Maggs' two-homer inning caps big day
Tigers power past A's to regain first place in AL Central
DETROIT -- Prior to this weekend, the Tigers were in chaos. Saturday, they were just trying to get through the weekend in good health. Now, after all they went through, they're back in first place and back in a better direction -- hard as it may be to fathom.
"I think we're getting close to some proximity of normalness around here," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after Sunday's 11-6 win over the A's at Comerica Park.
He meant that mainly from a health standpoint. With Fernando Rodney back into his setup role, Joel Zumaya possibly a week away, and Kenny Rogers trying to work his way back, the pitching staff is starting to take shape again. With Detroit's starting pitchers putting together some better outings, the relievers they do have are getting some much-needed rest. The offense, meanwhile, is plating runs.
They crept closer to normalcy on a day when they did so much out of the ordinary -- from Magglio Ordonez's two-homer second inning to Placido Polanco's record-tying streak of errorless games. Meanwhile, the Yankees were finishing off a series sweep of the Indians at Jacobs Field, giving the Tigers back the American League Central lead they had relinquished nine days earlier.
None of that matters as much to Leyland as the way his team is playing. He still isn't feeling comfortable where his team is at this point, but he's feeling better.
"It's not a huge deal that we picked up a game [in the standings] today," Leyland said. "To me, it's a huge deal because he won. You have to win games. We don't have any control over what someone else is doing."
Ordonez entered the day 8-for-19 against the A's this season after his walk-off shot against them in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series last October sent the Tigers on to the World Series. His two-run homer on Saturday night put Detroit ahead for good in the sixth inning. This time, his home runs knocked out starter Dallas Braden and put the A's down big before they could recover.
Leading off the second inning, Ordonez hit an opposite-field shot by poking a fly ball down the right-field line and just over the right-field fence through a cutout in the corner. That gave Ordonez his second consecutive 20-homer season.
Braden, who gave up two runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Tigers on Aug. 1, in Oakland, struggled on from there. A walk to Carlos Guillen and back-to-back singles loaded the bases for Brandon Inge's two-run single, then Polanco and Gary Sheffield singled to bring Ordonez back up with two men on and two outs.
Braden (1-7) tried to challenge Ordonez, and the Major League's leading hitter answered by powering the ball into the left-field seats beyond the visiting bullpen. In the process, he became only the second Tigers player to homer twice in the same inning. Hall of Famer Al Kaline did it in 1955.
"The way Magglio hits, the way he tracks the ball and lets it get deep into the zone, he can go opposite-field or he can jump out, too," said Tigers starter Nate Robertson, who was in the dugout at the time, regaining his momentum following Marco Scutaro's two-run homer to open the scoring in the top of the inning. "That's tough for a pitcher to try to figure out when you're watching film and you're trying to figure out how to pitch a guy, and you're seeing him going this way and that way. He's nice to have in our lineup."
Catcher Mike Rabelo isn't sure how he'd have a pitcher attack Ordonez. But then, considering the Tigers bunched all those hits together to bring him up twice in the same inning -- including a 10-pitch at-bat by Inge before his single -- the whole lineup was looking difficult Sunday.
"You pitch around [Ordonez] on our team," Rabelo said, "and then you have to face another All-Star [with Carlos Guillen]. You can't nitpick with this lineup. You fall behind, and you're going to get your lunch handed to you."
Polanco was the leadoff man to the lineup Sunday, but it was how he finished the game that mattered. With his 143rd consecutive errorless game, he tied Luis Castillo's Major League record for second basemen.
"It means a lot," said Polanco, who set the record for consecutive errorless chances by a second baseman Aug. 1. "You have all these great second basemen that have played the game, and now I tied the record. It means a lot."
Robertson (7-9) battled his command en route to five walks over 5 2/3 innings, but he contained the damage enough to end his personal four-game winless streak. Scutaro and Dan Johnson added back-to-back doubles in the fourth for two more runs on top of Scutaro's homer, but that was as close as the A's would get.
More than shifting the momentum, the big second inning also gave Robertson a rest.
"I wasn't sharp," Robertson said. "Those are the kind of games where guys will commend you even moreso, because you grind it out on a day where you weren't at your best. That's basically how it was with me. I had to grind it out, because I didn't feel great."
Tim Byrdak followed him with two-thirds of an inning before Yorman Bazardo, called up earlier in the day, went the rest of the way. Bazardo didn't earn a save for his trouble because he came in an out too late, pitching 2 2/3 innings rather than three.
His long work, however, helped rest a bullpen that didn't have Fernando Rodney available and only had Zach Miner around in an emergency. Now, they'll have their late-inning guys for Monday's series finale and likely heading into their two-game series at Cleveland starting Tuesday.
Whether they still have their American League Central Division lead at that point is a side note to them. They had gone just 4-5 since losing the lead on Aug. 3, but that was still enough to overtake the Indians.
"I think all of us in our division probably feel fortunate," Leyland said. "I'm sure Chicago right now is saying, 'If we had snatched a couple more wins lately, we'd have snuck right back into the thick of things.' And they're still not out of it either, obviously.
"I feel good when we win. I don't feel fortunate. I expect to win. I guess you do feel fortunate that one team didn't just jump out there, run away and put together a hot streak at the right time, because we would've been five, six, seven games out."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.