Detroit Tigers infielder Jeimer Candelario began to scream at teammate Jorge Bonifacio in the seventh inning of Thursday’s doubleheader.
Bonifacio was confidently trotting around the bases; rightfully so, Candelario was pumped up.
This came moments after both players helped guide the Tigers (20-23) to a 6-3 win in Game 2 over the St. Louis Cardinals — Candelario with a go-ahead two-run single, and Bonifacio with insurance on a two-run blast over the left-field wall.
“We never give up,” Bonifacio said Thursday.
A riveting five-run seventh kept the Tigers from slipping further out of playoff contention. They are two games back of the New York Yankees for the AL’s eighth and final spot in the postseason with 17 games remaining.
The Tigers needed this win. Fresh off consecutive losses with a combined 31-2 margin of defeat, they only had one run entering the seventh. But that became an old narrative. The fresh perspective is 12 comeback wins, Candelario’s offensive surge and survival in a race for the organization’s first postseason appearance since 2014.
They just won’t go away.
“We put some good swings on the ball today,” Candelario said. “We’ve got to continue doing that, and if we continue doing that, we’re going to have success.”
That’s something Candelario hasn’t had a problem doing, at least not since an 0-for-17 streak through five games in July. He turned his season around, and maybe even his career, by hitting .356 in August, along with four home runs and 15 RBIs.
And in September? He is slashing .432/.512/.714 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 11 games.
He just won’t slow down.
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“We’ve talked about it over and over,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We need this guy, to step up for us. He’s a big part of the lineup. You wait for these things, and you try to be patient. So, you just got to find it. Once you get that confidence going, you just got to keep doing it. That’s what he’s doing.
“You’re looking at the building of a really, really good baseball player.”
The Cardinals tested Candelario in the top of the seventh. Reliever Ryan Helsley, protecting a one-run lead, intentionally walked designated hitter Miguel Cabrera with no outs to load the bases. Candelario stepped in and took two called strikes on the edge of the zone — a 98 mph fastball and 79 mph curveball.
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The next pitch, a 98.3 mph fastball, was driven to center field to give the Tigers a 4-3 lead.
“Hotter than a firecracker,” Gardenhire said about Candelario. “He’s taking pitches that are real close, and he’s taking them well. He’s barreling up a lot of baseballs. We need that right now. Get a few other guys going, and you can have some fun here.”
The Tigers are going to need more of Candelario, and help from a supporting cast, as they embark on a crucial three-game series in Chicago against the White Sox. They’ve already lost six of seven this year in the matchup, including a four-game sweep from Aug. 17-20 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
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Chicago (27-16) sits at the top of the AL Central, looks the part of a World Series contender and never goes down without a fight.
Unless someone makes them.
And the Tigers hope to be the ones to do it.
“Last time we went there, it wasn’t very much fun,” Gardenhire said. “Hopefully, we’ll come out with a little ammunition of our own and see what happens.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.