Detroit Tigers' secret to snapping losing streaks? Veteran-led team meeting

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers reliever Buck Farmer had no idea of his team's woes against the Cleveland Indians until seeing the headlines entering a three-game series Aug. 14 at Comerica Park.

That series turned a streak of 17 losses to Cleveland into a 20-game skid, just three away from tying the mark set by the Kansas City Royals in 1969-70 with 23 losses to the Baltimore Orioles.

"Until we were reminded, I don't think, and I still don't think, anybody really cares," Farmer said before Friday's contest. "You know, it's another baseball game. We go out there and try to win, and perform to our best."

Detroit Tigers' Jonathan Schoop rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the fourth inning Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Cleveland.

Friday's series opener at Progressive Field marked 499 days — dating back to April 10, 2019 — since the Tigers had beaten the Indians. A day prior, facing a nine-game overall losing streak this season, Tigers veterans called for a meeting in Chicago before flying to Cleveland. The assembly was led by designated hitter Miguel Cabrera, catcher Austin Romine and outfielder Cameron Maybin.

"The message was keep playing hard," said right-hander Michael Fulmer, Friday's starter who allowed five runs in three innings. "Pick each other up, don't feel down on yourselves and have somebody's back. ... You just got to believe it, and I think that really kickstarted us tonight."

The Tigers (10-14) snapped both skids with a 10-5 win, and they did so by coming back from a five-run deficit. That revival was sparked by a seven-run fourth inning in which Jonathan Schoop delivered a 431-foot two-run homer and 21-year-old Isaac Paredes added a grand slam, his first homer since making his MLB debut on Monday.

"We needed a win more than anything else," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's not even about all that other stuff. After the win, yeah, we talk about it, but we just needed to play a good ballgame and get a win for everybody to feel good about themselves."

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During the nine-game skid, the Tigers struck out 87 times, including 15 times in Thursday's 9-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox. They had just 24 extra-base hits and 29 runs scored, leaving a beleaguered starting rotation  — featuring two rookies making their MLB debuts — to fend for itself.

So when Friday came around, and Fulmer put the Tigers in a tough spot again, he was ecstatic to see the offense bail him out in its second turn against Cleveland starter Adam Plutko.

Likewise, Schoop was pleased to be the one to get the rally started, following Miguel Cabrera's walk to open the fourth with a blast to left field, boasting a 113.6 mph exit velocity. Gardenhire said it brought life to his players in the dugout.

"They had my back, for sure," Fulmer said. "Schoop's home run, I don't think has landed yet. ... This was just truly a full team win. Once our starting pitching, specifically me, do a little better and figure it out, it's gonna be fun to watch."

Sure, Fulmer enjoyed watching Schoop's blast, and yes, Schoop fancied being in the spotlight to get his team back on track. But they both were even more proud of Paredes for his grand slam, putting the Tigers in the driver's seat.

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Adam Plutko delivers against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Cleveland.

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His respectful confidence has already impressed mainstays in the organization.

Schoop has been where the 21-year-old Paredes is now; in 2013, he, too entered the majors. Since that debut with the Baltimore Orioles, he has remained a regular in MLB lineups throughout his eight-year career.

"The way he handles himself," Schoop said of Paredes. "He's like two years, three years ahead already. He's really calm and knows what he's doing."

Finally able to take a fresh breath after nearly 500 days of bummers from the Indians, Detroit's focus shifts to winning the series. Amid a 60-game schedule, and with nine games left in a stretch of 17 without a day off, there's little time to rejoice over just one win.

But it felt good to finally get this one out of the way.

"A lot of these guys haven't been around for those other 19 or however many losses, so they've only had to live with a few of them, so they don't understand it," Gardenhire said. "But we've been there, and we know what's happened.

"We had a lot of good ballgames with them, we just couldn't get over the hump. Hopefully, that thing is off our back now."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content