Now, it’s a winning streak.
The Tigers, who last month began at Progressive Field a nearly six-week stretch of stumbling and bungling, instead carved out a second consecutive victory Friday when they bested the Indians, 6-4, thanks to some long-ball crunch from the muscular Martinezes, Victor and J.D., and a sleek six innings from starter Rick Porcello.
Victor Martinez slammed his 18th home run of the season in the fourth inning, a two-run drive into the seats in right. His partner, J.D., ripped his fourth homer in five games in the eighth, this one an opposite-field rocket to right with two men on base, which at the time turned a 2-0 game into a 5-0 stroll.
Not that the Tigers are much on leisure in 2014. And all because a bullpen can’t seem to behave, as happened a half-inning later when Ian Krol, who had been one of the few relievers regularly minding his manners, got socked for a pair of Indians homers that made it, 5-4, and led to mass hyperventilation across Tigers Nation.
“My stress level got up a bit in the eighth,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose team has won back-to-back games only three times since May 19 — but now are back in first place after the Royals lost, 7-5, to the Mariners later Friday night. “With two innings to go, we’ve got to win that game.”
Fortunately for Ausmus and his team, each of which has had better weeks, Joba Chamberlain finished the eighth by striking out Nick Swisher. That allowed Joe Nathan to further craft his mini-comeback by putting away the Indians in the ninth, a half-inning after Detroit got its sixth run on doubles from Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler.
“For me, it’s throwing strikes, first of all,” said Nathan, who now has 15 saves and who, in his last two games, has struck out five batters in two innings following an ugly streak that featured too many walks and too many crushed pitches.
“But I think my stuff is a lot better,” said Nathan, who made an arm-slot adjustment this week that Ausmus believes has been the difference-maker. “They were licking their chops earlier.”
Of course, if someone was going to hit a pair of home runs to win it for the Tigers, it was going to be their resident musclemen. And, no, Miguel Cabrera has not of late qualified.
Rather, it was going to be the Martinezes, Victor, the supposed singles-and-doubles hitter who in 2014 acts as if he wants a piece of Barry Bonds, and, of course, his namesake, J.D., the masher from Miami who has bashed his way into regular work in the Tigers outfield.
Victor had gotten what became a long, scary night for the Tigers ignited in the fourth. Following a leadoff single from Cabrera, Martinez crafted one of his 2014 trademarks. He took a first-pitch, 93-mph fastball from Corey Kluber and air-mailed it 393 feet into the right-field seats, which thrilled about half the 33,545 customers who were seated at Progressive and who, typically, consisted heavily of Tigers travelers.
Now, it’s a winning streak.