Detroit — The sun came out, the temperature rose above 60 degrees and the fans — an announced crowd of 21,529 — filled the lower deck of Comerica Park in anticipation of a history-making hit by Miguel Cabrera.
Instead, they “settled” for a much-needed and hard-fought 3-0 win over the New York Yankees and some loud and passionate howling at Yankees skipper Aaron Boone.
Cabrera, facing Yankees lefty Jordan Montgomery, lined out to left in the first inning, then struck out swinging in the fourth and sixth.
But things got real interesting in the bottom of the eighth. With runners at second and third and two outs, and with left-handed hitting Austin Meadows on deck against left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge, Boone intentionally walked Cabrera — effectively ending any chance of him making history on this day.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 3, Yankees 0
“It came down to a baseball call for me there,” Boone said. “Tough call but one I had to make. I certainly understand (the crowd reaction). You don’t necessarily like being in that position, but that’s part of it.”
Sound strategy or not, it did not go over well with the fans, who booed the decision for the rest of the inning.
“There was zero doubt,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said of Boone’s decision. “Booney is obligated to his own team and their chances to win. He had a matchup he liked behind Miggy so you could see it coming. I know our fans responded accordingly but I totally get it.
“I’m glad Austin came up and got a base hit and we ended up with the win — which is what Miggy was happiest with.”
More: Detroit fans came for Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th hit. Instead, they got a chance to boo
The boos turned to jeers and chants of “Yankees suck” after Meadows, who had struck out in his three previous at-bats against the lefty Montgomery, spoiled the move by dumping a two-run single into shallow center.
“That’s a good baseball move, regardless of the situation,” Tigers catcher Eric Haase said. “But damn, the city of Detroit was incredible letting them eat like that. You go into hostile environments like Boston and New York, like you know it’s going to be hostile. But that atmosphere today was crazy.
“Obviously we know everyone is here to see Miggy hit 3,000. But if the crowd stayed like that for a while, we’d have a lot of fun around here.”
Cabrera had no beef with Boone’s decision. In fact, he said he was happy because it raised his on-base percentage.
“This is baseball, you know?” he said. “It was a lefty behind me at the plate. To walk me intentionally, that’s part of the game. I went 0-for-3, but we got a chance to win. Beautiful.”
Cabrera did his best to calm down the angry crowd after the eighth inning ended.
“I love it, but they have to understand,” Cabrera said. “They want to see 3,000, but we want to win first. I was pointing to the scoreboard, like, ‘We’re winning. It’s OK.’”
More: On the brink of 3K, Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera relaxed, reflective, emotional
That’s what made Meadow’s two-run single that much sweeter for the Tigers. It not only rescued what was looking like a lost opportunity but secured the end of a three-game losing streak.
“We really needed to extend the lead there,” Hinch said. “We went from bases loaded and no outs to them almost getting out of it in a one-run game.”
Big hits have been scarce for the Tigers recently and they’d managed just one run off Montgomery in six innings — an RBI double by Robbie Grossman, who had three hits.
But thanks to some clutch work by closer Gregory Soto in the top of the eighth, that one marker stood up.
The Yankees loaded the bases with one out against right-handed reliever Alex Lange. Hinch went to lefty Soto and it took him three pitches to get out of the inning.
“Soto making his pitches was the turning point,” Hinch said. “Him coming in, no room for error and his first pitch was 100.6 mph. That’s awfully nice to have, coming into the game with some aggressiveness.”
Soto got Anthony Rizzo to tap back to the mound, turning it into a fast force out at the plate, and then induced a grounder to first from Giancarlo Stanton. He worked a scoreless ninth for the five-out save.
“We’ve used a lot of pitchers in a short amount of time,” Hinch said. “But our entire bullpen, including Michael Pineda, was exceptional.”
Pineda, even with a delayed start and abbreviated spring, came as advertised in his Tigers’ debut. He worked fast, threw strikes and put up five zeros.
“I joked with him that it was just like riding a bike,” Haase said. “But when you do this for so long the way he’s done it and to have success at this level for so long, it really is like riding a bike.
“His fastball had good life, we really didn’t even throw much off-speed. They didn’t make any adjustment on his heater so we kept on attacking. To get five scoreless was absolutely huge with a depleted bullpen.”
Pineda gave up just three singles and only once did a Yankees runner get beyond second base. He played to both the spaciousness of Comerica Park and the steady breeze blowing in, inducing eight fly ball outs.
His only spot of bother came in the fifth when he gave up singles to DJ LeMahieu and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. With runners at the corners and one out, he got Marwin Gonzalez to fly to shallow right. Center fielder Victor Reyes got him out of the jam, tracking and running down a long line drive to the track off the bat of catcher Jose Trevino.
“I was very excited,” Pineda said. “It was a good win for the team and I felt pretty good. Everything was working and I had good command today. This is a very good moment for me. Now I am part of the team.”
The Tigers signed Pineda in March for one year at $5.5 million and had to wait while he worked through visa issues. He only made two short starts with Triple-A Toledo before the Tigers summoned him. But with starters Casey Mize and Matt Manning on the injured list, Pineda’s hurried arrival into the rotation was mandatory.
“The environment today was awesome,” Hinch said. “The fans were into it. There’s always a little extra when you play the Yankees, but on top of it there’s the buzz of Miggy every time he gets up to bat — you could feel it and hear it.
“And that ninth inning was incredible. When we get this ship right, playing here is going to be a real competitive advantage for us.”