Five catchers with most games caught in MLB history. No. 1 on the list is former Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who’ll be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 30, 2017. Video by Ryan Ford/DFP

Upton’s grand slam in the eighth backs up Verlander, bullpen; Tigers among hottest teams in MLB

BALTIMORE – They can’t explain it and even if they could, the Detroit Tigers probably wouldn’t want to.

Two weeks ago, they traded one of the best power hitters in baseball. Four days ago, they traded their closer and a crucial clubhouse presence. And here they were on Friday night, with the music once again playing inside the visitor’s clubhouse, celebrating their fourth straight win.

This win came in comeback fashion, the most dramatic of the bunch, when Justin Upton crushed a grand slam in the top of the eighth inning to beat the Baltimore Orioles, 5-2, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Asked to explain their recent winning ways, Upton could not.

“We’re just having fun,” he said. “We’re just playing baseball.”

Neither could manager Brad Ausmus, who offered his usual matter-of-fact statement on the six-out-of-seven streak: “We’re outscoring them. There’s really no secret. The bullpen has done a nice job. We’re just able to scrape out enough runs, a few big hits here and there and trying to ride this as long as possible.”

Perhaps they are playing more loose now that the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, which seemed to suffocate the clubhouse the last few weeks, has passed. Maybe, with still so much talent, they’re due for a correction on the frustrating first four months of the season.

Whatever it is, they seem to be getting the breaks – and making many of those themselves.

“It is what it is,” Upton said. “I felt like we were playing OK before the break, we just weren’t catching the breaks that we should have. We’re playing good baseball. I don’t know what it is, but the guys are coming with energy every day and we’re winning.”

More: Verlander clears revocable trade waivers Friday

This game was in the balance throughout, “Kind of an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel,” Ausmus called it, with the Tigers hitting one solo home run and the Orioles hitting two, but never more so in the balance than in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Down a run, the Orioles had one out and runners on second and third base, Ausmus played the infield in. Ace right-hander Justin Verlander had crossed the 100-pitch mark and stared down Caleb Joseph in a no ball, two strikes count.

Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander (35) in action against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, in Baltimore. (Photo: Mitch Stringer USA TODAY Sports)

Verlander then came up and in with an upper-90 m.p.h. fastball, hitting Joseph on the hand and then off the bat. One hundred feet away, first base umpire Jeff Nelson ruled it a swinging strikeout.

“In my opinion, one of those tough-luck strikeouts,” Verlander said.

Verlander retired the next man and the balance soon shifted in the Tigers’ favor.

After two singles and a walk in the top of the eighth, Upton launched his third grand slam of the season, rewarding Verlander for his awesome effort with a win. Upton’s blast, a no-doubter, was his 20th home run of the season.

“They put me in a situation where I could tie the game on a fly ball to the outfield but I got a pitch I could elevate and I got some barrel on it,” he said.

Verlander was outstanding once again, recording his third double-digit strikeout game of the season with 10. He made three mistakes: Two ended up as solo home runs – Tim Beckham in the second inning and Manny Machado in the third inning – and the final fell a foot or so shy of clearing the rightfield fence, resulting in a double before the sticky situation in the seventh.

“I’m utilizing all of my pitches better,” he said. “I’m throwing all of my pitches again. Pitching deeper in the game can get you a lot of wins.”


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