Tigers land first punch again, knock out Guardians behind Torkelson, Rodriguez

Detroit News

Cleveland — Throwing the first punch has been transformative for the Tigers. Transformative in the sense that they are 40-18 when they score first and 17-49 when they don’t.

“When you can punch first, it just relaxes the dugout,” manager AJ Hinch said. “It isn’t always going to be that way, but it was nice to do it in this series.”

The Tigers’ 4-1 win in the finale of the four-game series against the Guardians on Sunday followed a familiar and successful script.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Guardians 1

In Game 1 on Friday, Akil Baddoo led off the game with a home run and the Tigers rode a three-run first inning to a 4-2 win.

On Saturday, they rode Kerry Carpenter’s three-run, first-inning homer to a 4-3 win.

On Sunday, Spencer Torkelson got the ball rolling with a two-run blast in the first inning, his 22nd of the year. And lefty ace Eduardo Rodriguez and some sparkling defense made sure it held up as the Tigers’ secured the season series against Cleveland (7-3) for the first time since 2015.

“We won the season series with the Twins, too,” Torkelson said. “You want to win every series, but that’s huge.”

The Tigers are now 25-15 against the Central Division, too.

“When you punch first, it’s hard for the other team to come back,” catcher Jake Rogers said. “When we can push a team down early and get that cushion, our pitchers get the confidence to pound the zone.”

Rodriguez didn’t need much of a cushion. He was brilliant, allowing just one run and four hits in 6.2 innings. The one run was set up on a double by Steven Kwan, a fly ball that right-fielder Carpenter struggled to track in the sun.

“I thought my command was really good today,” said Rodriguez, who is now 5-0 with a 2.42 ERA in seven career starts against the Guardians. “Everything felt under control.”

It looked for few innings like Rodriguez would only throw his two fastballs. Thirty-three of his first 43 pitches were four-seamers and two-seamers. The second time through the order, though, the Guardians hitters saw his complete arsenal.

“All the time I feel like if I can go the first time through the lineup with all fastballs, that’s a big win for me,” Rodriguez said. “If I show them everything early, it’s going to be tough the second and third time through.”

He got 17 swinging strikes and 14 called strikes (13 with his four-seamer). He got four swinging strikes on eight swings with his slider.

He had two quick outs in the seventh when Tyler Freeman reached on slow topper, a swinging bunt, essentially, down the third base line.

Much to Rodriguez’s chagrin, Hinch was on his way to the mound. He was at 105 pitches and his day was done.

“Yeah, I probably wanted a couple of more,” Rodriguez said with a smile afterward. “I needed one more out to get through the seventh. I always want more and more. That’s what makes me who I am. I love that he let me go out for the seventh with that many pitches and we got a good result out of it.”

Hinch didn’t call for lefty Tyler Holton just because of Rodriguez’s pitch count. There was more to it than that.

“Giving Holton some room for error and some breathing room is super important,” Hinch said. “We don’t always want the tying run on base or at home plate before we go to the pen. Especially when you have your good guys at the back end available.”

Rodriguez should have given a hat-tip to shortstop Javier Báez on his way to the dugout because the good result was greatly aided by his defensive wizardry. Báez made two stellar plays. He took a single away from Freeman in the fifth inning, ranging far into the hole to his right and jump-throwing a seed to first base.

He stole a hit from Jose Ramirez in the sixth, making a quick, diving backhanded snare of a ball hit with an exit velocity of 102 mph. Báez caught the ball with his momentum going toward left field and he still was able to get up quick and throw out Ramirez.

“That’s why they call him El Mago,” Rodriguez said. “That’s all I can say about it. It’s impressive every time I watch him do all those things. I don’t even know how to react when he does something crazy like that. But I love it.”

Báez also ended the seventh inning, going into the hole to get a grounder by Gabriel Arias and getting the force out at second base as Holton (1.1 innings) and Alex Lange closed the game out with seven straight outs.

“It’s pretty special watching him play the game of baseball,” Torkelson said. “There were some key plays in this game, you know, where we won 4-1 because of them.”

Second baseman Andy Ibanez made an over-the-shoulder catch in short right field to steal a hit. He also got Rodriguez out of a jam in the fourth executing a 4-3 double-play. Carpenter made a sliding catch on a ball hit by Arias in the fifth. And Riley Greene, after misreading a short fly ball in shallow center in the eighth, recovered and made the catch with a superman dive.

“It was a complete game for us and it capped a good series,” Hinch said.

The other side of this Tigers-Guardians narrative, though, was those first-inning runs were about all the damage the Tigers did in those games.

Until Sunday, the Tigers scored just three runs in innings other than the first. Not this time, Carpenter blasted his 18th homer of the season in the seventh. Báez created a second run in the inning, getting hit by a pitch, forcing a balk and scoring on a pinch-hit single by Baddoo.

The Tigers, who end the three-city trip with a 5-4 record, hit 18 homers in those games.

“I don’t care how we score,” Hinch said. “If we get 10 hits, if get a homer, we just need to put up good at-bats and I thought we worked their pitching staff very well today and throughout the series and we come out with three wins. I think it’s all correlated.”

One last snapshot from Progressive Field: Miguel Cabrera, who was celebrated before the game by the Guardians, finished his 127th and last game here with a line drive single to right field in his final at-bat. Since Progressive Field was founded in 1994, Cabrera has had more hits (146), home runs (26), RBI (89), extra-base hits (49) and total bases (247) than any other visiting player.

He is one of five players all-time to post a .300 average, 50 or more homers and 175 RBIs against Cleveland. The others on that list — Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig.


“He’s got some pretty insane numbers against every team, but especially against Cleveland,” Torkelson said. “We knew how big that moment was for him, kind of his farewell to this stadium. Pretty good way to go out.”


X: @cmccosky

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