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.”
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.”
Verlander threw seven strong innings, allowing two runs on six hits and not allowing a walk.
James McCann began the eighth inning rally with a bloop single to rightfield, extending a career-long hitting streak to 14 games. Jose Iglesias followed with a single. Ian Kinsler hit a squibber back to the pitcher, moving the runners up and Jim Adduci walked before Upton took reliever Mychal Givens deep.
“We just took what he gave us,” Upton said. “They weren’t the hardest hit balls but we kept putting the ball in play and (Jim) Adduci had a good at-bat.”
Adduci opened the scoring with a solo home run off righty Kevin Gausman in the first inning. It was an opposite-field shot, his first home run of the season.
With closer Shane Greene having pitched in three straight days, righty Bruce Rondon had the ninth inning assignment and picked up his first save of the season.
The Tigers’ recent surge has come against teams in the American League postseason race: The Astros, Yankees and now Orioles. With the win, it now needs to be noted they are five games back of the league’s second Wild-Card spot.
Asked if it was the best the clubhouse had felt all season, Verlander said yes.
“It’s more fun when you’re winning,” he said.
Asked if this team – post-trade deadline – had the players to make a run, he said, “I’m not going to turn my back on it, that’s for damn sure.”
Contact Anthony Fenech: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.