DETROIT - Surely, there should be some hand-wringing. Yes, there will be some head-shaking.
After all, who can rest easy after the Detroit Tigers’ shaky bullpen that blew a late lead and allowed five runs in the eighth inning of Friday’s 6-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox?
Certainly not the fans at Comerica Park who booed closer Francisco Rodriguez and the rest of the Tigers when they left the field after the top of the eighth inning and tailing, 5-4.
But if there’s any solace in the Tigers’ comeback, it should rest firmly in the manner in which they did it. In large measure, they did it with their young players, Mikie Mahtook and JaCoby Jones.
Mahtook, 27, playing in his first Opening Day at Comerica Park, got his first hit of the season with a pinch-hit double in the eighth inning that tied the score at 5.
Two batters later, Jones, 24, displayed the poise of a 10-year veteran and drew a high-pressure, high-wire walk against reliever Joe Kelly on a full count that brought in Justin Upton for the winning RBI.
“Obviously, you have a lineup full of veterans and superstars,” Mahtook said. “But those guys are able to bring us along and help us and we’re just able to fill the gaps that we have and the roles that we have.
“When you have a combination of that and you have a combination for Miggy and Upton and (Ian) Kinsler and Vic(tor Martinez) and all those guys, it makes us coming up, it makes it easier for us coming up because we see these guys days do it, day in and day out.”
Mahtook left his home in Royal Oak a little early and quickly got a sense of the kind of excitement the day might bring.
“I pulled in like 8:30 and there was a line off the interstate, people trying to park and get their stuff ready,” he said. “So I knew from them, man, this is going to be a pretty cool day. Obviously these guys are passionate about us.”
In the eighth inning, Red Sox manager John Farrell took right-handed reliever Heath Hembree out and replaced him with lefty Robby Scott.
“He was ready,” third baseman Nick Castellanos said of Mahtook. “He told me on the bat rack, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for them to bring in this lefty.’ Good.”
Mahtook pulled a two-out, 1-2 curveball into left and scored pinch runner Andrew Romine.
“Any time you come in for a pinch hit late in a game like that, the magnitude of it is kind of raised a little bit,” Mahtook said. “I knew what was at stake and obviously the crowd was there, the energy was there. It was fun and kind of soaked it in a little bit.”
Kelly replaced Scott. He pitched around James McCann to load the bases and stood ready for Jones, who came to the plate and then had to back off when the crowd’s din grew deafening.
“Actually, that was probably one of the biggest, coolest at-bats of my entire life because I’ve never heard the fans that loud in my entire life,” Jones said. “So I had to step out of the box, take a deep breath and take it all in but stay focused at the same time. But it was great. I had a fun time doing that. And hopefully I can get in many more moments like that.”
The fact Jones embraced the moment and retained his poise might be the most encouraging thing that happened for the Tigers today. All he did after he stepped back in was work a seven-pitch walk. Last year, Jones might have done what a lot of players do, force a swing in order to get an adrenaline-fueled, ego-satisfying hit.
Nope. Jones stayed patient and drew the boring, old, winning walk.
“Yeah, I think it’s maturity and getting more at-bats and just getting older and seeing more pitching,” he said. “But that’s why they sent me to the fall league, to get more at-bats, to get more top-of-the-pitchers and then coming into spring training and carrying that over, it was good.”
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