Behind 10th-inning surge, Tigers 4-0 for first time since 2015

April 2nd, 2024

NEW YORK -- The last time the Tigers started a season 4-0, they were four-time defending AL Central champions. That was in 2015.

The last time they opened a season with four consecutive road wins, they were riding Chris Shelton’s hot bat to a torrid start and an eventual playoff berth that led to a World Series. That was in 2006.

These Tigers are a long, long way from those lofty visions. And yet, as they continue to find ways to win, including Monday’s 5-0 extra-inning victory over the Mets at Citi Field, they show a quality about this club beyond its youth and inexperience that has a chance to pay dividends.

“This team's resilient,” said .

As Kelly rounded the bases on his three-run home run in the 10th, his right arm raised as teammates hollered from the dugout, he expressed the emotion the entire team could feel. After three consecutive one-run victories, their five-run lead was just their second multi-run advantage of the season. They posted a three-run opening inning Saturday at the White Sox, but gave up two in the bottom half to fall back into battle mode.

“I was thinking about it today: We're in a 0-0 game, we're in the ninth, we're into the 10th. Why don't we try something new for a change, guys,” Kelly joked. “Let's mix it up and score more.”

It wasn’t just that they took a scoreless game into extra innings Monday. For 5 2/3 innings, they couldn't produce a hit against familiar foe Sean Manaea in his Mets debut. Kelly was Detroit’s only runner in scoring position in the first nine innings, and he was thrown out at home on Detroit’s first hit -- an Andy Ibáñez single. Detroit’s only other hit before the 10th was a Javier Báez infield single.

On most nights, it’s a blueprint for defeat. On Monday, starter Reese Olson overcame early control woes to match zeros with Manaea, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless frames. Will Vest, Alex Faedo, Jason Foley and Shelby Miller continued the work of a bullpen that has allowed one run in 17 innings this season.

“We keep fighting,” Kelly said after the Tigers’ first extra-inning shutout since 2021. “We're never out of it. We play nine innings for a reason, and if we don't score for the first six, or seven, or eight, or nine, we still have a chance.”

At least in the 10th, the Tigers could open the inning with a runner in scoring position. Riley Greene hit a ground ball to the right side on a 3-0 pitch to move Spencer Torkelson to third. Mark Canha took a pitch in the back to put runners at the corners.

The speed of Parker Meadows, who pinch-ran for Canha at first, put pressure on second baseman Joey Wendle as he rushed to field Colt Keith’s pinch-hit grounder. Instead of an inning-ending double play, Wendle fumbled the ball, Keith had the Tigers’ first extra-inning pinch-hit RBI since Miguel Cabrera last April and the Tigers had their lead.

After Gio Urshela loaded the bases with an infield single, Báez worked a full count, fouling a ball off his foot and dropping to the ground in pain along the way, before lofting a sacrifice fly to center for a two-run lead. Kelly’s drive to left put it away.

“Games like this feel like the big at-bat that’s won by the offense is going to be the difference,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Now, it turned out we needed a couple of them in the 10th, but leading up to that, it was anybody’s game.”

It was arguably a continuation of something Hinch mentioned when asked before the game about what he took from their 3-0 start.

“For me, some of the little things that we’ve done in the first three games, I’ve been very pleased with,” Hinch said. “We also are a fraction away from losing those games, so we’re not going to settle in that the record is the defining characteristic. But our preparedness is why I’m more proud of our team than even necessarily the wins. We want to win as many games as we can, but you can tell when a team is prepared and a team is not prepared.”

For similar reasons, he doesn’t want them to get ahead of themselves. Focus on the next game and let the bigger picture sort itself out. But games like these, while not dominant, are revealing.