OAKLAND — Out of contention for the ninth straight season and guaranteed to finish the year with a losing record, the Tigers are playing to establish a solid foundation for the future. Detroit’s success away from Comerica Park is one indication that better times may be ahead soon.
Playing in their 2023 road finale, the Tigers beat the A’s, 2-0, on Sunday at the Coliseum to finish one game over .500 on the road, securing their first winning away record since 2016.
Earlier in the series, manager A.J. Hinch made a point of saying that while earning a winning record on the road would be a step forward for his team, successful teams need to be able to win no matter whose field they’re playing on.
For now, he and his club will appreciate the progress they’ve made.
“It’s important to recognize it and understand it’s a step along the way to play better outside of your home uniform and in some hostile environments,” Hinch said. “I really appreciate the fans showing up and providing an environment for the last few games this series.
“These aren’t easy places to play. … Over the course of a whole season, we can hold our head high that we played well away from Comerica.”
A two-run single from first baseman Spencer Torkelson — giving him a team-leading 88 RBIs on the season — was all Detroit needed as Eduardo Rodriguez responded to his shortest outing of the season with a dominant seven-inning effort in Sunday’s finale.
Rodriguez, who exited last Monday’s start at Dodger Stadium with a left scapular spasm, said he felt “great” physically as he struck out five, navigating around five hits and four walks. His six starts with seven-plus scoreless innings are the most of any big leaguer this year — and the most of any Tigers pitcher since Justin Verlander also had six in 2011.
“We wrote his name in the lineup on Opening Day, so that signals we expect a lot out of him,” Hinch said. “We’ve leaned on him, when he’s healthy, to do exactly what he did today. And he wasn’t even at his best. … He threw some really important pitches to get out of a couple of jams and missed just enough bats and kept the ball on the ground.”
Rodriguez was the beneficiary of some sound defense behind him, with shortstop Javier Báez starting a pair of double plays and making multiple heads-up plays to erase runners on the basepaths. Though speedy A’s rookie Esteury Ruiz swiped two bags — running his AL-leading total up to 65 — he was also thrown out twice, at third by Jake Rogers and at home by Báez.
“Javy … was incredible,” Hinch said. “Made some instinctual plays, made some routine plays very easily and then made the great play. I think that you put all that together with somebody that you trust on the mound, and good things happen.”
Added Rodriguez: “I love it. I know the defense that I have behind me is really good. I just tried to put the ball in play, so I know they’re going to make good plays.”
The Tigers went 6-4 on their 10-game, three-city West Coast road trip and will enjoy their first off-day in two weeks before opening the final homestand of likely Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera’s storied career.
Cabrera’s last game donning the road grays, perhaps fittingly, took place in the ballpark where he delivered one of the biggest home runs of his career. In Game 5 of the 2013 American League Division Series at the Coliseum, Cabrera opened the scoring with a veritable crowd-silencer, taking Sonny Gray deep for a two-run shot to back eight scoreless innings from Verlander.
Though Cabrera played an outsized role in crushing the A’s playoff dreams a decade ago, he received a warm reception from the home crowd throughout the weekend, with most in attendance rising to their feet for his final at-bat in the ninth inning on Sunday.
“It’s great to see, because they know who he is, what his value is to MLB, to the league and to everybody,” Rodriguez said. “He deserved that. He deserves that everywhere he goes.”
Looking back on Detroit’s postseason stops in Oakland in 2012 and ’13, Cabrera recalled how “crazy” it was to play in front of the Coliseum faithful with so much on the line.
“We never silenced [the crowd],” Cabrera said with a laugh following Friday’s game. “We won, but we never silenced [them].”
It will be even harder to silence Comerica Park when Cabrera’s farewell tour comes to an end.