Seattle — Javier Báez talks a lot about focus. When he’s able to stay focused in an at-bat, he says, he can usually find a way to do damage. Turns out, he can do damage when he’s unfocused, too.
Just like he did in the third inning of the Tigers’ 4-3 win over the playoff-bound Seattle Mariners Monday at T-Mobile Park.
Báez seemed anything but focused against Seattle’s right-handed starter George Kirby. He tweaked something in his back on his first swing. He spent a few extra seconds bent over at the plate trying to stretch it out.
The second pitch, another foul ball, he watched seemingly mesmerized as it bounced from the second deck down to the first deck.
The third pitch was a slider on the outer edge, probably outside the strike zone. But, as if a switch was thrown, Báez locked onto it. The ball left his barrel with an exit velocity of 105 mph and flew 379 feet into the seats in right-center — a two-run homer, his 17th of the season.
It’s been a redemptive final month of the season for Báez — hitting over .300 with six home runs, 17 runs scored and 19 driven in since Sept. 1 — and, to maybe a lesser degree, for the Tigers, who won for the 11th time in 13 games.
“This was a fun one,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “On the whole, the way we’ve been playing to finish up the year is sure a good sign for the future. There are a lot of young guys contributing and guys who are going to be a part of this for a long time. It’s been a fun last month.
“Obviously it ended way earlier than we would’ve wanted it to, but it’s nice going into the offseason on a good note and with some momentum.”
Báez’s homer broke a 1-1 tie and was about the last bit of offense the Tigers mustered. Miguel Cabrera delivered a two-out, RBI single in the first and Victor Reyes ripped an RBI single in the fourth inning.
The Tigers did not score off the Mariners bullpen. Former Tiger Matthew Boyd was unhittable in three innings, allowing only a walk to Ryan Kreidler. He struck out the side in the sixth and posted five strikeouts in his three innings.
The Tigers, though, made those four runs stand up.
Bryan Garcia, recalled from Triple-A Toledo to make his fourth spot start for the Tigers, allowed three runs in 6⅔ innings.
“This was very, very gratifying,” said Garcia, who struck out six. “Last year wasn’t a great year for me and then I came back and got taken off the roster and then completely changed roles. To finish like this is pretty awesome.”
He did his best work extricating himself out of a potentially game-changing mess in the bottom of the fifth inning. Working with a three-run lead, Garcia gave up a single to Dylan Moore, a walk to Sam Haggerty and an RBI single to Adam Frazier.
Garcia didn’t flinch. Not even when he slipped and did a full tumble off the mound on a pitch to Haggerty.
“That threw me out of whack for a minute,” Garcia said. “Threw my mechanics off and I ended up walking him.”
But he recovered and struck out Julio Rodriguez and got Ty France to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play.
“Julio already got two hits off me,” Garcia said. “I was trying to think of what he hasn’t seen. Me and Tuck were on the same page.”
Well, sort of. Garcia got Rodriguez to whiff on a four-seam fastball up and in.
“Yeah, I was trying to go low and away,” Garcia said, laughing. “It ran up on me. We’ll take it.”
He was within an out of getting through the seventh when he walked Haggerty again and gave up another single to Frazier.
With the top of the Mariners order coming up for fourth time, manager AJ Hinch went to his bullpen for Jose Cisnero. Rodriguez greeted him with an RBI double to make it 4-3, but Cisnero stranded the tying and go-ahead runs at second and third by striking out France.
“Bryan was really good tonight,” Hinch said. “He deserved this game. It’s been a long road for him. … He took a real step forward this year.”
Cisnero struck out two more in a clean eighth inning.
With two left-handed hitters due up for the Mariners in the ninth, and with Gregory Soto and Alex Lange working the last two days, Hinch went to lefty Andrew Chafin to close it out, which he did to earn his third save. But there was drama.
With two out, Haggerty singled and stole second. He injured himself on the slide and was replaced by J.P. Crawford. Switch-hitting Carlos Santana pinch-hit for Frazier. After a lengthy delay, Chafin struck Santana out.
“You have the crowd yelling at you and you have a little more adrenaline going,” Chafin said. “Obviously at that point it’s do or die. We are either going to win or lose right there. That adds to the adrenaline a little bit. But as for my approach, it doesn’t really change.”
The Tigers will finish the season with a straight doubleheader Tuesday and a day game Wednesday — three games in 48 hours.