'Trending in right direction': Javier Báez heating up, Tigers battle to final out in Boston
Boston — A phrase that manager AJ Hinch has uttered way too frequently this season was apropos again Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
The Tigers didn’t do enough to win a baseball game. They battled. They stayed in the fight. They lost. For the eighth time in 10 games, they lost. For the 42nd time in 68 games, they lost.
Powered by two blasts over the Green Monster — a three-run home run by Trevor Story and a solo shot by Christian Vazquez — the Red Sox beat the Tigers for the second straight night, 5-4.
"It's definitely hard to lose games like this," catcher Eric Haase said. "But if we're going to lose, that's how we have to play — down to the last out. Overall our at-bats were better. Defensively we played a clean game.
"It felt like they beat us, we didn't beat ourselves and that tells us we're trending in the right direction."
The Tigers banged out 11 hits, double-digit hits in consecutive games for just the second time this season. Jonathan Schoop led off the top of the ninth inning with his sixth home run of the season, clearing the Monster to make it a one-run game.
With two outs, Red Sox manager Alex Cora brought Rockford's John Schreiber in to face Javier Báez. It was the third straight game he used Schreiber and the second time expressly to face Báez. Báez has struggled mightily to hit sliders from right-handed pitchers this season and Schreiber has a nasty one he throws from a sidearm angle.
But for the second straight night, Báez stayed in the at-bat, fought off sliders and ended up getting hits off Schreiber. He doubled off a slider on Monday and rolled a single into right field off a fastball Tuesday.
"I think when I get my timing down and when I have my trust, I don't like comparing who is on the mound," said Báez, who is on a six-game hitting streak. "When I've got my timing down, it doesn't matter who is on the mound.
"When I am making them throw strikes, it's really good for me and bad for them."
Schreiber, the former Tiger, made it a little harder on himself but he still closed it out and earned his second career save. He got Miguel Cabrera, who had three singles in the game, to ground out to shortstop, helping the Red Sox improve to 15-4 in June.
"When we take losses like this, we take it in a good way," said Báez, who tripled and hit his fifth home run of the season earlier in the game. "We competed. It was a good game for both sides. They played a little better but when the competition is 50-50 like that, it's fun to be out there."
With 42-year-old lefty Rich Hill starting for Boston, Hinch moved Báez up into the two-hole in his batting order. Why? Báez came in hitting .347 and slugging .531 against left-handed pitching.
Báez responded by hitting a 386-foot triple to the cutout in right-center field in the first inning, then a 390-foot home run in just about the same spot in the third.
"He's been very disciplined and letting the ball travel a little bit further, and he's seeing it well," Hinch said. "And he's hitting it hard. This is the exciting side of Javy Báez that we need to continue to move forward."
Cabrera is hitting .300 this late in the season for the first time since 2016. His first hit scored Báez in the first inning and his third hit set up the Tigers' third run off Hill.
It came with two outs in the fifth and it happened right after Hill was struck in the chest by the throw back from home plate umpire Dan Bellino. Cabrera had just fouled the ball off. Hill seemed to be looking toward first base and never saw the ball until it struck him.
Cabrera whacked the very next pitch up the middle and Haase followed with an RBI single.
"I'm encouraged by how we're swinging the bat," Hinch said. "We continue to battle back. The guys are having more quality at-bats consistently. Obviously we need to scratch a few more runs across against this team.
"But it showed again tonight, in this ballpark you have to play 27 outs. You have to play to the end. … We can win this game. I am encouraged how we are playing. We just have to finish it."
It was a laborious outing for Tigers' rookie starter Beau Brieske. A 27-pitch first inning set the tone. But he grinded and won long at-bats and got through five innings. With one damaging mistake.
"That's the one you will remember when you're falling asleep tonight," Brieske said.
After limiting the Red Sox to a run in the first, he dispatched 10 straight Red Sox hitters until the fourth inning. With one out, Xander Bogaerts flared one to shallow left field. Báez called off left fielder Robbie Grossman and seemed to have the ball tracked. But it fell in.
"I don't know if I closed my glove a little too early or what," Báez said. "Or if I landed on my heels and the ball shook a little bit."
Next up was Story and Brieske evened the count 1-1 by getting a swing-and-miss with a slider. He came with another slider, this one just backed up over the heart of the plate and Story smashed it high over the Monster in left field.
"That was probably the only mistake in the game that hurt me," Brieske said. "It was a high-leverage situation and I had just got a swing and miss on a slider. We went back to it and I threw the worst one ever.
"If we execute that pitch better and who knows? Just really frustrating."
Vazquez’s homer came on the first pitch delivered by lefty reliever Andrew Chafin leading off the bottom of the seventh. Chafin had a streak of six straight strikeouts covering his previous two outings before that swing by Vazquez.
"I know a loss is a loss," Haase said. "And it's obviously tough. But if we can play like this consistently, we like the odds for us going forward."