Detroit — We’re going to get to Matt Manning in a second. He was brilliant for six innings.
But first, we have to ask: How in the world did Javier Baez get on top of a 93-mph fastball that was well above the strike zone.
“That’s a good question,” Baez said. “I don’t know.”
Baez, in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the eighth inning, pole-axed a 2-2 fastball that Statcast measured at 3.85 feet above the ground, hitting it with an exit velocity of 108 mph and curling it around the left field foul pole for a two-run homer that provided the margin in the Tigers 3-1 win over the Red Sox on a warm but wet Monday night at Comerica Park.
“That’s just Javy,” said Miguel Cabrera, who had two hits and an RBI. “Thank you, Javy.”
It was the second highest pitch Baez has hit for a home run. He just missed the previous pitch, another fastball from Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier that was more in the middle of the plate. He didn’t miss the next one.
“I was just sitting on a fastball,” Baez said. “I was just lucky I got to it, I guess. I was just focused. The biggest thing for me is being focused and trying to see the ball as much as I can.”
It was his first homer and second game-winning hit in four games with the Tigers.
“So many pitchers have tried to go higher than high,” manager AJ Hinch said. “There’s been some swing-and-miss in the past and there’s also a ton of damage. There’s a risk-reward when you go up there with Javy and you try to exploit something multiple times in a row.
“Javy got him today.”
The Tigers were in a position for late-inning heroics largely because of Manning. Pitching mostly off crisp, elevated fastballs, the second-year right-hander dispatched the first 12 hitters he faced heading into the fifth inning.
“Super aggressive in the strike zone,” Hinch said. “Really impressive that he was so efficient early. They came out swinging and he didn’t get scared out of the strike zone. He just continued to pound away.”
Of his economical 68 pitches, 41 were fastballs, most up in the zone, averaging 94 mph and hitting 97. Ten of them were put in play producing nine outs.
“I came in with a game plan and I executed pretty well,” Manning said. “They were swinging right from the start, so I got ahead of them. I wanted them to swing. Games like that, you don’t really need your secondary stuff if they’re going to be swinging.
“I just kept feeding it in there.”
Six of his 18 outs came in two pitches or less.
“He and Tuck (catcher Tucker Barnhart) did a good job being in attack mode,” Hinch said. “He just attacked them. It’s something he did at the tail end of last year. We saw that. That kind of aggressiveness will do him well.”
Leave it to an old friend to spoil the fun, though.
J.D. Martinez, who has hit his fair share of home runs in this yard, shellacked a 2-1 fastball leading off the fifth inning. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 110 mph and traveled 413 feet clearing the bullpen in left-center.
If you are going to spoil a perfect game, do it spectacularly. It was Martinez’s first homer of the season, but his 60th at Comerica Park.
“I thought it was a good pitch,” Manning said. “I got it inside where I wanted to. But he was able to turn and burn on it. He’s a good hitter and he got the best of that one.”
It was the only hit, the only runner, Manning allowed through his six innings.
He got some defensive help along the way, too. Báez made a diving play going to his left and threw out Christian Vazquez in the second inning. Austin Mathews made a sliding, snow-cone catch of a sinking liner by Jonathan Arauz. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, positioned perfectly in the Tigers’ over-shift, snared a liner by Rafael Devers in the fourth.
Cabrera, who knocked in the first run with a sacrifice fly in the first, lined a double to right to right in the sixth, the ball deflecting off the glove of a diving Jackie Bradley, Jr. It was hit No. 2,990 and double No. 598. Only six players have produced 500 homers and 3,000 hits. Only two have produced 500 homers, 3,000 hits and 600 doubles (Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols).
Cabrera added another single in the eighth. He’s nine short of 3,000.
“I don’t want to put pressure on myself,” Cabrera said. “I am just trying to go out there and play baseball and do everything to win the game. That’s my focus right now.”
Alex Lange (two strikeouts in the seventh) and Michael Fulmer (one strikeout in the eighth) got the game to the ninth. Closer Gregory Soto got three fly ball outs around a double by Devers to lock it down.
“You know we are going to play hard for 27 outs no matter what and we’re going to see what happens,” Baez said. “Hopefully there are more moments like this with other guys and we can continue to contribute in big situations.”