Detroit — AJ Hinch has been searching and searching, trying to find some kind of spark for the Tigers offense.
For one game at least, he found it.
Robbie Grossman and Harold Castro, hitting 1-2 in the batting order, combined to get on base eight times Saturday and they kick-started a five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh that sent the Detroit Tigers to a 7-3 win over the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park.
“When we have action like that, we’re a better team,” Hinch said. “The putting the ball in play was pretty good, the activity on the bases, going from first to third, the two-strike hitting — it just creates a much different look to an offense.”
Grossman, who set the tone in the first with a lead-off home run and doubled in the third, singled to start the seventh against Twins reliever Tyler Duffey. Castro followed with his third hit of the game.
They both moved up on a ground out by Jeimer Candelario. Miguel Cabrera broke the 2-2 tie, scoring Grossman with an infield hit. Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson made a diving stop on Cabrera’s grounder but couldn’t make a throw.
After Jonathan Schoop walked to load the bases, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli brought in right-hander Derek Law. Niko Goodrum, who was on base four times, greeted him with a two-run single and Jake Rogers, in his first game since being called up from Toledo, followed with another two-run single.
“Look, we’re just trying to put up good at-bats, get guys on and good things will happen,” Grossman said. “Putting balls in play gives us more options to score runs and we did that. We’ve been putting together some good games with that and we’re looking to continue to build on it.”
The win breaks a six-game home losing streak for the Tigers.
“When you have a day like we did at the top of the order and piece some at-bats together, it’s pretty fun,” Hinch said. “We hit and run, we drew some walks, got some big hits — they were really the catalysts today. It was nice to have.”
If you are giving out game balls, save one for right-hander Michael Fulmer. His work in relief of starter Jose Urena was pivotal.
“There’s no tougher situation I can put a pitcher in,” Hinch said. “Bases loaded and no margin for error against dangerous hitters.”
The Twins tied the score 2-2 in the top of the fifth on a 425-foot, two-run home run by Josh Donaldson and then subsequently loaded the bases with one out when Hinch brought in Fulmer.
“Everything happened so fast,” Fulmer said. “It goes from them tying the game to another guy gets on and I start moving around just in case. Then the phone rings and Juan (Nieves, assistant pitching coach) says, ‘Get hot quick.’
“That’s about the fastest I’ve ever tried to warm up. But everything felt great.”
Fulmer got out of the jam in six pitches. Miguel Sano popped out to second base and Ben Rortvedt flew out to right.
“I told AJ I wanted to be thrown in the fire if I stayed in the bullpen,” Fulmer said with a chuckle. “I’m happy, I really am. I just want to do anything I can to help us win.”
Fulmer ended up going 2 2/3 innings to keep the score tied through the top of the seventh.
“Him being able to lengthen the game was just as key as those two outs in the fifth,” Hinch said. “The game is different if he doesn’t get those two outs, but I don’t know how we get to the finish line, with the way our bullpen’s been used, if doesn’t bridge that gap.”
Fulmer’s only spot of bother came in the seventh. But he got a running, sliding, run-saving catch from Grossman to help strand the runner at second base.
“We all put in so much work before the game that it’s getting to the point where we don’t want to let each other down,” Grossman said. “We’re playing for the guy next to us and we’re trying to build on that.
“It’s fun to win and it sucks to lose and on these days that we win we want to remember that feeling and what it took to get there.”
The only blemish on Grossman’s day — if you can even call it that — came in the bottom of the fifth when he got hung up trying to score on a shallow fly to center and thrown out at third base.
“It was a funky play, you either have to stay or go,” Hinch said. “There was a little miscommunication there with Chip (Hale, third base coach). But I see mistakes like that, whether it was on us, the coaches, or the players — we just want to do so much. We want good things to happen.”
Grossman tagged and bolted toward the plate. He realized too late that he had no chance to score — center fielder Jake Cave threw a seed to cutoff man Sano — and then was thrown out trying to scamper back to third.
“I made the play, it was a bad play on my part,” Grossman said. “I stopped. I take full blame.”
No harm, no foul.
If there is one more game ball to be awarded, give it to Goodrum. He had a double, single and two RBIs, but also, significantly, two walks. He’d walked just seven times in 100 plate appearances coming into the game.
The Tigers struck out just three times Saturday.
“It started before this game,” Hinch said. “There were better at-bats in Boston. Our game planning has been a tick better and the players are taking it into the games and executing it. To a man, they’ve dug down deeper into what we need to do to be successful.”