Tigers beat Mariners, 5-4, cut magic number to four
It’s getting so close that they can taste it. They can feel it.
Either that, or they’re feeling the bass from the new speakers hooked up in the clubhouse this week, allowing them to crank up the music for their victory celebrations.
Thursday, after a come-from-behind 5-4 win in the series finale against the Mariners cut the magic number to four, it was Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” blaring down the hallway, as reporters gathered in manager Jim Leyland’s office.
“It’s not Bobby Vinton, I know that,” Leyland quipped of the music selection.
With the Tigers having the possibility of being able to clinch their third straight division title as soon as Saturday -- enabling them to celebrate a clincher in their home park for the first time since 1987 -- there’s been plenty to laugh and joke about for the players.
“It’d be awesome (to do it at home), but wherever we get it done, we get it done. It would be great. You don’t have a crystal ball so you never know,” Prince Fielder said.
“That’s part of why it’s so much fun at this time. Everything’s starting to get closer, starting to be able to go to the next level. It becomes a little more exciting.”
Shoot, the Tigers are so loose, Prince Fielder even grabbed a nacho from a fan’s plate, after chasing down a foul ball down the right-field line.
“That’s the kind of guy he is: very focused, but still trying to keep it light,” starting pitcher Doug Fister laughed, when told the story.
Maybe that’s what they’re tasting: Nacho cheese?
“The chip? I thought about dipping in the cheese but he might double dip,” Fielder laughed. “I’ve never taken a chip. It looked good. Cheese would have been better. ... I don’t think he (the fan) even noticed it.”
His teammates did, though.
“Hey, he ran all the way over there, I think he deserved a nacho,” Torii Hunter joked.
It’s all fun and games until ... well, something breaks.
That was the only downer on the party that was the Tigers’ last home weekday game: Something nearly did break.
Starting shortstop Jose Iglesias left the game after getting hit by a pitch on the left hand. Everyone, including Iglesias, thought his hand was broken, but X-rays were negative.
“We really need that glove, and his bat in the lineup,” Hunter said. “Whenever you get hit in the hand, you always worry, because you got so many little bones there. Just a small fracture can put you out.
“So we’re glad we got some good news that nothing’s broken, nothing’s fractured, and we might have him in, I guess, a couple days.”
Could be just in time for the bigger party.
The Tigers (89-64) have put themselves in that position by winning their last three series, and eight of their last 10 series at home.
They also have done it recently by finding a way to come from behind in the later innings, and win some tight, one-run games -- both of which were struggles earlier in the season.
“We got a good team. I think, anyway. We can do some things. We’re a little more athletic than we were,” Leyland said. “We’re kind of missing one of our bigger bats toward the end of the lineup. You all know who I’m talking about (Jhonny Peralta), ... We picked up some other things by way of that.
“We got a good team, and we’re pretty good when we hit it in the gap and over the fence.”
Hunter got the offense started by hitting one over the fence, but the game was decided by the shots that the Tigers put in the gaps. He kick-started the game-winning rally in with a leadoff double in the seventh, while Fielder doubled twice, and Victor Martinez did the same, both times scoring Fielder all the way from first.
“You see I’m jumping up and down, dancing like I’m running with him. You see your kid, he’s running for a touchdown in little league, and you start running down the line with him. That’s what I do with Prince, every time he scores from first to home,” Hunter said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s exciting. That big boy can move.”
Seattle manager Eric Wedge, who’d tutored Martinez in his earliest days, in Cleveland, didn’t want that red-hot bat to be the one to beat him, intentionally walking Martinez twice in the game.
“Obviously he’s got a huge amount of respect for me, and I got a huge amount of respect for him and the rest of his staff,” Martinez said. “I kind of grew up with him and the staff in Cleveland. I guess he saw a lot from me in Cleveland.”
The first time, it bit him, when starter James Paxton followed the intentional walk with a bases-loaded walk to Omar Infante. The second time it worked, as Paxton got Infante to fly out, stranding two on.
Wedge just couldn’t do it three times, and it cost him.
“I've known him a long time, and I know all the ways he can beat you,” Wedge said. “The last time, there was anywhere to put him because Prince was on first, and he did what he’s done for years. He’s just a great hitter.”
Fielder rumbled all the way around, and home plate umpire Ron Kulpa said he slid in ahead of the tag from catcher Mike Zunino.
“It was pretty close. I was just faster, I guess,” Fielder said.
Wedge’s strategy was perfect, his counterpart admitted.
“Eric Wedge did the exact proper thing. He did the right thing. However, I’ve done the same thing: You’re taking one risk, that you got a young pitcher that might walk the next guy. Unfortunately for them, he did exactly that,” Leyland said. “But he did the right thing. That was a no-brainer.”
Facing his old team, Fister gave up a run on three straight hits in the first, then clamped down for three straight innings, before giving up a go-ahead, three-run home run to Dustin Ackley in the fifth.
He left after a two-out walk to Justin Smoak in the eighth, in line to win for the second time in three starts vs. his old team. He came in with a 1.29 ERA in two previous outings vs. the M’s.
His 7 2/3 innings of work also put him past the 200-inning plateau for the second time in his career.
Fister struck out 10, giving him 151 for the season, eclipsing his previous single-season career high of 146 from 2011. His total also allowed the Tigers to surpass last year’s franchise record of 1,318 strikeouts as a staff.
“Fister today, he gave up a three-run homer, and could’ve folded up, but he stayed out there and battled, and we got some runs to get him the win,” Hunter said. “I think the last couple games, the last week or so, we’ve been battling. We’ve battled some good pitching, some good arms. We’ve been battling. That’s baseball. We gotta go out there, and, as long as we got outs left, we’ve got a chance to win.”
Matthew B. Mowery covers the Tigers for Digital First Media. Read his “Out of Left Field” blog at opoutofleftfield.blogspot.com.