A.J. Hinch’s tough-love move has sparked the Detroit Tigers to a little win streak

Detroit Free Press

What a luxury.

To bring a future Hall of Famer off the bench to pinch-hit.

On Saturday afternoon, there went Miguel Cabrera, sauntering to the plate for the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the 11th inning in a tie game against the San Francisco Giants, and the crowd in Comerica Park was going crazy.

“I knew we were going to win,” Alex Lange said later. “Everybody in that stadium knows what he’s capable of.”

SATURDAY’S TRIUMPH: Tigers rally from 5 down, Cabrera walks off Giants in 11th

FRIDAY’S FUN: Nick Maton bails out Tigers’ bullpen with walk-off 3-run HR in 7-5 (11) win over SF

Spencer Torkelson, the free baserunner who’d started the inning on second base, stood on third after advancing on a wild pitch.

Now, the crowd was clapping and cheering and standing and just waiting for something magical — darn near expecting it — as the Giants brought their infield in.

Cabrera simply slapped a single up the middle — hit No. 3,095 for those historically minded — and as the ball bounced through the Giants’ defense and rolled into the outfield, Cabrera jogged to first, celebrating every step, enjoying every second of it, savoring every moment of a walk-off victory.

His teammates mobbed him in a celebration — it was the Tigers’ second straight walk-off win, following Nick Maton’s three-run homer in the 11th inning Friday night.

“It feels good,” Cabrera said after his 15th career walk-off hit. “It feels nice. We win the series. Hopefully, we can win tomorrow.”

Yes, this is how Cabrera thinks.

Already thinking about the next game.

TIGERS INSIDER: In benching Javier Báez, Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch sends message to players

Getting their rears in gear

It was the Tigers’ third straight victory since manager A.J. Hinch benched Javier Báez for making a bonehead mistake in the second inning Thursday night against the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Is there a direct correlation?

Well, the Tigers aren’t making Little League mistakes anymore.

More than anything, Hinch sent a strong message: The foolishness must end.

Or, maybe it was even stronger than that: Get your rears in gear. Get focused. And dial in.

And it seemed to wake up Báez.

“He’s in a really good place because he’s locked-in and doing some fun things,” Hinch said Saturday. “He’s not going to be perfect. We don’t expect him to be perfect. But we expect him to be locked in and help us.”

That’s exactly what he’s doing. In the two games since the benching, Baez has gone 4-for-8 with two runs, two doubles and four RBIs, plus two walks.

“I don’t know what to say, you just gotta be focused,” Báez said.

When asked about critics, either the ones in the stadium or on social media, Báez projected confidence.

“I know who I am and I know what I can do,” he said. “They can say stuff out there that I can’t control and then it’s easy to go on social media and crush on me or anybody that’s struggling, but it’s not easy to do it here. But it is what it is.”

EVAN PETZOLD: Detroit Tigers have had one positive: Kerry Carpenter looks, feels locked in at the plate

A team showing some fight

Saturday’s victory had several layers.

More than anything, it was a triumph for the bullpen, which was tremendous. Five relief pitchers combined for seven shutout innings, striking out six while giving up just one hit.

It was pure domination. And it started with Tyler Holton, who was called up from Toledo on Saturday morning, thrown into the game and pitched three innings of one-hit ball. Holton is living Detroit’s philosophy on the mound: Just throw strikes. In his big-league career, he has walked just two over 12 innings.

“Pretty fricking good, huh?” Lange said. “Holton was amazing. I saw guys attacking. We rode the momentum. The offense kept swinging. And we did what we do.”

After Holton did his thing, keeping the Tigers in this game, Hinch rolled out four straight pitchers — Trey Wingenter, Lange, Jason Foley and Chasen Shreve — who all threw an inning of scoreless, hitless ball.

“I mean, what an effort by all of them,” Hinch said. “You can start with Holton, who got here this morning and he gave up one hit. Wingenter was coming off of a really rough outing in Toronto, comes back in … and Lange comes in … and Foley strands a guy, Shreve strands a guy. … That was the only chance that we had to win the game.”

The Tigers showed so much fight in this game. So many good signs.

They fell behind early, 6-1, after a rough outing by Michael Lorenzen, who was pitching in his first regular-season game this year, after suffering a groin injury near the end of spring training.

But this team didn’t give up. It showed all kids of fight.

There was Kerry Carpenter, who blasted a solo home run with a 106.8 mph exit velocity, the Tigers’ second hardest hit ball all season.

There was Nick Maton, singling in the eighth inning to extend his hitting streak to five games.

Yes, that overlaps mostly with this winning streak, which is no coincidence. In the past five games, Maton has three home runs and seven RBIs.

And still, the Tigers were down to their last six outs while trailing by four runs.

But they kept chipping away.

There was Báez, who had a tremendous 12-pitch at-bat in the eight inning. He crushed a double, twisting the Giants’ left fielder into knots.

There was Spencer Torkelson, hammering a ball over the drawn-in shortstop, knocking in Báez to tie the game.

And while the Tigers were playing mostly clean baseball, it was the Giants who were making mistakes.

It was the Giants who had two errors.

It was the Giants with an outfielder who turned the wrong way and got twisted up.

And it was the Tigers who kept fighting, kept making plays, kept getting key hits, kept throwing strikes when they needed it the most and then brought Mr. Future Hall of Famer out to end it.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Hinch said. “Obviously, that’s a fun win. And another win with a lot of range of emotions but man, when you hang in there, give yourself a chance and chip away. Get a couple big at bats. We’re fortunate to get a couple breaks and then a big hit at the end by pretty fun guy.”

Hinch sent a strong message a few days ago, setting expectations.

And it’s clear now: This team has responded.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Tattoos seen throughout Tigers clubhouse reveal interesting stories

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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