Apr. 14—HOUSTON — It was just one at-bat, but it felt like it caused a sea change for the Tigers Tuesday night and kickstarted their second straight win over the Astros, 8-2 at Minute Maid Park.
And, in keeping with the theme of things these days, it involved Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo. A lot things involved Baddoo in this one.
The Tigers trailed 1-0 and Astros starter Jake Odorizzi was cruising through two innings. He was baffling hitters with his not-overpowering four-seam fastball (91-93 mph). Baddoo, leading off the third, had a couple of ugly swings on the fastball himself.
But he kept the at-bat alive, worked the count full and then stayed back on a split-changeup and drove it into the Crawford boxes above the wall in left field.
It was if a seal was broken.
“When he hit the home run, everyone in the dugout was jumping around and that energy, we needed that,” said catcher Wilson Ramos, who provided a few jolts himself. “That’s all we need, just go out and have fun and play with energy, no matter what’s happening.
“That emotion in the dugout is very important. If we can stay like that as a group, we are going to have a lot of good games.”
By the time Astros manager Dusty Baker removed Odorizzi one inning later, the Tigers had clubbed three home runs, all of them into the Crawford boxes.
Nomar Mazara and Renato Nunez hit two-run homers in a four-run fourth inning, both were off Odorizzi’s fastball. Nunez’s came after he’d fouled off five fastballs in a 10-pitch at-bat. It was the second homer of the season for Mazara and the second in two nights for Nunez.
In the fifth inning, off reliever Bryan Abreu, Ramos bashed another two-run shot, this one to right field. And Ramos wasn’t done. He hit another one out to right field in the ninth.
His six homers lead the Tigers, and at that moment, it also led the Major Leagues.
“That’s like a dream come true,” Ramos said, a huge smile cracking his face. “It’s the first time in my career I lead in that spot. It makes me feel very happy.”
The Tigers had 11 home runs total when they got to Houston Monday. They’ve hit eight in two games here.
“We’ve made really good adjustments,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Part of the story of these first two games has been our discipline. We’ve made them come inside the strike zone. Yes, we’ve swung and missed a little bit…But we’ve been selective and we’ve punished mistakes when they’ve made them.”
And in winning the first two — after dropping three in a miserable series in Cleveland — the Tigers have won a series in Houston for the first time since May 2-5, 2013.
“The focus isn’t on the last three games, nor is it on what’s after tomorrow,” said lefty Matthew Boyd, who pitched 6.2 strong innings and earned his second win in three starts. “What happened in Cleveland wasn’t what we wanted but we regroup and we have it tonight.
“It just speaks to the moxie of the club and the culture that AJ and the whole coaching staff has instilled. Today is what we’ve got. We can hang with anybody today, so let’s go do it.”
But back to the primary energy source — Baddoo. With the home run, he became the first Tigers player to hit four home runs in his eight big-league games.
“This is early in the ramp up of the season and we’re seeing everything thrown in his direction,” Hinch said. “He just needs to keep being Akil. Akil fits right here in the big leagues.”
Baddoo later singled, but he didn’t stay there long. Abreu promptly picked him off first base.
Then Baddoo almost earned his first ejection in the sixth inning. He was called out on strikes by umpire Stu Scheurwater. Baddoo reacted first by pogo jumping at the plate then holding out two fingers, as if to tell Scheurwater he missed two pitches.
“Just one of those things,” he said. “Just competing out there. What happened happened.”
Scheurwater got right into Baddoo’s ear, walked with him back toward the dugout seemingly lecturing him about showing up an umpire. Victor Reyes, the on-deck hitter, tried to pull Baddoo back and finally Hinch got out there and occupied Scheurwater to allow Baddoo to get back into the dugout.
“It’s an emotional game and he was locked into an at-bat,” Hinch said. “He felt like (the umpire) missed a pitch or two and he told the umpire that. Stu is a good guy and a good umpire and he talked right back to Akil.
“It wasn’t that confrontational. I think it looked a little more confrontational than it was when I got out there. It was an easy explanation. Akil was fighting for himself a little bit. Just competing.”
Hinch said he doesn’t mind players standing up for themselves in those situations, as long as they handle it professionally. There’s a line you can’t cross.
“Say your peace and get out of there,” he said. “I don’t want our players to hang in there with the umpires too long. But you can stand up for yourself professionally and talk to the ump like that.
“Listen, you can’t ask these guys not to compete. They care and they’re emotional.”
Meanwhile, Boyd hit just one speed bump, and that was in the second when the Astros nicked him for a run, set up by two softly-struck singles (exit velocities of 65 and 71 mph).
Boyd, though, limited the damage by striking out Jason Castro and Jose Altuve with runners at the corners, then allowed two singles the rest of the way. Which wasn’t as easy as it looked given the long innings he sat through while the Tigers were piling up the runs.
“Any time we’re hitting five home runs like that, I will wait as long as it takes,” Boyd said. “What our team is doing offensively is so impressive.”
Boyd has given up more home runs than any pitcher in the American League the last two years — 54. But in three starts this year, he’s faced 78 batters without yielding one.
One final note on Baddoo: He got in some trouble Monday when he prematurely went into his home run trot on a ball that stayed in the park. Well, his sprint speed on his homer Tuesday was 19.30 — 13th fastest in the big leagues in 376 total homers.
“I was just making sure I didn’t make the same mistake again,” Baddoo said. “I’m running out everything, I don’t care if it’s a bomb, I am still running it out. Lesson learned.”