making it in the second and finally started flowing in the third."
Boyd needed 30 pitches to get out of the first. He gave up a walk, hit two batters (including former teammate Nick Castellanos with the bases loaded) and allowed singles to left-handed hitters Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas.
"As the starting pitcher, you want to set the tone for your team and I gave up a two-spot right out of the chute," Boyd said. "I will be better for it and our team will be better tomorrow."
He bounced his first slider and didn’t really seem to get a feel for it until the second inning. Of his 53 strikes, he got just eight swings and misses with two strikeouts. He did battle his way through five innings (88 pitches), but it was far from a typical outing for him.
Strange, too, especially with all the adrenaline he brought into the game.
"It was awesome," he said. "I wanted to run through a brick wall. That feeling was great. I miss that feeling. I haven't felt it in a while."
It may have made him over-amped, as he told Gardenhire after the first inning, but that wasn't the problem.
"No, you want to feed off that feeling," he said. "You want to welcome it...I just need to better and figure out a way to make adjustments faster."
Left-handed hitters typically haven't been a problem for Boyd, they hit just .236 off him last season. But the Reds lefties did damage. Votto homered off him in the fifth inning and Moustakas had two RBI singles, the second one scored Castellanos who had doubled in the third.
"My job is to be better from this and I will be better," he said. "I know what I need to do to get better in that sense."
Moustakas ended up with four RBIs, after he sent a 3-1 hanging sinker by reliever David McKay 421 feet into the seats in right in the seventh inning.
The Tigers hitters, meanwhile, were mostly being overmatched by Reds starter Sonny Gray. Through six innings, they’d collected just three hits. One, though, was a 447-foot howitzer shot into the seats in left field by C.J. Cron.
The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 112 mph.
"I just tried to put a good swing on a pitch I thought he was going to throw," Cron said. "He beat me with a couple of sliders in my first at-bat and I assumed he would go back to that. He left it down and I put a good swing on it."
But that the only dent the Tigers made against Gray. He struck out nine in six innings. The Tigers didn't manage as much as a hit against a trio of Reds relievers, either.
"It's different, for sure," Cron said about the dull, fan-less atmosphere. "There was a lot less intensity. It felt like a glorified spring training game. I think it's something we're going to have to get used to. There's not much to feed off.
"We have to bring it ourselves every day."
Strikeouts have been a point of emphasis for the Tigers this offseason, after setting a major league record with 1,428 last season. They ended up with 13 strikeouts Friday, three by lead-off hitter Niko Goodrum. Jonathan Schoop, Christin Stewart and Austin Romine fanned twice each.
"It's not easy when you face a guy like Sonny Gray," Gardenhire said. "He made it tough on us. They have three really good starters so this series is going to be a good test of where we're at. But by no means does this game mean we're not very good.
"We're in for a challenge in this series and we've got to figure out a way. I trust these guys and I think we will bounce back."