Tigers escape with win in DC opener
After building huge lead, Detroit fends off furious rally
WASHINGTON -- With the tying run on third base and two outs in the ninth inning, Ronnie Belliard stepped up to the plate, adjusting his red helmet.
He may not be a St. Louis Cardinal anymore, and Monday's 9-8 victory over Washington didn't feel anything like the World Series, but for an injury-depleted Detroit team, it meant a lot.
"We're trying to hang in there until we get some things straightened out," manager Jim Leyland said.
Hanging in there came in several forms for the Tigers. Their offense was jump-started by a ground-rule double and an upper-deck home run from Carlos Guillen, who was playing shortstop despite an injury.
Leyland was hesitant to put him in the lineup, but Guillen came to the manager and said that he was a veteran player who had played through injuries before, and knew how to do it without putting himself at risk. In a National League ballpark, the DH spot wasn't available, so Leyland let his shortstop play.
"Carlos is not 100 percent, but he knows how to play with it," he said. "I'm glad he played. I'm glad I didn't have to give him a night off, because then we would be here talking about a loss."
The rest of the offense caught fire, and Detroit took a 9-5 lead into the ninth inning, bringing in closer Todd Jones to seal the game.
Instead, the Nationals strung together five base hits, and the tying run was on second base with nobody out. After a short conversation at the mound, Jones went head-to-head with former Tiger Dmitri Young.
Young launched a rocket down the first-base line that entered foul territory just before reaching the base. After that, Jones was able to strike him out. Austin Kearns sacrificed the runner to third, then Belliard grounded out to end the game.
In the clubhouse, Jones' message to reporters was short and to the point.
"I live in a pass/fail world, and tonight I passed," he said. "You guys can laugh at me and make fun of me all you want, but I tell you what: I'm going to be out there next time, and I'm going to keep getting the job done."
The closer job in baseball requires a high level of confidence, and it appears that Jones hasn't lost any of his, even after Monday's outing.
"I'm sick and tired of being everybody's whipping boy. I'm out there busting my freaking tail every chance I get," he said. "My job is to get outs, and I got them."
Leyland offered his closer a vote of confidence, and blamed himself for not emphasizing the close nature of the 9-5 game to Jones.
"Right now, a four-run lead is a save situation for us. In fairness to him, I think sometimes you don't quite have that adrenaline when it's not a save situation," Leyland said. "Managing is covering everything. And I didn't cover everything."
When informed of the manager's comments, Jones didn't buy into the explanation.
"I'm a grown man," he said. "I have 280 career saves. I know how to get ready for a game. He's just being nice."
Starter Mike Maroth was able to pick up the win after a strong five-plus inning performance. Maroth was removed after a sluggish start to the sixth inning. He allowed a pair of hits, then an error that kept the Nationals rolling.
"Everything was going well, then all of a sudden in that inning things started to unravel a little bit," he said. "A few of those hits were actually on good pitches. Things just didn't go the way I wanted them to in that inning."
Maroth contributed on offense as well with a fifth-inning hit to deep center field that was good for a double. The ball traveled about 380 feet, which isn't even close to RFK Stadium's deep center field. After returning to the dugout, Maroth's teammates joked that he was a day late -- he would have had a home run in Philadelphia's batter- friendly Citizens Bank Park.
After leaving, Bobby Seay and Jason Grilli kept the game on ice. In the eighth inning the newest member of the team, Eulogio De La Cruz, took the mound.
He needed only four batters to record his three outs, and the radar gun showed him pitching consistently between 91-95 mph. Leyland was impressed by the performance and said De La Cruz will get more work in future games.
Don't look for him to take any work away from Jones in the ninth, though. Leyland said that in a similar situation, he won't hesitate to throw his closer back in. It may have been a rough outing, but at the end of the day Jones did what the Tigers have been so proficient at all week. He hung on.
Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.