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Martinez leads off 10th with game-winning homer

LOS ANGELES -- Joe Nathan's day began with a radio segment in which he mentioned a dead arm. His day ended with his pitches seemingly resuscitated, at least in his mind, but a game seemingly dead. His teammates brought it back.

In between those start and end points was one of the most eventful games the Tigers are likely to have all year. In the end, the 7-6 win was another example of how first-year manager Brad Ausmus' job got far more challenging than many expected when he took over this contending team.

"This is probably the third game I've said this: It didn't go exactly as we planned," Ausmus said. "But I think walking away from that game with a win is a huge plus."

The only part of this game that went as planned, really, was the second save opportunity. As soon as Victor Martinez's 10th-inning drive off Kenley Jansen landed in the Dodger Stadium outfield seats, Ausmus mapped out the matchups he'd play to hold the lead in the bottom half -- Joba Chamberlain for Hanley Ramirez, Ian Krol for lefty hitters Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier, then Al Alburquerque for Matt Kemp if a runner reached base.

He needed three relievers to do the job of one Joe Nathan, because Nathan struggled to hold a three-run lead an inning earlier. They made it through, culminating in Alburquerque's first Major League save and Nathan's second vultured win in a week and a half.

"If we had lost that game," Ausmus said, "that would've stung a little bit after we had a three-run lead. But we're fortunate after Vic's homer to get out of there with a victory."

The first inning took 45 minutes as Josh Beckett and Anibal Sanchez, two pitchers traded for each other nine years ago, struggled to settle in. The time between the Dee Gordon's game-tying single in the ninth and Martinez's go-ahead homer leading off the 10th seemed like mere moments.

Martinez's home run was his second lead-changing hit off Jansen, one of baseball's elite closers, and it came off a cutter many have ranked as the best in the game now that Mariano Rivera has retired. Martinez hit a game-tying home run off Rivera last August, and a game-tying single off a Jansen fastball Tuesday night.

Wednesday's drive, Martinez's second home run of the year, was far bigger, stopping the momentum that the Dodgers built off Nathan and giving a second chance to a Detroit bullpen that has largely struggled this year. It came off that nasty cutter, which Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said they tried to get under his hands.

Martinez's teammates marveled at it in terms usually reserved for the other slugging run producer in the clubhouse, two-time American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera.

"To be able to put a charge into a ball like that, that's not easy to do," said Alex Avila.

"He's a professional hitter. There's just no other way to describe him," said rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos, whose first Major League home run gave the Tigers an early lead they carried from the third inning into the ninth.

Nathan entered with the lead at 6-3 between five workhorse innings from Sanchez and three scoreless innings of relief from fifth starter Drew Smyly. Nathan revealed on Sirius/XM's Mad Dog Sports Radio earlier in the day that he has been pitching through a dead arm, a term describing a phenomenon many pitchers experience at times during Spring Training but rarely mention in the regular season.

Nathan's velocity has been down this season, but he downplayed it pregame Wednesday, saying his command is what matters. Come the ninth inning, he missed just enough on pitches to cost him.

"The results obviously [stunk]," Nathan said, "but I felt like I got better tonight, to be honest with you."

Though Gonzalez sent out a 90-mph fastball from Nathan to lead off the inning, Nathan still had a 6-4 lead. Back-to-back walks to Ethier and Kemp set up Nathan's downfall, putting the tying run on with nobody out.

Once Juan Uribe followed with a bloop single to right-center, the tying run was in scoring position for Yasiel Puig, coming off the bench to pinch-hit. Nathan caught him looking for a called third strike, then got a fielder's-choice grounder from pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke that pulled the Dodgers within a run.

All that stood between Nathan and an escape was Gordon. Nathan delivered his hardest fastball of the night at 93 mph, but over the plate for Gordon to turn and line into right field for the game-tying single.

In the end, it took a deceptively tricky running catch from Rajai Davis in short left field on Carl Crawford's blooper to send the game into extra innings.

"It hung up just enough," Davis said.

Martinez's home run, like this game, simply kept carrying, deep into the Southern California night, taking a lot of struggles with it.

"Tonight's one of those situations I got to feel good about the strides I made. Fortunately, again, it didn't cost us," Nathan said. Comments