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Tigers get even behind Johnson
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07/06/2004 10:14 PM ET 
Tigers get even behind Johnson
Higginson, White homer to end team's five-game skid

NEW YORK -- The Tigers got back up. Pudge got back up.

A day after Tigers manager Alan Trammell openly feared his team might not win a game all week, he backed off that statement Tuesday afternoon. By Tuesday night, the nightmare was turned on the Yankees, who saw ex-teammate Rondell White go 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs and Jason Johnson pitch eight innings of six-hit ball in a 9-1 Detroit victory in the Bronx.

It almost came at a heavy price. Ivan Rodriguez left the game in the top of the ninth after a Tanyon Sturtze fastball hit him in the elbow. He was on the ground in pain for a couple minutes, but proclaimed after the game that he'll be in the lineup Wednesday afternoon.

It takes quite a pitcher to keep the Tigers down. But then, the rest of the game already showed that.

"If anybody wants to mess with us," Dmitri Young said afterwards, "we're right here."

The win ended a five-game losing streak for the Tigers, who had used their bullpen heavily in their last four defeats. Needing a long outing, Jason Johnson gave it against one of the toughest opponents of his career.

Johnson (6-7) entered the night 1-8 lifetime vs. the Yankees and winless against them since June 5, 2001. But in a matchup opposite former Orioles teammate Mike Mussina, Johnson looked more like a staff ace, as much as the Tigers try not to use that term.

"We needed that," said manager Alan Trammell. "We talked before about somebody stepping up. Jason Johnson would be the guy who, if you could put a little heat on, could take a little bit of that. The rest of those guys, because of their inexperience, I think you're asking too much to anoint somebody."

Johnson put enough heat on himself, knowing he needed a long outing. He retired each of the first 12 batters he faced through four innings. Just as important, he used just 38 pitches to do it.

"I knew I'd have to go out there tonight and give at least seven [innings], possibly more," Johnson said, "because the bullpen was used a lot yesterday. I knew I had to step up."

The Yankees obliged by coming out aggressively. He used just four pitches in the first inning. They were only marginally more patient in the ensuing innings, when Johnson was throwing first pitches off the plate and letting them chase.

Statistically, Mussina was barely worse, yielding a single in his four innings. The difference was he used up 61 pitches to do so, and the Tigers were waiting him out.

"After last night, we needed to come out swinging," Young said. "Once we were able to see that backdrop, we could start doing our thing."

Bobby Higginson did it first once Mussina left an 0-2 fastball in the strike zone. Higginson pulled it to right for a two-run homer to open the scoring.

A half-inning later, Johnson went from a perfect game to trying to prevent Detroit's seventh blown lead in five games. Half of the hits Johnson allowed came in a three-batter stretch leading off the bottom of the fifth as Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada strung together consecutive singles.

But because the first four innings went so easily, Johnson said, he wasn't panicking. Clinging to a 2-1 lead with two runners on and no outs, Johnson recovered to induce a Hideki Matsui popup, a Tony Clark strikeout and a Miguel Cairo fly ball.

"That was a big inning for the team," Johnson said.

Like Trammell, Johnson refused to call it an ace performance. His teammates did not. "J.J. pitched a great game," Bobby Higginson said. "That's one of the reasons we brought him over here was to be a No. 1 starter."

White's home run against his old club came in the ensuing half-inning, a five-run sixth that broke open the game. He followed Young's RBI double, one of three two-baggers from Young on the night, and Carlos Guillen's two-run single by crushing a Mussina offering well into the left-field seats.

"It felt good," White said. "I struggled when I was here, so it felt good to hit a home run."

White's home run effectively ended the competitive portion of the game, but not the competitiveness. Sturtze was working his third inning of relief in the ninth when Omar Infante hit a two-out double. Sturtze's next hit was a fastball that struck Rodriguez in the elbow. That came a day after Esteban Yan was ejected without warning for throwing at Alex Rodriguez.

Asked whether it was on purpose, Pudge said only Sturtze knows. "Sometimes pitchers don't know what to do," he said. "They have to remember they have to be careful. They're not hitters. We are the hitters. Unfortunately, it happens to me."

Sturtze insisted it was accidental. "I tried to throw a fastball in," he said, "and it ran away from me. I was hoping he was all right."

Pudge left the game, and his close friend soon entered. Trammell had planned on using Ugueth Urbina because he needed the work. Otherwise, Johnson would've started the ninth.

Urbina threw three consecutive inside pitches on Gary Sheffield. The last sailed over Sheffield's head, prompting a warning to both benches from home plate umpire Larry Young.

"That's baseball," Pudge said. "If you hit one of our players, we're going to go after one of you, too."

Considering how low they were after five straight losses, they needed a reason to be fired up. They're now back up.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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