Javier Báez took a swing.
On a 2-2 fastball from Boston Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier, the new Detroit Tigers shortstop dropped the ball into the stands beyond the left field wall and beyond the bullpen , in the eighth round.
“It’s Javy Báez,” said Tigres veteran Miguel Cabrera. “He got it.”
The two-run home run by Báez, who signed a six-year, $140 million contract this offseason, traveled 396 feet and handed the Tigers a 3-1 win in the series opener. Monday against the Red Sox at Comerica Park.
“I was focused,” Báez said. “That’s the biggest key for me, being focused and trying to see the ball as much as possible. … For me the key is to slow everything down. I can be really focused or I can swing balls out of the Le just being focused and being patient with my plan is key.”
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Closest lefty Gregory Soto pitched the ninth inning and made his first save of the season.
Báez’s outburst — No. 150 of his career — broke a tie at 1.
“He got $140 million for a reason,” Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario said. “He’s been doing this his whole career: hitting the ball hard and seeing what happens. That’s Javy.”
“I think if you’ve seen Javy for the last few years, his whole career, he’ll be Javy, and we’re going to take that and run with it,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “Big moment, little moment, you throw somewhere nearby, he’ll hit it, and when he does damage like that, it’s pretty electric.”
The Tigers took an early lead, but Red Sox slugger JD Martinez, a 2014-17 Tiger, crashed a solo home run in the fifth inning against right-hander Matt Manning.
Martinez’s home run marked Manning’s only blemish on his season debut. The 24-year-old was brilliant in the 19th start of his MLB career, limiting the Red Sox to one run in six innings. He produced two strikeouts, without conceding a walk.
“Super aggressive in the strike zone and really impressive that he was so effective early in the game,” Hinch said. “They came out swinging, and he wasn’t afraid of the strike zone. He kept hammering. He was very in control. If it had been any other part of the season, he’d probably come back for the seventh (innings).”
Light rain was constant throughout the first 4½ innings, but the weather didn’t force a delay.
Red Sox starter Michael Wacha countered Manning with 4⅓ innings of one run, allowing two hits and three walks with four strikeouts. The Tigers loaded the bases against Wacha in the first inning, thanks to Austin Meadows’ single, Báez’s walk and Candelario’s walk.
“He also walked,” Hinch said of Báez, who had a 5.1 percent walk rate last season. “You have to put that in your notes.”
Miguel Cabrera’s sacrificed volley put the Tigres ahead 1-0.
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In the sixth, Cabrera recorded the 2,990th hit of his 20-year MLB career with a double to right field against Red Sox right-handed reliever Matt Barnes. He also has 598 doubles.
Cabrera took his career hits total to 2,991 with a single in the eighth.
“I don’t want to put pressure on myself,” Cabrera said. “I just want to go out there and play good baseball. That’s all. I’m going to do what it takes to win games. That’s my focus right now.”
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He threw eight pitches (for eight strikes) in the first inning to set the tone, recording his first strikeout when Rafael Devers went down swinging on a high four-seam fastball at 96 mph.
Manning landed his second and final strikeout in the fourth inning, hitting Xander Bogaerts with a fastball high at 96.3 mph. The sophomore right-hander, who had a 5.80 ERA in 18 starts last season, finished his start with seven pitches (for seven strikes) in the sixth inning.
“Just tough in the strike zone,” Tigers receiver Tucker Barnhart said. “We talked a lot about that, his aggressiveness at the plate and his confidence in his business. …Tonight he was clearly trying to go out there and beat the guys. It was great. He was great shut in.”
Manning threw 13 first-pitch strikes to the 19 batters he faced, falling just twice 2-0 down in the count: Jackie Bradley Jr. (groundout) in the third inning and Alex Verdugo (groundout) in the fifth.
Verdugo, in the fifth, followed Martinez’s solo home run to bring Manning to a 3-0 count. But the Tigers pitcher responded with three straight fastballs into the strike zone, the last of which produced a groundout.
“I think it was a good pitch,” Manning said of Martinez’s home run. “I got (my fastball) inside where I wanted, it’s just that he was able to spin and burn. He’s a good hitter, and he got the best of that one. …I do a better job of getting locked up right away.”
For his 68 pitches (47 strikes), Manning used 41 four-seam fastballs (60%), 10 sliders (15%), eight curveballs (12%), six sinkers (9%) and three changes (4%). ). He won six swings and misses – five with his four seams – and 12 strikes called, including three with his slider and two with his curveball.
His fastball averaged 93.7 mph and maxed out at 97.3 mph.
“They were rocking from the start,” Manning said. “I got ahead of them and wanted them to swing. Games like that, you don’t really get to your side stuff. If they keep swinging, I’m gonna keep feeding (fastballs) in there .”
Right-handed reliever Alex Lange took over from Manning to start the seventh inning and didn’t miss a beat.
Lange, who threw 10 of 14 pitches for strikes, worked around an early Devers single by taking out Bogaerts (swinging, 87.6 mph slider) and Martinez (looking, 87.1 mph slider). Verdugo flew to deep right field for the third out.
“He’s got a lot of ‘FU’ (mindset) in his stuff,” Barnhart said. “I like that about him. All pitchers have to have some of that in their own way. I think that’s what, with tricks, makes him good. He has the ability to throw all his pitches in the zone of punching whenever he wants.”
Right-hander Michael Fulmer threw a scoreless eighth, shooting 10 of 16 pitches for strikes. Vazquez hit a first single, but Fulmer answered with three straight strikeouts, including a strikeout by Travis Shaw with a change in the mid-80s.
Soto pitched the ninth, allowing a two-out double to Devers.
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