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Rocky road: Tigers head home on upswing

Saupold's strong relief helps Detroit wrap grueling trip
MLB.com @beckjason

KANSAS CITY -- A few years ago, a former Tigers player walked into the visitors clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on a Sunday morning, looked at the suitcases around the room, and suddenly realized it was getaway day. His stuff was still back at the hotel, unpacked.

This Tigers team was at no risk of such a memory lapse Wednesday. After 11 games in 10 days across three cities, including three shutouts, two 1-0 losses, two disabled-list injuries, two late-night flights and a doubleheader, they were ready to get on a plane and head home to a day off.

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KANSAS CITY -- A few years ago, a former Tigers player walked into the visitors clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on a Sunday morning, looked at the suitcases around the room, and suddenly realized it was getaway day. His stuff was still back at the hotel, unpacked.

This Tigers team was at no risk of such a memory lapse Wednesday. After 11 games in 10 days across three cities, including three shutouts, two 1-0 losses, two disabled-list injuries, two late-night flights and a doubleheader, they were ready to get on a plane and head home to a day off.

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After a 6-5 win over the Royals to salvage a series victory in Kansas City, taking a 4-7 record from a trip that began at 2-6, the flight home was a little easier.

"It wasn't a good trip by any means," Justin Upton said. "But it's good for us to win today. That's all we can worry about and move on to Friday."

Video: DET@KC: Upton rips a two-run double to left-center

As Miguel Cabrera said last week, it was a stretch they had to survive. It wasn't easy, but it forced them into some tunnel vision. Instead of lamenting the road trip, catcher Alex Avila explained, they focused on winning the last series. When they were shut out by Eric Skoglund in his Major League debut Tuesday night, they turned the page to hitting Ian Kennedy on Wednesday.

"Winning today had nothing to do really with earlier in the trip," Avila said. "It was a matter of getting back to winning series. But it always feels good getting on a plane after a win.

"This trip was a tough one. We kind of all knew that. Getting shut out three times over the last 10 days wasn't fun, and not something that a lot of us are used to on this team. But at the same time, you have to just tip your cap and move on. You can't dwell on it. You can't feel sorry for yourself. Just try to get the next guy."

Video: DET@KC: Avila lifts a solo home run to left field

Even that wasn't easy. As Matthew Boyd struggled with hard contact, including a double off the fence by Cheslor Cuthbert leading off the fourth, manager Brad Ausmus determined he couldn't afford to wait for Boyd to get settled, even with a 6-3 lead.

At the risk of overplaying a game at the end of May, they had to win that game once they led, even if it meant going to his bullpen for the final 16 outs, even if it meant going to his long relief.

"In my mind, we had to go to [Warwick Saupold]," Ausmus said.

Video: DET@KC: Wilson gets Cain to pop out to end the game

The win meant they returned home with a 25-28 record as the calendar turns to June. They had a 21-21 mark when they left Detroit in the wee hours of May 22. It wasn't ideal, but Wednesday's win combined with losses by the Twins and Indians meant that the Tigers lost one game in the standings over the course of the trip. They left town two games back in the division and return three games behind Minnesota and Cleveland.

All things considered, the Tigers will take it. They'll also take Thursday's off-day and relax.

"It's been a rough trip, a lot of games, not a lot of rest," J.D. Martinez said. "I'm just looking forward to getting home and starting fresh."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Alex Avila, J.D. Martinez, Warwick Saupold, Justin Upton