The Tigers have reinvented themselves as a more athletic club in 2014 – one that doesn’t rely on the three-run homer to win ballgames, as they did under Jim Leyland. How appropriate, then, that on a day the Tigers organization thanked Leyland for his eight years of service, the Tigers used two three-run homers to blast the Twins, 9-3.
The Tigers honored Leyland with a tribute video before the game, and he gave a brief speech to thank the fans after throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Gene Lamont. (Mike Ilitch even made a rare appearance). Leyland was undoubtedly thrilled in the first inning when Don Kelly made a leaping catch at the fence to rob Kurt Suzuki of extra bases (many suggested it would have been a homer, but it looked from here like it was going to hit the top of the fence).
The Tigers jumped on an ineffective Kyle Gibson in the second, though his defense did little to assist him. After a single, a double (by Kelly!), and a fielder’s choice that saw the lead runner thrown out at home, Alex Avila singled home a run. Andrew Romine got in on the action with a ground ball single to right to make it 2-0. That should have been it for the damage when Torii Hunter hit a grounder to shortstop Danny Santana, who tried to go to second to end the inning. Second baseman Brian Dozier couldn’t make the play and, in the ensuing scramble, Dozier’s throw to the plate was an errant run. Now it was 3-0 and Miguel Cabrera made Minnesota pay dearly for the error, hitting a three-run opposite field homer to blow it wide open at 6-0.
On a day where Max Scherzer was pitching against an offense that, on paper, won’t rank in the top half of AL lineups, that scoreline would seem secure. But Scherzer wasn’t at his very best early on, and Dozier atoned slightly for his error by hitting a three-run homer of his own in the third. Scherzer was able to take control of the game after that, but he was still a bit erratic (by his standards) and an inflated pitch count forced him from the game after six innings. He still struck out six, however.
The 6-3 scoreline held for quite a while as Anthony Swarzak, relieving Gibson in the third, essentially shut down the Tigers offense for four innings. Swarzak departed after the sixth and the Tigers jumped on reliever Michael Tonkin, as Victor Martinez continued to scorch AL pitchers by hitting his eighth homer of the season, a three-run shot, to effectively put the game away at 9-3. Martinez tallied 12 homers in 2011 and 14 in 2013. He’s well on his way to surpassing both of those totals.
Al Alburquerque, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Coke (yes, Phil Coke!) pitched scoreless innings to round out the victory.
The Tigers can win another series tomorrow with a victory. Robbie Ray will make his second career big league start, opposing Samuel Deduno.