Inge ignites Tigers to victory
Third baseman breaks out of slump with three RBIs
TORONTO -- Brandon Inge's hitless start ended Wednesday night. Yet it was his second hit that gave him a bigger sigh of relief.
For all the statistical meaning of his single against the Orioles, he went hitless with three strikeouts in four at-bats the rest of the night. His 0-for-20 start was over, but 1-for-25 didn't feel much better. With a home run, a sacrifice fly and three RBIs in a 5-4 win over the Blue Jays, Thursday meant something to him.
"Not so much from a personal standpoint," Inge said, "but I wanted to help out the team some. I know that the guys have been picking me up, and that's what a good ballclub does, so it was more of a good feeling like I can start to contribute a little bit and get to where I want to be, help out the ballclub a little bit more. That was probably the best feeling about it."
On a night when Mike Maroth practiced damage control to limit the Jays to two runs out of nine hits in six innings, the Detroit offense picked up its part as a whole. Held scoreless for the first 11 innings Wednesday night before Craig Monroe's grand slam, it produced a lead for Maroth early and then added on just enough to withstand a rally at the end.
Though Inge admitted the outs were getting to him, he said it was because he felt he was taking quality swings, no matter the results. When Blue Jays starter Tomo Ohka (0-1) put a 1-1 pitch over the plate in the third inning, Inge received his first tangible results of the season. The ball left the field in a hurry and landed midway up the second deck beyond left field.
"It got me a little bit of confidence," Inge said. "It got me into a rhythm. Hitting is all about rhythm. You go off your previous at-bat all the time."
An inning later, he capped a three-run rally with an RBI single, battling out of an 0-2 hole before slapping a ground ball through the left side to drive in Sean Casey.
The at-bat manager Jim Leyland liked best, however, wasn't a hit. Casey was on third base again when Inge next came in the sixth, this time with no outs. His opposite-field line drive took right fielder Alex Rios to the warning track before he hauled it in.
That was the sign Leyland wanted to see from his No. 9 hitter, whose 27 home runs last season constituted a good part of the punch at the bottom of the order along with Craig Monroe.
"You start to see him realizing the importance of what [hitting coach Lloyd McClendon] is talking to him about -- that you just can't pull every pitch," Leyland said. "You just can't do it. You can see that starting to come. He's been working on it. Tonight it paid big dividends."
It opened a three-run lead with which Maroth could work to fill innings. And with Todd Jones and Wilfredo Ledezma unavailable after Wednesday night's extra-inning win, the Tigers needed a start that got them through the middle innings.
Like his season debut last Friday at Kansas City, Maroth was hit around, surrendering hits to the eight of the first 18 batters he faced. Yet by forcing one groundout after another with runners in scoring position, the left-hander limited his damage to a hanging changeup that Aaron Hill turned into a two-run homer in the fourth.
"I came in with the mindset I was going to use all my pitches," Maroth said. "And I did, from the first inning all the way through the sixth inning. I used my curveball and my cutter more than I did my first outing, and I think that benefited [me], because that's more that the hitter has to think about."
Maroth (2-0) looked like he easily could have been in for a short night early, loading the bases on two walks and a double with one out in the opening inning and Troy Glaus at the plate. Maroth used his sinker to escape with a double play.
After Hill's home run, Gregg Zaun's ensuing double and Jason Phillips' single put runners at the corners with one out for the top of the Jays order, but Maroth escaped with a Rios popout to first base and a check-swing dribbler to third from former Tiger Matt Stairs.
"He got a few balls up in that stretch," Leyland said, "but then he started to make some good pitches, put a little on, take a little off, cut the ball a little bit. He knows how to pitch. You have to know how to pitch with your stuff."
The meaner stuff would come later, when Joel Zumaya entered the game to thwart the Jays' rally in Jose Mesa's second inning of work.
A four-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Jason Smith and an infield single from Hill brought on Zumaya in a save situation with the potential tying run at the plate and no outs in the eighth. Normally, it would be a hold situation, but with Jones having worked back-to-back nights and four out of the last five days, Leyland stuck with Zumaya.
"When [Mesa] got in trouble, we were going to go to Zumaya right then to try to stop it," Leyland said. "[Fernando] Rodney pitched two [innings] last night, so you'd have Rodney and Jones both tomorrow, so you want to stop it right now."
Zumaya's only previous Major League save also came in Toronto, last June, but that was a three-inning performance in a 10-5 game. This was different.
Zumaya's first pitch sailed wide of catcher Mike Rabelo, putting Smith in position for Zaun's sacrifice fly. Pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay brought Toronto within a run when he got just enough of a Zumaya fastball to drop it into short left field for an RBI double.
Zumaya left Overbay there, ending the threat by sending down Rios check-swinging at a curveball. After retiring the middle of Toronto's lineup in order in the ninth to finish it, he should've been relieved.
"I just told Rabelo, 'Hey, man, give me a drink.' I just had the jitters still. And Jonesy was right next to me saying, 'Just breathe, it's over.'"
Zumaya was still nervous after posting zeros. Inge was never nervous about his zeros to begin with.
"I was not one bit pressing myself," Inge said. "I feel relieved that I'm helping out the ballclub, not that I'm [not] going 0-for-whatever. If I get a hit and it doesn't really do anything to get a run on the board, I mean, I don't really care anyway."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.