Detroit — After two tough losses to the team with the third lowest winning percentage in baseball, stranding the tying and go-ahead runs on the bases in the last two innings of both games, a win wasn’t mandatory for the Tigers, but it was — let’s call it soothing.
With the bullpen putting up five straight zeros, the Tigers earned a split of the four-game series with the Orioles Sunday with a workmanlike 6-2 win before a sun-splashed crowd of 17,134 at Comerica Park.
“You can go back further than that,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We’re at the end of a really long stretch, our longest of the year with quite a lot of travel, lot of day after night stuff and some weather. It’s been a long stretch since our last off-day.
“You compile all of that; we wanted to end that stretch with a win.”
The win Sunday completed a stretch of 17 games in 16 days after the All-Star break, with the Tigers winning 10 of those games. After a 14-12 July, the club has posted three straight winning months for the first time since 2016.
“I saw on MLB Network that we are nine games out of a wild card spot,” said Robbie Grossman, who walked, tripled, drove in a run and scored twice. “From where we started to where we are now, it’s huge. We just want to make people respect the D on our chest and build a brand of baseball that our fans are proud of.
“I feel like we’re on our way there, if not there already.”
Erasmo Ramirez, Jose Cisnero, Michael Fulmer and Gregory Soto put this one on lock-down, allowing just one base runner from the fifth through the ninth. Ramirez, who set down six straight to earn his first win since Sept. 2, 2018, has pitched 7.1 straight scoreless innings over four outings, allowing just two hits.
“We could be pretty aggressive today,” Hinch said of his bullpen usage. “They were all rested coming into today with an off-day tomorrow. I went into the game thinking we could be pretty aggressive with our bullpen. I had a lot of options.”
The initial pitching match-up Sunday might’ve been nostalgic for Erie SeaWolves fans. Tigers starter Tyler Alexander and Orioles starter Spenser Watkins were teammates at Double-A Erie in 2019, and three other rungs in the Tigers system before that.
But it looked early like neither would be around long on this day.
The first four hitters hit balls off Alexander with exit velocities of over 100-mph and three of them were doubles, two of them to the wall in center field.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Hinch said. “I checked our (positioning) depth, I checked their depth. Are we playing little league depth? You just don’t see than many balls clear the center fielder in this ballpark.”
Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander were in ambush mode. Hays hit a first-pitch two-seamer into the corner in left. Mountcastle, a second-pitch two-seamer and Santander, a second-pitch change-up, blasted balls to the wall in center.
“They put those guys at the top of the order for a reason, especially against lefties,” Hinch said. “They came out very aggressive, maybe more aggressive than we anticipated. But Tyler recovered well.”
Alexander gave up only a single and a walk after the first, but the Tigers were in a 2-0 hole before most fans got settled into their seats. Once they were situated, though, they were treated to a three-run response.
With two outs, Watkins walked Grossman and Miguel Cabrera. Jeimer Candelario followed with a hard-hit ground ball to first that caromed off Trey Mancini’s glove. It was scored a base hit and Grossman scored.
Eric Haase followed with a two-run double, also clearing the center fielder’s head.
“This is the first day I’ve been in that outfield where I went, ‘Wow, the wind is really blowing out today,'” Grossman said. “They punched us first and we punched them back. That was a huge momentum swing.”
Watkins, whom the Tigers released during the shutdown in 2020 after six years in the system, had a response of his own — 14 straight outs.
Grossman ended that streak with a one-out triple to the gap in right-center in the sixth. Cabrera plated him with a sacrifice fly, career RBI number 1,777, and Watkins’ day was over.
The Tigers scored two tack-on runs with sacrifice flies, neither hit that deep to right fielder Santander.
“It wasn’t about his arm, he’s got a good enough arm,” Hinch said. “We were just going to be aggressive if he was going to catch the ball flat-footed or shifting from side to side. We were able to capitalize on him being a tick out of position as he set up to throw.
“When guys get thrown out at the plate it can be frustrating. But you have to challenge something to get something.”
Right now, the Tigers are mounting a challenge toward a .500 record (51-57).
“Every win at this level means something,” Grossman said. “For us to come back after two tough losses and bring the energy and the resiliency we showed after being down early, it’s huge and it’s a tribute to the guys in this clubhouse.”