Tigers manager Gardenhire announces immediate retirement

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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DETROIT — Ron Gardenhire mostly maintained his jovial demeanor this season. As recently as Friday night, he was needling a reporter while discussing a strategic decision from the late innings.

Less than 24 hours later, Gardenhire announced his retirement. This year was taking more of a toll on the 62-year-old Detroit Tigers manager than he’d necessarily let on.

As much as he enjoyed managing, Gardenhire valued his health more.

“It’s been wonderful here, but I also know I have to take care of myself,” said Gardenhire, who was nearing the end of his third season with the Tigers. “When you come to the ballpark, and you’re stressed out all day, and your hands are shaking, that’s not fun. I’ve got grandbabies, I’ve got kids that I need to take care of, and my wife.”

Gardenhire’s announcement came in an abruptly scheduled video conference about an hour before Saturday night’s game against Cleveland. General manager Al Avila said he made a routine visit to Gardenhire’s office Saturday, when the manager told him about the decision.

Gardenhire, who has battled cancer and diabetes, expressed some unease about the coronavirus back in June before the season began. He also recently missed a couple games because of stomach issues.

“This is tough. It’s a tough day for me. Didn’t expect it, tell you the truth, when I walked in,” Gardenhire said. “But I just know how I’ve been feeling lately, and I expressed that to Al, and elected to just go ahead and step down.”

A message of “Thank you, Gardy” was posted on the scoreboard at Comerica Park.

“On behalf of all of us with the Detroit Tigers, congratulations to Ron Gardenhire on a tremendous managerial career,” Tigers CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. “One of the best baseball men around, we’re fortunate to have had Gardy lead our team for the past three seasons, and during this rebuilding period. He has done a great job in shaping the future successes I know our organization will see.”

Bench coach Lloyd McClendon is taking over as manager for the rest of the season, which is scheduled to end Sept. 27. Detroit is 22-29 after beating the Indians 5-2 on Saturday. That was the 500th managerial victory for McClendon, who had stints with Pittsburgh and Seattle.

McClendon, who said after the game he’d be interested in the Detroit opening beyond this season, spoke a bit about the rigors of 2020 and how they might have affected Gardenhire.

“I know things were weighing on him heavily, and it was a tough grind,” McClendon said. “This has been a very, very emotional season for all of us in a lot of different ways – with the pandemic and all the other things that are going on in this country, it’s been really, really tough. The 60-game schedule in a lot of ways has seemed like a 175-game schedule.”

Gardenhire previously had a 13-year run with the Minnesota Twins that included six AL Central titles.

“I’d like to congratulate Gardy on one of the best managerial careers, really in major league baseball history,” Avila said. “His leadership and hard work over the last three seasons has put us in a position to get closer to our goal of bringing back winning baseball to Detroit.”

Gardenhire had to oversee a significant rebuild with the Tigers that included a 114-loss season in 2019.

“He took us through the toughest two years of the transition. This year, this third season, probably as tough as any, just because of the pandemic,” Avila said. “The COVID-19 over your head, all the new changes … the stress level was through the roof.”

Gardenhire’s surprise retirement came as the Indians were getting ready to play their 38th game without their manager, Terry Francona, who has been sidelined after undergoing surgery for a gastrointestinal issue and some blood clotting complications which followed the procedure.

The 61-year-old Francona, who is in his eighth year with Cleveland, still hopes to return before this season ends.

Whoever takes over the Detroit managerial job will be tasked with guiding the team through an important stage in its process. Pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal had a chance to get some experience in the majors this year, and other young players will be crucial over the next couple seasons.

Gardenhire took over for longtime Twins manager Tom Kelly and managed Minnesota from 2002-14, going 1,068-1,039. Minnesota won the division six times in his first nine seasons at the helm, and he was American League Manager of the Year in 2010.

He was a bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks before returning to the AL Central with the Tigers for the 2018 season. Detroit was 132-241 under Gardenhire.

Gardenhire played five seasons in the majors, all with the New York Mets, and was a light-hitting infielder in the 1980s.

“Always, you’ll miss baseball,” Gardenhire said. “You miss the game, but you miss the people in it, the coaches, the staff here. Those are the tough things, but I’m only a phone call away. … I won’t just go away totally. This is just a moment, I know I have to take care of myself right now and get myself back to where I need to be.

“I appreciate baseball for everything they’ve given me and my family, and it’s been a good career.”

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

atlanta braves
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.