Sheffield, Bonderman shine in victory
Duo leads the way in ending Tigers' losing streak at four
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jim Leyland said before Tuesday's game that the Tigers didn't acquire Gary Sheffield so he could teach other players to hit, they acquired the slugger so he could hit for the Tigers.
On Tuesday night, that's exactly what the 20-year veteran did.
The Tigers' designated hitter had two home runs and he cashed in for five RBIs during Detroit's 14-2 drubbing of Tampa Bay that evened the series at one apiece.
"I've seen a lot of home runs, and I've seen a lot of his," said Leyland. "Against me, a lot of them, too.
"I'm just glad he's hitting them for the Tigers now."
The night put Sheffield in pretty prestigious company: Sheffield's 1,530 career RBIs put him in 42nd place on the all-time list, just seven shy of Joe DiMaggio's total. He also now has 467 homers, and is in 29th place all alone on the career charts, eight shy of tying Stan Musial and Willie Stargell.
But Sheffield played down the accomplishment afterward, and said he'd moved past the point in his career where he wants to stand out as an individual.
"I'm not really a numbers guy," he said. "I really don't know where I'm at or what I'm doing, I just go out and play to win championships. I've been in situations where you want to prove yourself as a young player and establish yourself as one of the elite players. I've been there and done that, and my thing now is getting part of a team and building from that."
Sheffield wasn't the only one attacking Rays' pitchers on Tuesday night. Everyone in the lineup had at least one hit and just two Tigers of 11 who saw action, Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames, failed to score a run. Detroit clubbed out 22 total hits, led by Ivan Rodriguez, Placido Polanco, Craig Monroe and Sheffield, who all had three.Back in the lineup for the first time since Saturday, Polanco singled in the first inning to kick off Detroit's attack. The next hitter, Sheffield, belted a two-run homer to left.
Magglio Ordonez hit his league-leading 26th double soon after, and came around to score and make it 3-0 Tigers after one.
Detroit added two in the second inning off of Rays starter Casey Fossum, who failed to record a single out before he was yanked in favor of Tim Corcoran. Polanco grounded into what should have been a bases-loaded double play, but a throwing error from shortstop Brendan Harris allowed two Tigers to cross home.
Sheffield's second home run, which he admitted felt the better of the two because he got more of it, scored three to cap off a five-run sixth and put Detroit up 10-1.
Past his contributions during the commanding win, Sheffield had extra incentive to perform well, as the 38-year-old resides in Tampa, a city about 25 minutes north of St. Petersburg.
"It's almost like to get away from the game, so to speak," he said. "You get to sleep in your own bed and be around the people that you grew up with all your life, and get the phone calls from people you haven't heard from in a while. It's kind of a getaway for you.
"And," he added with a chuckle, "when you do something, it makes your family proud and you get more phone calls. When you're struggling, nobody calls you."
Rodriguez, Polanco and Sheffield, the top third of the batting order, finished a combined 9-for-18 with nine RBIs, three home runs, a double and five runs scored. Sheffield said that it's no coincidence that all of this happened on the first day Polanco came back to the lineup.
"He's the catalyst, man. He makes this lineup go," Sheffield said of the Tigers' second baseman. "No [disrespect] to any other player, but he's probably one of the clutchest players, or the clutchest player, that I've been around. Day in and day out, hitting behind him, you know he's going to get up there to hit."
Ordonez also doubled and singled to extend his hit streak to 12 games. The first-inning double was the right-fielder's Major League-leading 26th of the season.
"I know we're hitting the ball pretty good, obviously," Leyland said. "We're getting a lot of extra-base hits, and we've got a good offensive club.
"But I don't pay too much attention to that. The only thing that matters to the Detroit Tigers is the wins and losses."
Behind it all was Jeremy Bonderman, who quickly and efficiently disposed of the Rays in his second shining start since coming off of the disabled list. The righty allowed Tampa Bay to score just one earned run on four hits, which was complemented by his season high-tying eight strikeouts.
"Any time you get an early lead is nice," he said. "For me, I've been usually putting our team down early in the game. To not go out and do that the last couple of starts has been really nice."
Bonderman won his fourth straight outing and now is the lone Tigers starter to have not lost a game this season. At least part of the reason is that Detroit's bats have done much in support of him: the Tigers have driven in 42 runs in the last four games in which he's pitched.
"When pitchers make mistakes, we're dangerous," Leyland said. "We're pretty good at hitting mistakes and we're pretty good at hitting them far.
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.