DETROIT -- The Tigers had waited a long time for a game like this. Eugenio Suarez, on the other hand, wasted little time at all for it.
When the Tigers' rookie shortstop -- playing in just his eighth Major League game -- was done with his Saturday afternoon at the plate, grounding into a fielder's choice in the eighth inning with a chance at the cycle, Torii Hunter ran him down and put his arm around him.
"We were rooting for you," Hunter said he told Suarez, "but you're going to get many more chances."
A single away in 2014
|June 14||Eugenio Suarez||DET|
|June 3||Chris Owings||ARI|
|June 2||Kyle Seager||SEA|
|May 31||Yoenis Cespedes||OAK|
|May 28||Tommy Medica||SD|
|May 17||Chris Owings||ARI|
|May 10||Seth Smith||SD|
The fact that he came this close, this early in his career, was historic in itself. The fact that the Tigers put up a season-high 12 runs against the Twins was more expected, yet hadn't happened in a while.
"It was nice to get that offensive explosion," manager Brad Ausmus said after the 12-9 victory at Comerica Park. "It took a couple bounding base hits and a couple bloops, but that's what we needed."
The fact that they needed pretty much all of them, holding on after retiring Joe Mauer in the eighth inning with the potential tying run on deck, was reflective of bullpen issues the Tigers have faced too often this season.
"That just shouldn't happen," Ausmus said. "And it's happened in a number of games where we've had big leads and let the other team get back in a game."
Thus, on a day when Suarez, 22, nearly became the first player since 1918 to hit for the cycle within his first eight Major League games, and Martinez came within feet of a three-homer performance, the one feat that was completed was Ian Krol's first big league save. Considering it came in a game the Tigers once led by 10 runs, it wasn't a milestone that they intended to celebrate.
"We kept swinging," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They didn't pitch that pretty either after the starter came out. They gave us plenty of opportunities. We kept blooping some balls in and we got back in the game."
By holding on, the Tigers maintained a 1 1/2-game lead over the Royals atop the American League Central, ensuring they'll be in front when Kansas City comes to town Monday for a four-game series.
That's half the total number of games Suarez has played in the Majors so far, making what he's doing all the more surprising in a veteran Tigers clubhouse.
"The way he's been able to handle himself in the infield and at the plate," Martinez said, is impressive. "I remember when I got called up, it took me a while to get in a rhythm. To see him doing what he's doing, it's pretty impressive."
Suarez is just the sixth player in the past century to double, triple and homer in a game this early in his career. The only other player to do it in the last 25 years was Justin Upton on Aug. 7, 2007. He's just the fourth Tigers rookie to homer in three of his first seven starts, joining Alex Avila (2009), Robert Fick (1998) and Frank Doljack (1930).
Unlike the other three, Suarez is a shortstop. In just over a week, he's halfway to matching the offensive output the Tigers had gotten out of the position all season before he arrived.
"He's given us more offense than what we thought," Ausmus said. "We knew he had power, but he's shown more power than we expected in the few at-bats that he's had. … We knew he could come in and inject a little energy, but he's been a bigger part of the offense than we thought he would, much quicker than we thought he would."
When Suarez was playing in the Minor Leagues, he said, he never imagined this. All he wanted to do was get his shot.
To do what he did Saturday?
"It was very special," Suarez said through translator Aileen Villarreal.
On Saturday, he was catalyst in the seven-run third.
Suarez has never met Tigers legend and fellow Venezuelan Magglio Ordonez. He only wears No. 30, he said, because that's the number he was given when he was called up to the big leagues last week.
As Suarez took his swings on deck before the bottom of the third inning, though, the Tigers were setting up Ordonez's welcome, showing a between-innings highlight of his walk-off home run to complete the sweep of the 2006 AL Championship Series.
Four pitches later, Suarez turned on a 2-1 fastball from Twins starter Samuel Deduno and sent it deep to left, tying the game.
Deduno had maneuvered through the Tigers' lineup to that point by getting outs while behind in the count. By the time he recorded an out in the third, back-to-back RBI singles and Martinez's two-run homer made it a 5-1 game.
"I cannot stop the Tiger offense today," Deduno said. "They hit them pretty good today."
It was still 5-1 when Suarez came back up in the inning and blooped an Anthony Swarzak offering into center field, just past rookie Danny Santana, for an RBI double. He became the first Tiger since Ordonez to slug two extra-base hits in the same inning, Ordonez having done it on Aug. 12, 2007.
Suarez walked in the fifth ahead of Kinsler's RBI double and Hunter's sacrifice fly, putting Detroit into double digits. His seventh-inning triple put him within reach of Carlos Guillen's 2006 feat as the last Tiger to hit for the cycle. It also put him within easy reach to score on Kinsler's bloop single to left.
He didn't know about the cycle, he said, until his teammates told him after the trip. An eighth-inning rally gave Suarez one more at-bat with a chance.
"If he had walked, I'd have been [ticked]," Hunter said.
Suarez swung at all four pitches he saw from lefty Brian Duensing, fouling off the first three before grounding the fourth.