Chicago – At the end of the night, the Tigers were still anchored at the bottom of the Central Division, long, long out of the playoff chase.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t still have some fun. And there was plenty to enjoy in their 7-2 win over the free-falling Chicago White Sox Saturday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
▶There was Javier Báez, who has hit in nine straight games against the White Sox this season, blasting a 410-foot, three-run homer in the seventh inning and then taking 30 seconds to lope around the bases, cupping his ear as he rounded first egging on the 36,000-plus who had been booing him all night.
“That’s the only response I have when they boo me,” Báez said, smiling. “Hopefully they keep doing it.”
Báez had three hits and is hitting .354 and slugging near .600 with three doubles, two triples, four homers and 14 RBIs this month.
“It’s kind of a love-hate thing here with Javy,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “They boo him and then they run down to the dugout and try to get a picture with him. I’m not buying all the boos. They love Javy in Chicago with his background here. I mean, he’s incredible.
“When he comes here, when he goes to the bigger cities — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles — the interaction with the fans is all authentic and it’s all Javy.”
▶There was Akil Baddoo, who has struggled to master the craft of bunting, igniting that four-run seventh, dropping one perfectly on lefty Jake Diekman and beating it out for a single.
“He may not have to bunt off a tougher lefty than Diekman, with that angle and spin and that fastball,” Hinch said.
▶There was rookie Riley Greene, who was excited about some swing adjustment he’d made earlier in the day, ripping three singles, the last a left-on-left, RBI knock off Diekman.
“I was trying to give myself room,” he said. “I feel like I’d been turning my back to the pitcher (in his load) and I was trying to just clear it out,” he said. “I was trying to create room for me to work with so I kept myself straight and it allowed me to pitches better.
“I just slightly lined up a little more toward the pitcher.”
▶There was Harold Castro, who came into the game on a 1-for-24 jag, belting a 416-foot, two-run homer in the first inning off White Sox starter Davis Martin and collecting two more singles and another RBI. It was Castro’s career-high seventh on the year.
“Don’t forget about Javy beating out the double-play ball,” Hinch said of Báez reaching before Castro’s homer. “That two-run homer is a solo homer if Javy doesn’t hustle down the line. That’s not a box score play but it was a difference-maker. Remember to high-five Javy on that one, too.”
▶There was reliever Alex Lange, who pitched a clean sixth inning with the Tigers holding a 3-2 lead. He’s now pitched 7.1 hitless innings with 11 strikeouts this month.
But before all that happened, the grit of starting pitcher Drew Hutchison happened. And without that, the night might’ve gone differently for the Tigers.
“Drew was a big part of this,” Hinch said.
Hutchison took a three-punch combination to the kisser in the bottom of the fourth inning and did not buckle.
“He’s a veteran guy,” Hinch said. “He’s not going to cave or concede. Getting through that lineup a second time and the top part of it a third time was a grind for him but he kept us in a position to win the game.”
Hutchison had allowed a single and two walks and had a 2-0 lead going into the fourth. Then, boom, Eloy Jimenez hit a 2-1 fastball into the seats in left. Next pitch, boom, Gavin Sheets smoked a slider 421 feet into the seats in right to tie the score. Three pitches later, AJ Pollock doubled.
Although pitching coach Chris Fetter came out to give Hutchison a breather, the bullpen remained quiet. As did Hutchison’s heartbeat.
He got Yasmani Grandal to ground out to Castro at second, advancing Pollock to third. He got rookie Mark Payton to hit a ground ball to second, too, and Castro made a strong throw home to nab Pollock.
Even after he drilled Josh Harrison with a fastball to extend the inning, Hutchison regathered and got Elvis Andrus for the third out to keep the score tied.
“You just make pitches and get guys out,” Hutchison said. “If you execute good pitches, you usually get good results. I didn’t think I made a terrible pitch to Jimenez, but I didn’t have count-leverage. I was behind in the count. I made a terrible pitch (to Sheets). But I was able to stop it there and make good pitches to get out of the inning.”
Momentum change. The Tigers responded by taking the lead right back in the top of the fifth on singles by Greene, Báez (who was thrown out at second) and Castro.
Hutchison pitched a clean fifth and entrusted the 3-2 lead to the bullpen. Lange, Will Vest and Garrett Hill (two innings) took care of that, covering four scoreless, one-hit innings.
“It just shows what this team is,” Greene said. “We’re never going to give up. We know we’re out of it, but so what? Go out, play hard and try to win as many games as we can.”
The Tigers are ensured a winning road trip, having won two of three in Baltimore before winning two straight in Chicago.