Detroit — There were essentially two notable storylines in the Tigers’ bounce-back 6-0 win over the Central Division-leading Minnesota Twins Tuesday night.
One was the pitching brilliance of Tigers’ ace lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who blanked the Twins on four hits for seven innings without one of his best pitches.
The other was Miguel Cabrera. He ignited a pair of two-run innings with a pair of base hits. With the first one, No. 3,141 in his career, he tied San Diego Padres’ legend Tony Gwynn for 20th all-time. The second one, No. 3,142, moved him into a tie for 19th with Milwaukee Brewers’ Robin Yount.
“I don’t mean to preach, but every now and then we have to realize these are some big names he’s passing to get into the top 20 for all-time hits,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We’re kind of numb to it. We’ve been watching for a couple of years now him catching these guys and passing them. But he’s inside 20 that have ever played the game. We can’t forget that.
“The top 20 is such revered company. You’re looking at childhood heroes for me, Tony Gwynn and Robin Yount − Hall of Famers, just like Miggy is going to be. I just don’t want anyone to miss the opportunity to enjoy the present.”
Cabrera left the field to a standing ovation after his single in the eighth. The crowd of 16,588 certainly seemed to be enjoying the present. An inning earlier, they got to their feet for Rodriguez after he capped his night getting a called third strike on Michael A. Taylor.
When he got back to the dugout, he didn’t get the customary handshake from Hinch, he got a hug.
“I hugged him and told him, ‘Finally, I got to throw 100 pitches,'” Rodriguez said, laughing.
He threw 102 pitches, to be exact. Eighty-four percent of those pitches were four-seam fastballs and changeups.
“That’s a hard way to live long-term, but I love how he went to it and just started changing speeds, trying to disrupt timing without arguably his best pitch,” Hinch said. “I know his fastball is what he like the most but the cutter is usually extremely effective and he couldn’t find it.
“To go seven shutout on a day when you have part of your arm tied behind your back because you only have two ways to go − that’s a great outcome.”
Rodriguez was just stingy, period. He allowed four singles. He walked three but only two runners got into scoring position. He got former Tiger Willi Castro to ground out with a runner at second in the first inning and in the third, with runners on the corners, shortstop Javier Báez made a leaping grab of a liner by Jordan Luplow to end the threat.
“When I saw him jump, I literally jumped with him at the same time,” Rodriguez said. “That’s why we call him El Mago. He just makes the magic catches all of the time − ground balls, diving, jumping. I just enjoy watching him play out there.”
Rodriguez, who has owned the Central Division this season, going 4-1 allowing five runs in 40 innings with 45 strikeouts and nine walks, bailed on his cutter by the second inning.
“Just right out of the gate,” he said. “My cutter wasn’t working well today but my changeup was working great and my fastball command was right where I wanted it and I worked with that. I just kept throwing that until they showed they can make an adjustment.
“That’s the way I always pitch. Until they show they can hit it, I keep throwing it.”
The Tigers were having a devil of a time with Twins’ right-handed starter Sonny Gray for the first three innings. Seven of his first nine outs were strikeouts (he’d finish with 10), most either set up by or finished by his sweeper. The Tigers swung and missed at seven of the first eight sweepers he threw.
The Twins gifted the Tigers an unearned run in the first inning. Riley Greene doubled and scored from second on a two-out throwing error by second baseman Jorge Polanco on a slow roller hit by Cabrera.
Cabrera seemed to break the seal when he punched a two-strike single to right field to lead off the fourth. It started a string of four straight hits.
Kerry Carpenter doubled and Báez and Zach McKinstry followed with RBI singles. There were still no outs, but the two runs were all the Tigers’ got. McKinstry was thrown out trying to steal second base, Nick Maton struck out and Jake Rogers grounded out.
“The first time through, Gray was really sharp,” Hinch said. “When he gets both breaking balls going, the top-down and the sweeper, with a funky angle and he jumps at you — our guys looked very uncomfortable. But the second time through, we really had some good at-bats. I know the strikeouts piled up, but I thought the at-bat quality was pretty resolute.”
Akil Baddoo, Carpenter and Cabrera each had a pair of hits and the Tigers tacked on three runs against reliever Josh Winder.
Catcher Jake Rogers locked onto a 2-2 fastball (95 mph) and drove it 402 feet into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center. It was his 14th of the season. Zack Short, put into the game for defense, lined a two-out, two-run single in the eighth.
And relievers Jose Cisnero and Jason Foley finished what Rodriguez started, putting the last two zeroes on the scoreboard.
“The best part of Eduardo today anchoring a staff after he saw us get beat up yesterday (9-3),” Hinch said. “We went through a lot of bullpen arms and guys are hanging a little bit, it’s August. He stepped up and delivered a gem. That’s the top of the rotation guy that we like.
“We feel good about our chances to win when he’s the starting pitcher.”