Javier Báez took a swing.
On a 2-2 fastball from Boston Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier, the Detroit Tigers‘ new shortstop deposited the ball into the stands beyond the left-field wall, and beyond the bullpen, in the eighth inning.
“It’s Javy Báez,” Tigers veteran Miguel Cabrera said. “He got it.”
The two-run home run from Báez, who signed a six-year, $140 million contract this offseason, traveled 396 feet and provided a 3-1 win for the Tigers in Monday’s series opener against the Red Sox at Comerica Park.
“I was focused,” Báez said. “That’s the biggest key to me, being focused and trying to see the ball as much as I can. … For me, the key is to slow everything down. I can be really focused or I can swing at balls out of the zone. Just being focused and being patient to my plan is key.”
Left-handed closer Gregory Soto pitched the ninth inning and notched his first save of the season.
The Báez blast — No. 150 in his career — snapped a 1-all tie.
“He got $140 million for a reason,” Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario said. “He’s been doing that his whole career: hit the ball hard and see what happens. That’s Javy.”
“I think if you’ve seen Javy the past few years, his whole career, he’s going to be Javy, and we’re going to take that and run with it,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “Big moment, small moment, you throw somewhere near the vicinity, he’s going to take a swing at it, and when he does damage like that, it’s pretty electric.”
The Tigers stormed out to an early lead, but Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez, a Tiger from 2014-17, crushed a game-tying solo home run in the fifth inning off right-hander Matt Manning.
Martinez’s home run marked Manning’s lone blemish in his season debut. The 24-year-old was brilliant in the 19th start of his MLB career, holding the Red Sox to one run across six innings. He produced two strikeouts, without conceding a walk.
“Super aggressive in the strike zone and really impressive that he was so efficient early in the game,” Hinch said. “They came out swinging, and he didn’t get scared out of the strike zone. He continued to pound away. He was very much in control. Had it been a different part of the season, he probably goes back out for the seventh (inning).”
Light rain was steady throughout the first 4½ innings, but the weather did not force a delay.
Red Sox starter Michael Wacha countered Manning with 4⅓ innings of one-run ball, allowing two hits and three walks with four strikeouts. The Tigers loaded the bases against Wacha in the first inning, thanks to Austin Meadows’ single, Báez’s walk and Candelario’s walk.
“He also walked,” Hinch said of Báez, who had a 5.1% walk rate last season. “Gotta put that in your notes.”
Miguel Cabrera’s sacrifice fly put the Tigers ahead 1-0.
In the sixth, Cabrera registered the 2,990th hit of his 20-year MLB career with a double to right field off Red Sox righty reliever Matt Barnes. He has 598 doubles, as well.
Cabrera upped his career hit total to 2,991 with a single in the eighth.
“I don’t want to put pressure on myself,” Cabrera said. “I want to just go out there and play good baseball. That’s it. I’m going to do what it takes to win games. That’s my focus right now.”
Best start of Manning’s career
The secrets to Manning’s dominance: first-pitch strikes and fastball command.
He threw eight pitches (for eight strikes) in the first inning to set the tone, recording his first strikeout when Rafael Devers went down swinging at an elevated 96 mph four-seam fastball.
Manning picked up his second and final strikeout in the fourth inning, punching out Xander Bogaerts with an elevated 96.3 mph fastball. The second-year righty, who had a 5.80 ERA in 18 starts last season, ended his start with seven pitches (for seven strikes) in the sixth inning.
“Just challenging in the strike zone,” Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “We talked a lot about that, about him being aggressive over the plate and trusting his stuff. … Tonight, he was clearly trying to go out there and just beat guys. It was awesome. He was super locked in.”
Manning tossed 13 first-pitch strikes to the 19 batters he faced, only twice falling behind 2-0 in the count: Jackie Bradley Jr. (groundout) in the third inning and Alex Verdugo (groundout) in the fifth.
Verdugo, in the fifth, followed Martinez’s solo home run by taking Manning to a 3-0 count. But the Tigers’ pitcher responded with three consecutive fastballs in the strike zone, the last of which produced a groundout.
“I think it was a good pitch,” Manning said of Martinez’s home run. “I got (my fastball) inside where I wanted to, it’s just, he was able to turn and burn. He’s a good hitter, and he got the best of that one. … I’m doing a better job of getting locked back in right away.”
For his 68 pitches (47 strikes), Manning used 41 four-seam fastballs (60%), 10 sliders (15%), eight curveballs (12%), six sinkers (9%) and three changeups (4%). He earned six swings and misses — five with his four-seamer — and 12 called strikes, including three with his slider and two with his curveball.
His fastball averaged 93.7 mph and maxed out at 97.3 mph.
“They were swinging right from the start,” Manning said. “I got ahead of them, and I wanted them to swing. Games like that, you don’t really get to your secondary stuff. If they’re going to keep swinging, I’m going to keep feeding (fastballs) in there.”
Right-handed reliever Alex Lange took over for Manning to start the seventh inning and didn’t miss a beat.
Lange, who tossed 10 of 14 pitches for strikes, worked around a leadoff single from Devers by striking out Bogaerts (swinging, 87.6 mph slider) and Martinez (looking, 87.1 mph slider). Verdugo flied out to deep right field for the third out.
“He’s got a lot of ‘F-U’ (mindset) in his stuff,” Barnhart said. “I love that about him. All pitchers need to have some of that in their own way. I think that’s what, along with stuff, makes him good. He has the ability to throw all his pitches in the strike zone whenever he wants.”
Righty Michael Fulmer pitched a scoreless eighth, firing 10 of 16 pitches for strikes. Vazquez hit a leadoff single, but Fulmer answered with three outs in a row, including a swinging strikeout of Travis Shaw with a mid-80s changeup.
Soto pitched the ninth, allowing a two-out double to Devers.