DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire joked Thursday morning about trying to loosen up the mood among his struggling Tigers by walking in on their start-of-series hitters meeting.
“Maybe I’ll show them my batting stance,” Detroit's manager and the onetime Mets shortstop said, “which will let them know they’re really good.”
Gardenhire didn’t go that far, but he did go into the room. It’s a rarity for a manager to be involved in the hitters meetings, which usually center on the hitting coaches going over scouting reports and approaches. With his team in a five-game losing streak and struggling for runs, Gardenhire wanted to change the focus, so he got involved.
“I told them to quit worrying about all this stuff,” Gardenhire said. “Let’s not talk about it anymore. I don’t want to talk about two-strike approach anymore. All I want to do is talk about these guys having fun, go up there and use their heads when they’re at the plate, try to get a good pitch and put the bat ahead on it, and let’s go from there.”
In a results-oriented business, it worked. After the Tigers scored just 12 runs over their five-game skid, they tallied nine on Thursday -- and needed just about every one of them.
“We needed a day like today,” said Grayson Greiner, who tallied the first three-hit game of his career in Detroit's 9-7 win. “First 15-16 games or so, we’ve been scuffling with getting guys in scoring position, getting the big hit. It seemed like today, everybody that came up there had a different mindset and was aggressive and not passive and did enough to get the win.”
Whether it was the concept of a career .232 hitter remembering his swing at age 61 or the sight of a White Sox pitching staff that entered Thursday with a 5.45 team ERA, the Tigers’ offense enjoyed its long-awaited breakout on the same day leading home-run hitter Christin Stewart went on the 10-day injured list with a right quad strain.
This should be the game that loosens them up -- not just for the run total, but the timing. Detroit rallied from behind or a tie in three consecutive innings, overcoming a combination of four errors and three Chicago home runs on a windy afternoon at Comerica Park.
Each time the momentum swung to the White Sox, the Tigers perked up.
“Things were happening in the dugout,” Gardenhire said. “It got quiet for a little bit, but guys were having some fun, running around the bases, and that’s what we have to get back to.”
Detroit did it without a crushing crush. While the White Sox played long ball around Comerica Park, the Tigers did their damage with just three extra-base hits -- all doubles. Their game-deciding rally in the eighth came together with a leadoff single, back-to-back hit-by-pitches of JaCoby Jones and Josh Harrison and back-to-back sacrifice flies from Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera.
The sacrifice flies were an example of what Detroit has needed for most of this struggling stretch, making contact and moving runners instead of looking for big hits. Castellanos worked the count full before sending a drive to deep center, allowing Greiner to score easily.
Just as important as Greiner’s run, Jones advanced from second to third, setting up Cabrera for his turn to drive in a run. Cabrera fell into an 0-2 count but took one fastball up and out of the zone -- the pitch that has induced several Tigers to chase for strikeouts this season -- and fouled off another at his knees before elevating a changeup for an insurance run.
Cabrera celebrated his 36th birthday with two hits and two RBIs, his first multi-RBI game of the season. More important to him was the win and the team approach.
“We made better contact and had better at-bats today,” Cabrera said. “We grinded the whole game. We had a lot of good at-bats.”
The damage was spread around the lineup. The bottom of the order contributed with two hits and two runs from Gordon Beckham against his old squad. Beckham scored on Greiner’s second-inning double and fourth-inning single. Dustin Peterson, starting in place of Stewart, contributed with an RBI single in the sixth.
“It's not like before Gardy came in we were all like, ‘Oh my God,’” Greiner said. “It’s just a reminder: ‘Hey, have fun, relax, let the game come to you.’ Just continue to pass the torch to the next guy behind you and have a team approach up there. We had our highest run total and had some quality at-bats in big situations.”
The fun was evident in the smiles in the Tigers' clubhouse after the game. They’ll try to keep that going on Friday.
“Instead of worrying about everything that’s going on and everything that’s talked about, let’s go have fun, play baseball and whatever happens, happens,” Gardenhire said.