Tigers bash skid into submission
Four-run fourth carries Detroit to first win of 2008
BOSTON -- All through the Tigers' miserable start, manager Jim Leyland emphasized that the season is a marathon, not a sprint. For some, simply getting to the first victory literally felt like a marathon.
One lap after another, Kenny Rogers jogged the warning track that goes around the playing field at Fenway Park until he couldn't run anymore. He began as the Red Sox were starting their batting practice and ended when the Tigers closed up their BP and the field access was closed. He was getting cheers from some fans each time he ran by. By his count, he covered at least 60 laps in a run that seemed to last almost two hours.
"I ran out all the bad stuff for all the fellas," Rogers said later, after it seemingly worked.
Rogers' run, which he told teammates about beforehand, and a change for some hitters to different bats was about all the superstition the Tigers would allow themselves in their season-opening slide. They know they're a good team, but a team mired in a nightmarish slump. Even with all that confidence, however, Wednesday's 7-2 win over the Red Sox was a burden lifted off their shoulders.
It was nothing like the end to the 0-9 start from 2003, as Brandon Inge would attest, but that didn't take anything off the smiles around the relatively quiet clubhouse. It wasn't a celebration, but it wasn't simply business as usual, either.
"The other team [in '03] wasn't a very good team," Inge said. "This one is a very good team. The offense had just been struggling, very badly struggling, and probably a lot of pressing going on. And now to get this win, that's probably going to relieve a little tension from some guys."
One night doesn't change the offensive struggles, but it changes numbers. Miguel Cabrera's second-inning single ended an 0-for-11 slump, and Ivan Rodriguez's 2,500th career hit stopped his skid at 0-for-15. Edgar Renteria's two-run double to open the scoring was Detroit's first extra-base hit since Ramon Santiago's double on Sunday night, and Marcus Thames' go-ahead two-run homer was the club's first homer since Saturday.
The biggest stat, however, was the zero that vanished in the win column. That 0-for-7 was over.
"It was just a good win to get that monkey off our back," Thames said.
Thames had to endure a marathon of his own to put the Tigers ahead after Renteria made Red Sox starter Jon Lester pay for back-to-back walks to Cabrera and Carlos Guillen. Lester (1-2) recovered to put Thames in a defensive mode with a 1-2 count and tried unsuccessfully to get him to chase back-to-back breaking balls out of the strike zone.
With the count full, Thames fouled off three straight pitches before Lester went back to his breaking ball. This time, however, he hung it over the plate, and Thames pounced.
"Marcus always gives you a good at-bat," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think sometimes guys that don't play every day, those at-bats are valuable for them."
Not only did that one give Detroit its biggest inning of the season, it came within a run of matching the club's highest scoring total from any other game so far this year. It was the type of effort the Tigers became known for posting against left-handed starters last season with such a heavily right-handed lineup, especially with Curtis Granderson out and Renteria and Cabrera added in.
Renteria, who was booed heartily on Wednesday by Red Sox fans who remember him from his only season in Boston, in 2005, added a double in the sixth to go with a single and an insurance run in the eighth.
"When they boo you, you've done something good," Renteria said. "Bad players, they never boo you."
The pitching staff made it stick. Starter Jeremy Bonderman (1-1), using his changeup seemingly more heavily in the early innings than he had in his previous start, recovered from a pair of second-inning runs to escape the frame with the bases loaded and held Boston without another run through five-plus innings.
More glaring, however, was the work put in from a bullpen that has received its share of scrutiny already this season with barely any leads. Since Detroit hadn't taken a lead into the seventh inning since Opening Day, much of the bullpen's work had been to limit deficits instead.
Bobby Seay replaced Bonderman following a Manny Ramirez single leading off the sixth, and he sent down Sean Casey, J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek in order. Francis Beltran, who wasn't even on the team until last weekend, entered the seventh-inning mix by retiring Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis as the potential tying runs.
Denny Bautista faced the heart of the Red Sox order in the eighth with a four-run lead and fired away, retiring David Ortiz and recovering from another Ramirez single with a Casey double play.
"They're talking about our bullpen, our staff, but I'm telling you, we've got a bullpen," Bautista said. "We've got great arms, and we've got [closer] Todd Jones talking to everybody about what we're going to do. Everybody knows we just have to pick it up a little bit, but we've got a good group."
It's much the same as what Leyland has been saying about his team as a whole. Before the game, he said he hoped that whenever the Tigers did win, that they would act like they've been there before, and they did.
"I'm not overly excited tonight because we got a win," Leyland said, "just like it wouldn't have been the end of the world if we had lost. It's great to get the win, obviously, but the one thing I tell myself is, we've got a good club. You just have to believe, keep the faith that things are going to work out, because we've got a good ballclub. It's a 162-game season. That's a fact, so it's a little early to get too giddy if you're 7-1 or down if you're 0-7."
This was the night when all that had a chance to show, including Rogers' distance-running skills. Just don't expect to see him in the Boston Marathon next week.
"I'm hoping that doesn't happen another time this year," Rogers said. "That was tough. I'm paying for it right now."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.