ARLINGTON -- This is what the Tigers had in mind when they signed Prince Fielder to hit behind Miguel Cabrera. It's not just about big home run totals. It's about big home runs.
"That's always a good sign to get them up there, particularly in a ballpark like this," manager Jim Leyland said after the Tigers' 6-2 win over the Rangers on Friday night at the Ballpark in Arlington.
It didn't feel like that kind of park for the first few innings, not the way Scott Feldman was pitching.
The Tigers sent the minimum nine hitters to the plate against the Rangers right-hander through his first three innings, and had just three hits off him as he pitched to Andy Dirks with two outs in the sixth. They had four hits, six baserunners and four runs by the time Texas got the third out.
The biggest of those hits, Fielder's 20th homer of the year, made it feel like a different game.
"The big guy turned on one and gave us what we needed," Leyland said.
It was his first home run all season that took the Tigers from trailing to leading, but the impact went beyond that. For one, Max Scherzer -- who was a few batters away from a third-inning exit earlier -- took the lead and ran with it. For another, Austin Jackson took a flare to right field and simply ran, recording his first Major League inside-the-park home run as Detroit's rejuvenated offense ran all over on the Texas bullpen.
With that, any aftereffects from the series split with the Yankees earlier in the week were flushed. Once the recently maligned bullpen held on with three scoreless innings, the Tigers kept pace with the White Sox, who beat Oakland in Chicago on a Jordan Danks walk-off homer to stay a game ahead in the American League Central.
"We just played good baseball," said Fielder, keeping the focus on what they're doing.
What he did, at least, played a huge part in that, changing the feel of a game that was a hit away from getting away from them in two of the first three innings while the Tigers tried to figure out Feldman.
Fielder's three-run homer was the midpoint of a string of five consecutive Tigers to reach base safely with two outs in the sixth after Feldman (6-7) looked like he had Detroit's hitters flummoxed. Even before Fielder pounced on a hanging changeup, the hits before him weren't particularly solid aside from Jackson's triple to set up Detroit's first run in the fourth inning,
Once Feldman rebounded from Jackson's triple by striking him out in the sixth, he was an out away from carrying his gem into the seventh with as few as 75 pitches. If he retires Dirks, Miguel Cabrera leads off the seventh inning in a less dangerous position.
Dirks hit a slow roller to second and outran any play Ian Kinsler might have had. Cabrera fell into an 0-2 hole, staying alive on one pitch on a foul tip as he lost the grip on his bat and watched it fly 10 rows up behind the Tigers dugout.
Cabrera eventually dropped a line drive in front of right fielder Nelson Cruz to bring up Fielder, who barely missed a first-pitch cutter Feldman left up in the zone. He did not miss he 2-1 off-speed pitch.
"He's a mistake hitter. He does damage with mistakes and that was a mistake," Feldman said. "It was a changeup that I was trying to throw down and away. I just left it in his wheelhouse there and he did some damage with it."
Fielder sent it 382 feet to right. It was just his sixth multi-run homer all season, but his third three-run shot in about six weeks. Neither of the other two, however, came with Detroit trailing, and they definitely didn't come with a pitcher commanding them like that.
"He was pitching well," Fielder said of Feldman. "He wasn't making mistakes. Sometimes that happens, but you just have to wait it out, and if he does make them, don't miss them."
Brennan Boesch's ensuing walk off Robbie Ross set up an insurance run on Delmon Young's double into the gap in right-center.
Ross ended it there, but Jackson capped the scoring an inning later with a one-out flare that bounced past Cruz's diving attempt and rolled toward the right-field corner. Jackson sped past Kinsler's high throw home with the Tigers' first inside-the-park home run since Curtis Granderson legged out one against the Yankees on Aug. 26, 2007.
Jackson's two hits made him the first Tigers player in 35 years with an inside-the-park homer and a triple in the same game. Steve Kemp did it on Sept. 4, 1977, against Oakland.
By contrast to Feldman, Scherzer (11-6) looked shaky through his first three innings, giving up a Josh Hamilton solo homer in the first before stranding five Rangers over the next two innings. He regrouped to retire seven of the final nine batters he faced, striking out four of his final five Rangers.
"After the third inning, I knew the pitch count was getting up there," Scherzer said. "I just wanted to go out there and keep the game there. I knew if I could keep the game there, we're going to give the team a chance to win."