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Tigers' Brad Ausmus softens four-out save stance in 'must-win' against Red Sox

BOSTON -- Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has been reluctant to use closer Francisco Rodriguez in a four-out save situation this season, and Ausmus has endured a hefty amount of criticism for that stance.

On Monday, he made the rare exception and brought in Rodriguez to get the Tigers out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox.

That decision paid off in the form of a 4-2 Tigers victory at Fenway Park; Detroit beat the Red Sox in the first meeting of the two clubs this season.

Ausmus, who has used his 34-year-old closer in such a situation only once previously this season (in a win over the Los Angeles Angels on June 1), cited a multitude of reasons that prompted him to relent.

"The stars have to align a little bit. First of all, it has to be a game I feel like we really need to win -- a must-win, stop a slide, whatever it is. But secondly, it's got to kind of line up," Ausmus explained. "Tonight, if [reliever] Justin Wilson doesn't get [Red Sox outfielder Brock] Holt out, I end up going to Alex Wilson against [Red Sox outfielder Mookie] Betts. I don't want to ask K-Rod to get a five-out save. So I mean, some things have to align as well."

In terms of satisfying the first requirement, Ausmus says he thought it was imperative.

"We're coming off a day yesterday where we had two walkoffs against us. We hadn't swung the bat great the last few days," Ausmus said. "We got some hits, managed to score runs [tonight] and I just felt we needed to nail this one down."

That seemed to be a feeling shared within the clubhouse.

"You got the bases loaded and two outs. I think, specifically after the last couple of games, you have to go to your guy. You have to make the other team beat your guy. And Frankie's our closer and obviously he came in and did a fantastic job," said starter Justin Verlander, who delivered another gem of a performance on the mound Monday night.

The 33-year-old ace limited a high-octane Red Sox offense to just one run on five hits over six innings pitched, continuing what has been an impressive stretch for the month of July. Verlander has posted a 3-0 record with a 1.60 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in five starts this month.

With five strikeouts Monday, he also moved into 65th on the MLB's all-time strikeout list, with 2,087.

Verlander's sterling start was boosted by key offensive contributions from shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose two-run blast in the sixth inning was the difference-maker in the game. The 26-year-old shortstop, who was traded by the Red Sox to Detroit in 2013, recorded his fifth career multi-RBI game this season.

"It's huge. This was my first organization," Iglesias said of the emotions in facing his former team. "I have some friends, teammates -- ex-teammates -- and coaches that helped me to be here today and helped me to be the player I am."

Ausmus said he thinks Iglesias has a bit of an extra gear to his game when playing in his old stomping grounds, where he boasts a career .303 average.

"I think he does pretty well against Boston when he comes back here. I don't know if it's a little extra focus because this is the team that traded him," Ausmus said. "As a player that's been traded, I think you tend to have a little more urgency playing against a team that traded you. He played really well. That's probably as good of a ball as we've seen him hit."

Catcher James McCann was also a key contributor, driving in a clutch RBI single in the seventh that gave the Tigers an insurance run needed against the league leaders in run production. The sophomore backstop entered the game batting .194 but gritted through a tough at-bat against flame-throwing reliever Joe Kelly, who was hitting triple digits on the radar gun.

Said Verlander of McCann's at-bat: "He never gave in."