Baltimore — A large contingent of fans seated behind the Tigers’ dugout waving Venezuelan flags Thursday afternoon were chanting, “We want Miggy, We want Miggy.”
Miguel Cabrera, who they came to see whack home run No. 500, was not in the lineup, which was a bummer for them. But two of his Venezuelan countrymen were very much in the game, and both gave them plenty to get excited about.
Renato Nunez (Valencia, Venezuela) and Victor Reyes (Barcelona, Venezuela) hit two-run home runs in a five-run fourth inning sending the Tigers to a 6-4 win and a series sweep of the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
“Yeah, those are my people,” Nunez said, laughing, with the WWE-styled championship belt for offensive player of the game draped over his shoulder. “They’re not my family, but I know they’ve been here this whole series. They are following Miggy to 500 homers.
“But they were my people today.”
It was a good moment for Nunez, the former Oriole who was just brought back to the Tigers from Triple-A Toledo on Wednesday.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “Just because it was such a good game. I feel comfortable, we are winning games. Just got to keep it rolling.”
The Tigers are coming home for a weekend series with the Indians. Cabrera’s 500-home run chase is the marquee event, but don’t look now, the Tigers and Indians are in a virtual tie for second place in the Central Division.
“The vibes in the clubhouse are very good right now,” said rookie Matt Manning who pitched six solid innings to earn his third big-league win. “It was good to get a sweep here and take it back to Detroit. The Indians are coming to our place, so hopefully the boys can roll off some good wins against them.”
It was an encouraging outing for Manning, who needed one after allowing 15 runs in his last three starts. He fought his way out of trouble in the first three innings and gave up a pair of solo home runs to left-handed hitter D.J. Stewart in six innings.
“I knew they were just finding some holes and I wasn’t getting beat too bad,” Manning said. “I just wanted to make better quality pitches to certain zones and not leave balls over the plate.”
The encouraging part was the increased zip on his two-seam and four-seam fastballs. Combined, he threw 51 of them with a season-high average of 94.4 mph. He hit 97.6 mph, which was the firmest pitch he’d thrown in the big leagues.
“Me and (pitching coach Chris) Fetter have been working hard on making my delivery a little more violent, just trying to find out where I can get more power from,” Manning said. “We put a lot of work in to improving it and we got a couple of jumps up today.”
He wasn’t overpowering by any stretch, with two strikeouts and just four swings-and-misses on 38 swings. But the compete level, never a question mark, was impressive.
“I thought he was really good for a couple of reasons,” manager AJ Hinch said. “One, his stuff is ticking up as he’s getting more comfortable. I want to urge all of us to allow him to develop at this level and learn and grow. We seen him really let it eat (turn it loose) at the end.”
But what really impressed Hinch was Manning’s poise, especially early when things were messy.
“Him not imploding after things were a little unlucky in the first inning was a true sign of maturity,” Hinch said.
Manning limited damage to a run in the first after giving up singles to the first two batters. And the run scored on a botched rundown. With Cedric Mullins at first and one out, Anthony Santander broke early purposely to get into a rundown.
Manning stepped off and threw to shortstop Zack Short. Instead of running Santander back to first, Short threw quickly to first baseman Nunez. Mullins broke for home and easily beat Nunez’s throw. It went into the books as a steal of home for Mullins.
“There was no rush,” Hinch said. “If at the end of the play we end up first and third, you might look silly because you gave away an out, but you are still in the same situation with an 0-2 count on the hitter. We just played a little too fast there.”
Manning left a runner at second base in the second and then turned a come-backer from Santander, who has been the Orioles hottest hitter, into an inning-ending, 1-6-3 double-play to strand a runner at third in the third.
“His maturity comes with some of his pitches but a lot of it is how he’s handling in-game situations and adjustments,” Hinch said. “He’s calm in the dugout. There’s a lot to like about what he’s doing, regardless of a few blow-up starts here and there.”
Things got a little tense in the final two innings. The Orioles scratched a run across against Kyle Funkhouser in the seventh and the bullpen was a little short-staffed with both Jose Cisnero and Gregory Soto having pitched in the first two games of this series.
That meant Michael Fulmer, who hadn’t pitched in back-to-back days since coming off the injured list, needed to get the final six outs. Which he did, getting two close force outs in the ninth with two runners on — excellent plays by Short and Willi Castro.
“We had to earn those last couple of outs and just take what the game gave us,” Hinch said. “It was nice to see our guys get through that. Michael’s six-out save was big for us. Good series. Good sweep.”
The Tigers are four games under .500 (56-60), but don’t quote the standings to Hinch just yet.
“Nobody should be checking the standings on Aug. 12,” he said. “But I like that we’re playing good baseball. Good baseball produces wins.”
Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner was pulled from the game, Hinch said, because he was cramping. There doesn’t appear to be any injury.