“They got the old F-150 in the first game,” Boyd said. “Now they’re getting the Ferrari.”
Minutes later, Tarik Skubal came out for his Comerica Park debut, throwing 98 mph fastballs and buckling breaking balls before winning a 10-pitch battle with 40-year-old Tigers nemesis Nelson Cruz.
“I was joking about it. I feel like I've had a bunch of [long at-bats] this season already, but that's the first one I've actually won and got an out from it,” Skubal said.
His first Major League win really wasn’t a fast drive in a sports car; more like reliable wheels on a treacherous road. Still, the Tigers’ No. 5 prospect's five solid innings were just what Detroit needed to set up Miguel Cabrera’s tie-breaking two-run homer, sending Skubal to his milestone win and Detroit to a doubleheader sweep of the Twins with a 4-2 victory. The Tigers won Game 1, 8-2.
The Tigers have won four in a row to climb within a game of .500. They also clinched their third consecutive series victory over a Central league contender, with a chance to go for a three-game sweep Sunday behind top pitching prospect Casey Mize. Detroit has won six of eight since its nine-game losing streak and returned within sight of the American League playoff chase.
“The guys, they're up for it, coming to the ballpark,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I think our confidence level is starting to get better since we played in Cleveland.”
They’re doing it with a mix of young and old. On the same day Cabrera moved into the top 50 on the Major League all-time hits list, passing Tigers Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer, his 482nd career home run set up Skubal’s first win and Gregory Soto’s first Major League save.
Rides aside, Boyd’s most effective outing of the season set up Skubal’s plan of attack in the nightcap. Skubal’s first two starts had been the day after Boyd pitched, allowing Skubal time to contemplate. This time was more improvised.
“I did get to watch what he was doing a little bit, and see how he attacked and how he got his outs,” Skubal said. “It's a really good visual to just watch that, and it gives me confidence going into my routine.”
Hours after Boyd used a healthy dose of changeups and sliders to keep Twins hitters off the fastball, Skubal attacked Minnesota’s Game 2 lineup with more fastballs, 43 of his 70 pitches. He induced six swings and misses and two strikeouts, and scattered three balls in play with exit velocities of 104 mph or harder. But Detroit’s defense made plays for him, none bigger than Victor Reyes’ home run robbery of Miguel Sanó to end the fourth inning, two batters after Cruz sent a 2-0 pitch 431 feet for a game-tying homer.
Reyes covered 87 feet to the fence in left-center field with enough speed to get his footwork and set up his catch to keep the game at 2-2.
“Today was a windy day. I never thought it was going to be a home run,” Reyes said through translator Carlos Guillen. “But he hit the ball pretty hard. He is Sanó, and he’s pretty strong. I saw the wall, and I made a big jump to catch it.”
It was Skubal’s first experience with the spaciousness of Comerica Park.
“It was a really, really big play, just to keep the ball in the yard and then get an out for it,” he said. “Really big-time play.”
The catch bought time for the Tigers to take their hacks at the Twins' bullpen. Cabrera, whose third-inning single set up Jeimer Candelario’s two-run homer off of Trevor May to open Detroit’s scoring, followed Jonathan Schoop’s fifth-inning walk with an opposite-field loft into the right-field seats off of Tyler Duffey.
Another highlight grab from Reyes, this time a diving catch in shallow center on a Max Kepler blooper, denied Cruz a chance to step to the plate against Jose Cisnero as the potential tying run in the sixth. Soto allowed a leadoff single to Cruz but thwarted the seventh-inning threat in his first turn at closer in Detroit’s bullpen-by-committee.
The Twins scored 123 runs on the Tigers last season, more than any other club, and hit .295 with 38 home runs. Boyd and Skubal held Detroit to two solo homers and two sacrifice flies in 11 innings on seven hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.
“They have a couple of good left-handers that took the mound today,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Boyd got his first win since September 2019. Skubal got his first win, a game ball and a beer shower.
“Socially distanced,” Skubal said. “Everybody had a mask. It was all good. Awesome feeling.”