DETROIT -- Joe Jiménez’s first appearance in the sixth inning since 2017 resulted in his first win since last September, thanks to a Tigers outburst off the Cubs’ bullpen. It also resulted in Detroit’s first series victory at home since May of last year -- and a second straight series win against a playoff contender.
“We all believe as a group, as a team, that we can play with anybody out there,” said Buck Farmer, whose snare of Kyle Schwarber’s line drive stopped a ninth-inning rally with the tying run on base and completed a retinkered bullpen effort for a 7-6 win in the rubber match of the three-game series at Comerica Park on Wednesday night.
Not since the Tigers took two of three from the Royals on May 3-5, 2019, had they won a home series. That result brought last season’s club to within a game of .500 at the 31-game mark. Injuries and losses piled up from there, as Detroit won 32 of its final 130 games.
Wednesday's victory moved Detroit (13-16) to within three games of .500 as its season nears the halfway point. The Tigers have won four of their last six against the Cubs and Indians since a nine-game losing streak quieted their encouraging start.
“It's good baseball going on right now, both sides [of the ball],” Niko Goodrum said. “Everyone's playing the game the way it's supposed to be played. We show up every day to work and we're excited every day when we show up to the field. Everyone's ready to compete. We just have to find a way to keep it going.”
The Tigers have a tough stretch over the second half, beginning with a four-game series against the Twins that starts Thursday. The way manager Ron Gardenhire reshuffled his young bullpen to finish off the Cubs series finale creates some intrigue going into that matchup.
The Cubs carried a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning as starter Jon Lester held the Tigers to 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The piggyback duo of Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris held Chicago to an Anthony Rizzo RBI single and Javier Báez sacrifice fly, both off Fulmer in the third.
With the middle of the Cubs' lineup due up in the sixth, Gardenhire went to Jiménez, who has been Detroit’s closer since last August and saved four of Detroit’s first six games, but has struggled since then for opportunities and outs. Gardenhire said last week he wanted to get more work for Jiménez, who made just three appearances over the previous two weeks.
“He's a little out of whack, a little frustrated, overthrowing the ball,” Gardenhire said. “So we decided we're going to try to get him in, if you possibly can, in a situation where it's a little easier on him right now so he's not trying to overthrow.”
Schwarber stretched the Cubs' lead with an opposite-field solo homer but Jiménez induced three groundouts, stranding a runner at second to keep the Tigers within two runs. Detroit batted around in the bottom of the frame, starting with back-to-back doubles from Cameron Maybin and Austin Romine off part-time Cubs closer Rowan Wick. Jonathan Schoop, Miguel Cabrera and Jeimer Candelario hit consecutive two-out singles for two more runs off Ryan Tepera before Goodrum’s two-run double broke the game open.
Cabrera’s seventh-inning RBI single, his third hit of the game, stretched the lead to 7-2. They needed every one of those runs by the end.
Gardenhire used his late-inning relievers the way he has used hard-throwing lefty Gregory Soto and rookie righty Bryan Garcia all season, looking for parts of the lineup where they fit best. For Garcia, it was the seventh inning, though Gardenhire needed to call upon Jose Cisnero to strike out Javier Báez and end a Cubs threat.
“We just went through the lineup and said, ‘This guy fits here, this guy fits here,’” Gardenhire said. “We've got all the info and data that we need. We just tried to work our way through it to the end.”
Soto sent down the middle of the Cubs lineup in order in the eighth, including a nasty slider to strike out Willson Contreras. That left the bottom of the lineup for Farmer, Detroit’s setup man for most of the season, with a 7-3 lead.
“Contrary to popular belief, some guys are not going to be perfect every night. Tonight was one of those nights for me,” Farmer said. “I had to battle to get the ball down in the zone.”
Four hits and two runs later, the Cubs had Rizzo up and the tying run on base in a 7-5 game. Rizzo hit a drive to center field estimated at 424 feet by Statcast, but Victor Reyes crashed into the wall for a highlight catch.
“I was obviously glad it went to that part of the park,” Farmer said.