Polanco leads Tigers over Royals
Single in bottom of the eighth breaks tie
DETROIT -- Placido Polanco showed off some surprising power with his first home run of the season Tuesday night. Then he added a burst of better-than-advertised speed with a triple to the deepest part of the ballpark.
But the game-winning single wasn't anything surprising. It was a line drive centered through the middle, and it came just in time for the Tigers.
"I want to get a base hit every time I'm up there," Polanco said after his eighth-inning RBI single sent the Tigers to a 7-6 win over the Royals at Comerica Park.
He's coming closer to that than any other Tigers hitter at this point early in the season. On a team that's batting .241 as a group, Polanco's .379 average is 81 points higher than any other Tiger with more than four games played this year. As of late Tuesday evening, it was higher than anyone else in the American League, seven points better than Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez.
Just three of his 22 hits are for extra bases, but two of them came on Tuesday. Meanwhile, his five singles with runners in scoring position have produced four RBIs.
Simply put, the Tigers' hottest hitter in Spring Training is now the hottest hitter in the regular season. And to manager Jim Leyland, there's nothing complicated about that.
"He's just a smart, good, everyday baseball player," Leyland said. "He's probably the perfect example of what I talk about when people say, 'This guy's really athletic,' or, 'This guy's a tremendous athlete.' I always say that's fine, but I want a baseball player. He's a baseball player."
Polanco's third three-hit game this far came despite producing outs in his first two at-bats. He reached base in the third inning on a fielder's choice, and scored on a two-run double from Magglio Ordonez. After Marcus Thames homered in the fourth, Polanco's drive to left leading off the fifth gave the Tigers a 5-2 lead.
It looked like the prelude to a relatively easy victory along the lines of Monday's 12-5 win. Then the Royals finally strung together a rally.
Mike Maroth needed one more inning for a quality start, but an Alex Gordon double, Jason LaRue single and Tony Pena RBI groundout put the potential tying run at the plate and brought up David DeJesus with three hits already on the night.
Leyland made what he admitted was an unusual move by taking out Maroth for another left-hander, Wilfredo Ledezma.
"It just seemed like DeJesus was on everything that Mike threw his first three times up," Leyland said, "so I thought maybe a little different speed, maybe a little different arm angle, but it didn't work."
DeJesus, 5-for-11 off Ledezma in his career, slapped an RBI grounder through the middle. After an Esteban German walk, Reggie Sanders plated them both with a double down the right-field line, pulling the Royals ahead.
Ledezma would retire seven of the next eight batters he faced to keep the Tigers within a run. Polanco would help flip that score.
With Jorge De La Rosa out, Polanco's line drive to center off Joel Peralta put the tying run in position with one out in the seventh for Sheffield, who pulled a double down the left-field line. An inning later, Polanco was on the other end of the game-winning rally.
Omar Infante's leadoff double and a Neifi Perez sacrifice put the deciding run in scoring position for the top of the Tigers order. David Riske struck out Monday night's hot hitter, Ivan Rodriguez, for the second out, but had a choice: challenge Polanco or risk facing the slumping, but dangerous, Sheffield.
Polanco knows the answer every time.
"I would say maybe the pitchers are more concerned about who's hitting behind me," Polanco said. "They don't really want to walk me. So I get a better pitch to hit, and I get a better swing on the ball."
After falling behind on a 2-0 count, Riske came over the plate. Polanco laced a line drive to center that easily allowed Infante to score.
"As a reliever, you can't fall behind hitters and you've got to throw strike one," said Riske (0-2), who can blame both of his losses on Tiger comebacks. "And I didn't do either of those tonight."
When Polanco was asked about his hot hitting early in Spring Training, he said he was really seeing the ball well. With a different month, different intensity and vastly different climate, nothing seems to have changed. There are no intricate explanations for him. He hits. And unlike two years ago, when a midseason trade from Philadelphia left him ineligible for a league batting title despite the second-best average in the Majors, it counts on the leaderboards.
"I feel pretty good," Polanco said. "I'm working hard. It's a very tough game. If you take it for granted, if you relax, it really kick you in the tail."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.