Detroit — Matthew Boyd is a hockey player. He grew up in the rain and chill of the Pacific Northwest. So, of course, he was out there pitching in a mini-blizzard on Opening Day with no long sleeves under his jersey.
“I never wore them on the mound growing up,” Boyd shrugged after pitching 5.2 scoreless innings in the Tigers 3-2 win over the Indians on Thursday. “Why change now?”
The last time, actually the only other time Boyd pitched in snow, was in high school against the mighty Seattle O’Dea High School, a private school equivalent to Detroit Catholic Central or Birmingham Brother Rice here in Detroit. Former Lions receiver Nate Burleson is an alum.
“It was at Judkins Park and it was snowing,” Boyd said. “I think that was the only other time I pitched in the snow. Usually it’s cold and rainy, like 38 degrees and rainy. That’s what I’m used to. Thirty-eight and blinding snow flurries is not something I’m used to.
“But it was a fun experience. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
It didn’t seem to bother him much Thursday. He got ahead of 17 of the 24 hitters he faced, either 0-1 or 1-2. He allowed just three hits and one hard-hit ball (a double by Cesar Hernandez). Despite the cold and damp, he was able to command his entire five-pitch arsenal, though he was bedeviled by four walks, two came in a nerve-wracking 26-pitch fifth inning.
“I just tried to stay after them,” Boyd said. “Cleveland has a good lineup all the way through, so you don’t want to be in counts where they’re in the driver’s seat. You want to put the pressure on them.”
Boyd took a 3-0 lead into the fifth. He’d hit a little speed bump in the fourth with a walk and a single, but a diving stop by first baseman Miguel Cabrera bailed him out.
“The guy just really wants to do everything he can to win ballgames,” Boyd said of Cabrera. “He just plays his part. He was a huge difference-maker in that game. Who knows what happens in that inning if that ball goes through?
“Miggy is the best, the straw the stirs the drink. He gets us going, man.”
Even though Boyd walked the leadoff man in the fifth, it still looked like he got through on just 15 pitches after he induced what first was ruled a 1-4-3 inning-ending double-play. But after a lengthy replay, the call at first was reversed and Jordan Luplow was safe.
Boyd, who continued to throw warmup pitches during the review, then lost a nine-pitch battle to Hernandez, walking him to put runners at first and second with the dangerous Jose Ramirez coming to the plate.
“That was a weird inning,” Boyd said. “But that’s the baseball game we live in now with replay and all of that. With Hernandez, I was doing a little too much trying to create instead of just letting it happen.”
It was decision time for manager AJ Hinch. At that point Boyd was at 81 pitches and Hinch had reliever Jose Cisnero was warm and ready in the bullpen. Ramirez, who had singled off Boyd in the fourth, was facing him for the third time.
Also, in the last two years, Ramirez has punished left-handed pitching. His splits last year were .386 average and 1.047 OPS vs. lefties, .259, .847 vs. right-handers.
“He was cruising early, just super aggressive,” Hinch said of Boyd. “He pitched around a few walks and maybe started nibbling a little bit in the middle of the outing. But he was still really strong and once you open that bullpen door, you’ve got to keep it open for the rest of the game and you’re going to roll through a lot of guys. Boyd set such a good tone early, I think he earned that at-bat.”
Hinch sent assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves to the mound to give Boyd a breather before locking in with Ramirez.
“It’s tough,” Hinch said. “You don’t want Ramirez hitting right-handed very often, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.”
Boyd, like he did all day, attacked without fear. He just missed with a first-pitch slider and, knowing Ramirez would be in attack mode and looking fastball on 1-0, came back with a change-up that Ramirez was out front on and popped it up into shallow right.
Inning over, crisis averted.
“It was a big at-bat and he won it,” Hinch said. “I circled it on my card. Kind of the at-bat of the game.”
Although he walked into the Zoom room carrying the Macho Man Savage championship belt that Derek Holland bestowed upon him for being the pitcher of the game, Boyd, as he always does, deflected the credit — to catcher Wilson Ramos, to Cabrera, to the superb defensive plays made behind him by JaCoby Jones and Jeimer Candelario.
“We are a summation of all parts,” he said.
By the way, the snowy game he pitched against O’Dea back when he was in high school? He shoved that day, too, and beat the private school power in their own yard.
Indians at Tigers
First pitch: 1:10 Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit
►RHP Zach Plesac, Indians: He’s dominated the Tigers in his three starts against them. No joke. He’s 2-0, and allowed one run in 17.2 innings with 14 strikeouts and three walks. He’s limited the Tigers to a .169 average. His slider is filthy. Opponents hit 0.69 against it and whiffed on 42 percent of them.
►RHP Julio Teheran, Tigers: He came to camp as a non-roster invitee coming off the worst season of his career, a season ruined by COVID-19 and a weakened shoulder. But this spring he pitched more like the two-time All-Star that he is, effectively keeping hitters off-balance with his sinker-slider combination.