Rally keeps Tigers in Wild Card lead
Guillen has three hits as Detroit scores four in seventh inning
DETROIT -- The Tigers haven't been on the outside looking in at a playoff spot since April 29. If it stays that way at season's end, this might be the game that turns their fortunes around.
"We haven't had anything like that in a while," said Sean Casey, whose solo homer started a four-run rally for a 6-4 win over the Devil Rays Monday night at Comerica Park. "Hopefully we can build off that. We realize it's one game, but we stopped some losing there."
He was talking about the seventh inning, when the comeback took place, but he could easily say the same about the eighth.
Not only had the Tigers not won in a week, they didn't lead at any point during their three-game sweep to the White Sox over the weekend. Down two runs heading into the seventh Monday and looking lifeless offensively, Casey's homer was the first of six straight hits that put the Tigers ahead. Once they got there, Fernando Rodney's three-up, three-down eighth inning held it for closer Todd Jones.
The win kept the Tigers in the lead for the American League Wild Card, a half-game ahead of the Yankees and a half-game behind the Indians for first place in the AL Central. More importantly, the win looked like the opportunistic Tigers of old, the team that could take leads late and hold them.
"I think whatever situation presents itself, we want to try to succeed on that," Jones said. "That's really how you get yourself out of a funk. You don't try to do too much and you just try to do what you can control. And then, when the opportunity presents itself, you have to be ready for it and try to execute it. That's the best way to get out of it."
For the second time this season, Tampa Bay starter Edwin Jackson held Detroit to two earned runs over six innings of work. On Monday, it was good enough to leave with the lead thanks to B.J. Upton's three-run homer off Justin Verlander in the fifth. Once Jackson left, however, the Tigers pounced on Tampa Bay's bullpen.
On a relief corps that came to town with a 6.48 ERA, Gary Glover was one of the few bright spots. Opponents were hitting .205 against him in nine appearances since the All-Star break, and he had struck out 11 batters over 12 1/3 innings pitched. When Placido Polanco grounded out to lead off the inning, it looked like more of the same.
Once Casey took Glover deep to right, the Tigers not only had a one-run game, they seemed to have new energy.
"Casey's home run, I think, got us going a little bit," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
One pitch later, a Magglio Ordonez ground ball through the right side, the tying run was on base for Carlos Guillen. He was the designated hitter Monday with Gary Sheffield out, giving the regular shortstop a day to rest his sore left knee from the wear and tear of the field.
By falling a home run shy of the cycle, including his 1,000th career hit, he got in a lot of running anyway.
"The key," Guillen said of the rally, "is trying to have a nice at-bat. Focus on the game, concentrate and a lot of good things are going to happen."
Guillen's third and final hit was the biggest, legging out a triple to the wall in left-center field to score Ordonez and tie the game. One pitch later, he got to trot home and put the Tigers ahead when Ryan Raburn's line drive cleared third baseman Akinori Iwamura and landed in left field.
Glover (5-4), who earned the win with two scoreless innings the last time Jackson faced the Tigers, was charged with all four seventh-inning runs in the rematch. Though Zach Miner (2-3) earned the win with one pitch for the final out in the seventh, it was Rodney's eighth inning that loomed large.
When Rodney was on his rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo last week, Leyland wanted to know how his velocity and command stood up to back-to-back outings. One day after hitting 95 miles per hour in his scoreless innings in Sunday's loss, Rodney hit as high as 97 mph on his heater in overpowering the bottom of Tampa Bay's order.
Brendan Harris went down swinging at a 96 mph fastball. Greg Norton lined a similar pitch to Casey for the second out before Ben Zobrist hit a changeup for a comebacker to end the inning and carry the lead to Jones.
"He's a lot like [Joel Zumaya]," Jones said. "He comes in and closes down any kind of momentum. And our bullpen has gotten a lot better with Fernando back."
It was Rodney's seventh hold of the season, but his first since June 23 at Atlanta -- his final outing before going on the disabled list for over a month. On this night, it was exactly the role the Tigers need him to fill.
"It's nice when you can get back to a little bit of a routine, if we can," Leyland said.
By having an effective Rodney available for the eighth inning, Leyland would be able to move some of the guys who have been working that inning into the seventh, much like he did Monday. Macay McBride recorded the first two outs of the inning before Miner came on to retire right-handed-hitting Delmon Young.
That extra inning means the Tigers can survive shorter outings from their starters without taxing the bullpen. Though Verlander was out after six innings, having allowed four runs on eight hits, they were still able to keep the game close.
"Hopefully we can pick up some of the starters," Jones said, "the way they picked us up earlier in the year. We can return the favor."
And the offense can do the same.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.