Detroit – This is what AJ Hinch has talked about since spring training. The vision he had of what this 2021 Tigers baseball team could be, the best version, it was on display Tuesday night in a 5-3 win over the Seattle Mariners.
“We have this version of us in us,” Hinch said. “It’s nice when it comes together and we get rewarded with a win.”
Solid starting pitching. Clutch work out of the bullpen. Aggressive and opportunistic offense, taking five extra bases on the night. And, a little bit of pop, too.
“If you look at the course these first 60 games and how we’ve evolved, you can see the trends,” said lefty starter Matthew Boyd who allowed one unearned run in six innings of work. “You can see the trends in the pitching staff, in the bullpen, the trends on the base paths, the at-bats are better, the way we play defense — it just continues to evolve.
“Guys are coming into their own. It’s special.”
Too bad there weren’t more fans in the stands to see it. Day-long rain, which delayed the start 36 minutes, probably kept the crowd size down. It was the first night Comerica Park was open to full capacity, but tickets sold were only 9,081. That’s just 1,081 more than COVID capacity.
But those who came were entertained.
It started with a bang.
After Robbie Grossman led off with a double, Miguel Cabrera, in his 2,500th big-league game, ripped his 2,898th hit and drove in his 1,751st run in the second inning. Pretty amazing when you frame it in that context.
Eric Haase, hitting fourth against Seattle lefty Marco Gonzales, followed with a 424-foot, two-run home run to left field. It was his sixth home run in 18 at-bats and his eighth in 20 games since the Tigers purchased his contract from Triple-A Toledo.
Pretty amazing when you frame in that context.
“Everyone around our team knew what Eric could do,” said Boyd, who spent the COVID shutdown last year working out with Haase in and around the metro Detroit area. “It was just waiting for the opportunity. I know I saw it coming. I saw him take 80-some at-bats against me last year.
“I’m happy for him. Once he got his opportunity, he’s made the most of it.”
Also this: Haase poleaxed a change-up from Gonzales. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 104.8 mph. What’s the significance of that? Just that the White Sox had basically stopped throwing him fastballs in Chicago over the weekend after he hit three of them into the seats in the middle two games of the series.
Gonzales threw him two straight change-ups. Haase took the first and was all over the second. Game of adjustments, right? In the sixth, the Mariners went back to the fastball and Haase poked a single to right-center.
That was the power element. The Tigers also flashed some speed and athleticism.
In the second inning, Niko Goodrum led off with a single, advanced to second on a fly out to center field and stole third without a throw. It was his 11th stolen base.
He came home on a single by Derek Hill, his first career RBI. Hill flashed his wheels on both sides of the diamond.
He ran down three balls in center field in the fourth inning and saved two runs. With a runner at first, he tracked a 385-foot drive by Jack Mayfield and caught it before the wall in center. Statcast had a .940 hit probability on the drive.
Then, with two on and two out, Hill glided into right-center to snare a slicing drive by Mitch Haniger to end the inning.
“Honestly, we had a pretty good read on where he was going to hit the ball,” Hill said. “I tip my hat to our analytics people because they put me in the right spot.”
The Tigers extended the lead to 5-1 in the bottom of the fifth, and Hill was the ignitor. He had two hits in his big-league career before Tuesday. In the fifth, he got his second hit of the game, stole second and scored on a single by Jonathan Schoop.
“Defensively, Hill was spectacular,” Hinch said. “He brought it all together tonight and showed why we are high on him.”
That was ample cushion for Boyd, who allowed only an unearned run in a labor-intensive six innings to earn his third win of the season and stop a personal five-start skid.
His pitch-count was the only worrisome issue and that was due to a killer second inning. He needed 30 pitches to get through it after a misplay and an error cost him a couple of outs.
Rookie left fielder Akil Baddoo got spun around by a liner off the bat of Shed Long, Jr., leading off the inning and the ball got over his head. It was scored a double. Boyd, though, looked like he was going to pitch out of the mess, even after a passed ball put Long at third with no outs.
He struck out Taylor Trammell and got Mayfield to pop out. When No. 9 hitter Donovan Walton hit a ground ball to the right of second baseman Schoop, the inning looked over. Except Schoop booted the backhand attempt.
The run scored and Boyd needed 15 more pitches to get out of the inning. And it could’ve been a lot worse. With two on and two out, Baddoo redeemed his earlier mistake by robbing Haniger of at least one and maybe two RBIs with long running catch going toward the line in left.
If we are handing out game balls, save one for lefty reliever Daniel Norris. The Mariners loaded the bases with no outs against reliever Joe Jimenez in the eighth inning. Norris was summoned with two left-handed hitters coming up.
He got the first, Long, to hit into a fast 4-6-3 double-play, with one run scoring. The second lefty, TayTrammell, ripped an RBI double into the right-center gap. But he struck out Mayfield and sent the Tigers to the ninth with a two-run lead.
“That was a tough situation,” Hinch said. “He came in with no margin for error, though we did talk about not worrying about the guy on third base or second base. He gave up the one hit but he punched out Mayfield, which was probably his toughest matchup.
“I’m proud of him for answering the bell.”
Jose Cisnero, pitching for the fifth time in 12 days, walked the lead-off hitting in the ninth. Then he struck out J.P. Crawford and Haniger and got Ty France to fly out to earn his second career save.