‘A pure team win’: Tigers edge Astros on Matt Vierling’s homer in 11th inning

Detroit News

Houston – Matt Vierling left some of his DNA in the right-field corner at Tropicana Field Sunday, diving and sliding head-long nearly into the sidewall trying to catch a foul ball.

“I’m going all out, man,” he said.

His DNA was all over the Tigers’ first win of the season Monday, too.

“This was huge,” said Vierling who blasted a two-run home run in the 11th inning off reliever Hector Neris to give the Tigers a dramatic 7-6 win over the defending World Series champion Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. “To beat a good team like that and compete with them right to the very end, it shows a lot of character. You build that throughout the year but this is a good start.”

Vierling also contributed three singles and a run-saving catch that kept the game tied in the fifth inning.

“It was a good day for me personally, feeling good at the plate and everything,” Vierling said. “But more importantly, for the team. That’s a pretty good team over there, obviously. Good lineup, good staff, good bullpen and we were able to compete to the very end and beat them.

“This was a huge win for us. Huge to get that first one out of the way.”

BOX SCORE: Tigers 7, Astros 6 (11)

The last game Vierling played at Minute Maid Park was a World Series game. He came to the Tigers with Nick Maton for Gregory Soto. The stakes were considerably lower in the fourth game of the regular season, of course, but this one didn’t lack for plot turns and drama.

“It felt like we had to win that game a few times,” manager AJ Hinch said.

True story. The Tigers, after blowing a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning, were one strike away from winning the game in regulation thanks to a 414-foot, opposite-field home run by Riley Greene in the seventh and three clutch scoreless innings by rookie right-hander Mason Englert.

“Englert was incredible,” Hinch said. “He was pitch-efficient and fearless.”

Impressive for a Rule 5 draft pick who had made just three starts above High-A ball in his career.

“He was awesome,” Vierling said. “Pitching that good against a team like that in your second time out (in the big leagues)? Pretty impressive. I’m fired up for him.”

Greene hit a 97-mph fastball from reliever Bryan Abreu and sent it into the balcony seats in left-center.

“We really needed that win,” Greene said. “I feel like we won that game as a team. The pitchers came out and shoved and the hitters hit. It was a pure team win.”

Right-hander Alex Lange was summoned to protect the 5-4 lead in the ninth. He gave up a one-out single to Alex Bregman but then got Yordan Alvarez, who had hit a three-run home run off reliever Jose Cisnero to tie the game in the fifth, to hit a hard ground ball to Spencer Torkelson at first.

It looked like a game-ending double-play. Torkelson stepped on first for one out but his throw to second nailed Bregman in the back. That kept the game alive for noted Tigers killer Jose Abreu. On an 0-2 pitch, he somehow went down and lofted Lange’s curveball to the wall in left field.

Austin Meadows got back there but couldn’t get his glove on it.

With Cisnero and Lange out of the game, and with right-hander Jason Foley unavailable, Hinch had to lean on two relatively inexperienced relievers in extra innings. Right-hander Trey Wingenter pitched a scoreless 10th inning and then after Vierling’s homer, Garrett Hill, though he allowed the ghost runner to score, closed it out by getting Abreu to pop to shortstop.

“That was some of the most fun baseball I’ve ever been a part of,” said Hill, who had never earned a save at any level, not even college. “Everybody says the same thing, but you kind of black out a little bit. I just tried to pick up (catcher Eric) Haase’s glove and execute.

“My heart was pounding. My legs were shaking. Just adrenaline at another level.”

Hinch said this won’t be the last time relievers will pitch in some unfamiliar roles. It’s an all-hands-on-deck mentality in the bullpen.

“We’re going to get to the finish line in a lot of different ways,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what inning these guys pitch, they need to come in and pound the strike zone and pitch well. All of them could find themselves in the exact same spots.”

The Tigers mustered just three runs in the first three games of the season, so putting up four in the first five innings was, well, a relief.

“It brings the morale waaaay up,” Greene said.

They knocked Wayne State product and Astros starter Hunter Brown out of the game in the fifth. Haase had a two-out, two-run single in the second and Javier Báez had a two-out RBI knock in the fifth. But the 4-0 lead lasted only five batters.

Matthew Boyd, making his first start since September of 2021, allowed just two hits through four innings, but he didn’t get out of the fifth. After Alvarez’s three-run homer off Cisnero tied the game, the Astros re-loaded the bases with two outs.

Vierling’s catch, on a sinking liner by Mauricio Dubon, saved at least two more runs.

“You can help win the game in a lot of different innings,” Hinch said. “I loved the route he took on the ball, the guts it took to dive after it and not play it safe and I liked his at-bats. He had a great game tonight.”

Dubon, a right-handed hitter, hit a hard, sinking liner that Vierling dived for and snagged just before it hit the turf.

“I felt like I had a good beat on it,” he said. “I told Riley (in center), we’ve been communicating pretty good out there, I told him I was going to scoot in a little bit with two strikes and try to cheat to a line drive. Riley was going to take the gap behind me, so it worked out in that way. I saw it off the bat and went and got it.”

The music was pumping in the clubhouse again. Englert got a beer shower. It’s only one win, but it felt like more.

“It’s just fun to win,” Hill said. “That’s what playing this game is about − getting wins, competing with everybody and getting a hard-fought win like we got tonight.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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