DETROIT (AP) — After seven runs, five walks, two lead changes and a parade of futile pitching changes, the eighth inning finally ended at Comerica Park.
What the Detroit bullpen squandered, the Boston relievers had given right back.
JaCoby Jones drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth, and the Tigers outlasted the flu-bitten Red Sox 6-5 on Friday to win their ninth straight home opener. Detroit allowed five runs in the top of the eighth, blowing a 4-0 lead in the process, but the Tigers scored twice in their half to take back the lead.
“Up and down the lineup, you had guys that were having good at-bats and passing the baton to the next guy,” Detroit catcher James McCann said. “That just builds chemistry, builds camaraderie among ourselves as a team.”
Red Sox stars Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts were ill and out of the lineup. Boston also was without shortstop Xander Bogaerts and reliever Matt Barnes, who are on the bereavement list.
Whoever won this game was going to do so in spite of its bullpen. The Tigers wasted their lead when Pablo Sandoval put the Red Sox ahead with a three-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez. Sandoval, who played in just three games last year before having shoulder surgery, hit a drive to left-center field on an 0-2 pitch for his first home run since Aug. 15, 2015.
The lead didn’t last.
After Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera struck out to start the Detroit eighth, Heath Hembree (0-1) walked two batters, and pinch-hitter Mikie Mahtook followed with a tying double off Robby Scott.
“He threw me a curveball and I was able to get a barrel on it,” said Mahtook, who was playing his first home game for the Tigers after being acquired in the offseason.
Joe Kelly then allowed consecutive walks to McCann and Jones, forcing in the final run.
“Just yanking some fastballs to his glove side,” Boston manager John Farrell said. “Missed down and away to right-handers where you’re looking to finish off an inning. This one got away from us.”
Mahtook made another important play in the ninth. With a man on first, Rodriguez (1-0) allowed a two-out double by Mitch Moreland. Mahtook reached the ball in the right-field corner and threw it in quickly enough to make the lead runner stop at third.
“If he bobbles that ball, if he doesn’t field that ball cleanly, it’s a tie ballgame,” McCann said.
Before the bullpens got involved, Detroit’s Michael Fulmer pitched six scoreless innings. The reigning American League Rookie of the Year allowed four hits and two walks, striking out four.
Boston knuckleballer Steven Wright allowed four runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.
McCann’s two-run homer made it 4-0 in the seventh, but relievers Bruce Rondon and Alex Wilson were able to get only one out apiece in the top of the eighth, forcing Rodriguez to come in and face Sandoval with two outs and runners on first and third.
“I got ahead of him 0-2, and then just threw an extremely bad pitch over the plate,” Rodriguez said. “You guys know what was the result.”
The Tigers played a video tribute before the game honoring owner Mike Ilitch, who died shortly before the start of spring training. A large “Mr. I” was cut into the grass in center field and also appeared in a circle to the left of home plate and on a flag beyond the wall in left-center.
Boston reliever Ben Taylor made his major league debut in the seventh, striking out the only hitter he faced. He was in line for the win after Sandoval’s homer, but the Red Sox couldn’t hold on.
Red Sox: Betts and Brock Holt both sat out Wednesday’s win over Pittsburgh because of illness. Holt was in the starting lineup Friday as the designated hitter and went 1 for 2 with a walk before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh.
Tigers: Detroit is without RF J.D. Martinez, who is recovering from a sprained right foot. Tyler Collins, who started Friday in right, misjudged a flyball in the seventh for an error — but he also had two hits.
Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez takes the mound against Detroit on Saturday. Rodriguez posted a 3.24 ERA after the All-Star break last season.
Tigers: RHP Jordan Zimmermann starts for the Tigers. He went 9-7 with a 4.87 ERA last year, when he was bothered by neck issues.
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