Kirk Gibson grew up in Michigan and helped the Detroit Tigers win their most recent World Series title, but that doesn’t mean the Arizona Diamondbacks manager plans on letting any cherished memories cloud his trip home this weekend.
He does, after all, have to worry about leaving with his team still in first place.
Gibson returns to Detroit on Friday night for the first time as a manager looking to lead his team to a seventh straight road victory for the first time in nearly nine years.
It’s been just more than a year since Gibson was last in Detroit with the Diamondbacks (42-34), but during that series – in which the Tigers took two of three – he was still the team’s bench coach.
That changed July 1, when A.J. Hinch was fired and Gibson took over, leaving the 1988 NL MVP to finish out Arizona’s woeful 65-97 season.
What seemed like a major rebuilding process has accelerated with Gibson at the helm. The Diamondbacks have a major league-best 27 wins since May 14 after finishing off a three-game sweep in Kansas City with Thursday’s 5-3 victory.
Arizona is 15-4 in its last 19 road games and leads the NL West by one-half game over San Francisco.
“We’re a confident team right now going into the dog days of summer,” starting pitcher Daniel Hudson said. “We’ve got some pretty good streaks going.”
A victory Friday would give the Diamondbacks their first seven-game road winning streak since a nine-game run Aug. 3-17, 2002, and that – not facing his old team – is what has Gibson’s focus.
“They’re the enemy,” Gibson told the Diamondbacks’ official website. “It’s totally different. Tiger Stadium is where I played. This is a different stadium, the organization has turned over quite a bit since I was last there.”
This series also reunites Gibson with Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who was Gibson’s first professional manager at Class A Lakeland in 1978, and managed him again in 1992 during the outfielder’s brief stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gibson, who said Leyland “spent a lot of his heart and soul making me into a decent major league player,” describes their relationship as having “mutual competitive respect.”
Leyland should be happy his team is back home after a 2-4 road trip, though it at least ended on a positive note. After scoring one run in their first two games against the Dodgers, Detroit (40-35) hit four homers in Wednesday’s 7-5 victory.
“It was a hard-fought win,” Leyland said. “It’s not the best of road trips, but to end it with a win is pretty good.”
Returning to Comerica has a few perks for the Tigers. Third baseman Brandon Inge is back from the disabled list after missing all but one game this month. Perhaps more importantly, Detroit gets to take advantage of a .307 average from its designated hitters that’s second-best in the AL.
Detroit will face Zach Duke (1-2, 4.66 ERA), who gave up seven runs and 13 hits over 4 2-3 innings in his last road start, at Florida on June 13. He settled down Saturday against the White Sox, yielding three runs over 5 1-3 innings, but lost 6-2.
Duke limited the Tigers to three runs over eight innings to win his only career start against them, a 9-3 win for the Pirates on June 13, 2009.
Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera is 5 for 12 with four doubles versus the left-hander, with the bulk of those at-bats coming when Cabrera played for Florida.
Phil Coke (1-7, 3.95), a frequent victim of poor run support, counters for Detroit. It wasn’t a lack of help that plagued him Saturday at Colorado, but rather seven walks, which helped lead to the four runs he allowed over five innings of a 5-4 loss.
Coke got two outs in relief against Arizona to earn a 7-5 win June 18, 2010.
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