DETROIT -- The crowd at Comerica Park was almost evenly split with Tigers and Cubs fans, and seemed to build in intensity with each Shane Greene pitch that Jason Heyward fouled off to extend the game Tuesday night. By the 10th pitch of their duel, the Tigers didn't feel like
DETROIT -- The crowd at Comerica Park was almost evenly split with Tigers and Cubs fans, and seemed to build in intensity with each Shane Greene pitch that Jason Heyward fouled off to extend the game Tuesday night. By the 10th pitch of their duel, the Tigers didn't feel like a team long since out of contention, playing a Cubs squad in the thick of a playoff race. They felt like regional rivals, two neighboring fan bases and former World Series foes.
"I don't know if fans realize how much it plays, for players to be out there in an atmosphere like that," Greene said after the Tigers' 2-1 win. "You create an atmosphere like that, guys are going to play harder naturally. That's just how it goes."
Heyward fouled off two-seamers, cutters and sliders from Greene to stay alive with the tying run on first base, an extra-base hit away from a game-tying rally that could ignite a struggling Cubs offense. On the 10th pitch, Greene simply challenged him.
"I don't throw many four-seams. I gripped a four-seam, threw it as hard as I could," Greene said.
When Heyward swung and missed, Greene rejoiced, just as his young setup man Joe Jimenez celebrated an inning earlier with back-to-back strikeouts of Kyle Schwarber and David Bote. For a rebuilding Tigers team playing out the schedule, this one meant something.
"The atmosphere tonight was awesome," catcher James McCann said. "When we go to Wrigley, it's a 50-50 split. And here tonight, you could hear the Cubs fans, but you could also hear our fans getting behind us. I don't want to say it's a rivalry, but you can tell the way the fans show up, there's some good past between these teams."
It's a spark the Tigers needed amid what have become dog days for them in August, having lost five of their previous six and 12 of 16. The Cubs came to town looking for their own spark after scoring four runs in four games of a series split in Pittsburgh, but as they did in those four games, they managed a lone tally off a solo homer. While Anthony Rizzo's sixth-inning drive to right off Jordan Zimmermann was impressive, ending up on one knee to swat the hanging curveball before falling over, it couldn't nullify Detroit's two-run opening inning.
Zimmermann (6-5) hadn't faced the Cubs since his days in Washington, when he was 1-5 with a 4.58 ERA in nine meetings. Of more immediate concern for Zimmermann were his struggles this year since the All-Star break, including a 1-4 record, 5.96 ERA and .978 OPS allowed. With a more effective slider and curveball Tuesday, Zimmermann struck out four of Chicago's first nine batters and racked up five strikeouts for the night.
"Any one of those guys can take you deep at any moment," Zimmermann said. "Just gotta make your pitches and keep them uncomfortable. Mac and I were able to do that tonight by throwing some fastballs up and in, make them aware of that pitch, and everything else away."
In the process, Zimmermann protected a lead built on a pair of first-inning runs. Jeimer Candelario hustled out a blooper for a leadoff double against his former team before scoring on a Nicholas Castellanos groundout, followed by a two-out RBI single from Victor Martinez.
"I want the extra base there," Candelario said. "I want to be in scoring position."
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks (9-10) kept the Tigers scoreless from there with help from three inning-ending double plays, but he still suffered his first loss since July 24.
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Zimmermann escapes with double play: The Cubs put runners at the corners with one out in the fourth inning when Jose Iglesias' ill-advised flip to second base spilled into right field instead on a grounder. With Willson Contreras up, Zimmermann went up and inside with a first-pitch fastball to set up a slider on the outside corner, which Contreras hit to second to start an inning-ending double play.
"I definitely think that was a momentum swing," McCann said. "That could've turned into a big inning for them. He found a way to get a ground-ball double play."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Martinez's three-hit game included the second bunt single of his career, a roller to the third-base side of the mound against the infield shift with nobody on and one out in the sixth inning. The 39-year-old Martinez, who is expected to retire at season's end, had been squaring to bunt in recent weeks but hadn't tried it until seeing Bote as the only infielder on the left side of the Cubs' infield shift. He punched a slow roller with a 52.9 mph exit velocity and made it to first without a play.
"I told him he looked like a young Ichiro," McCann said. "His first at-bat, out on his front foot, base hit. Second at-bat, almost same thing. And then laying down a bunt and showing off the wheels."
Asked if Martinez had been encouraged to bunt, manager Ron Gardenhire said, "I don't give a flip what he does. I don't care. I just want him to be here and keep pumping up these guys and doing what he does. If he wants to bunt, who am I to second-guess that guy?" More >
Francisco Liriano (3-8, 4.72) will try to shake his recent struggles Wednesday as the Tigers finish their two-game series and four-game season set against the Cubs with a 7:10 p.m. ET matchup at Comerica Park. Liriano is 0-4 with a 6.37 ERA in eight games since his July 4 loss at Wrigley Field. Jonathan Lester (13-5, 3.72) starts for the Cubs with a 2-6 career record and 6.05 ERA against Detroit.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.