Tigers' first home win a dramatic one
Detroit erases five-run deficit before putting up six-run eighth
DETROIT -- For seven innings, it was the epitome of what Jim Leyland meant when he said the Tigers haven't been able to get in sync. By the end of the eighth, it became Exhibit A of what Leyland and everyone else in the organization promised when they said this team was going to hit.
The Tigers still have their issues. Again, Detroit didn't have a quality start, and the relief corps responded to a four-run rally by giving up four runs of its own. But with 11 runs over their final three innings of at-bats on Monday night, the Tigers did more than end a 24-inning scoreless drought or top their offensive output from their entire just-completed, six-game road trip to Boston and Chicago. They showed enough offense to win a game they desperately needed to win.
How much Monday's game means will have to go beyond the 11-9 win over the Twins. But for the first win of the season at Comerica Park, it provided some drama for the wait.
"We just haven't been in sync," Leyland said, "and one game does not mean you're in sync. But I'm very proud of them, and I have been all along."
Even when he was upset with his players on Sunday in Chicago, Leyland said, he told them they had a good club. They played like one sporadically through the first few weeks of the season. Their two wins out of their first 12 games came about in no small part with quality pitching.
This was the first time they truly hit their way to a victory. It's not something they want to have to do often, but they needed it.
"Good teams can score runs," Carlos Guillen said, "and we're a good team. We haven't shown it yet, but we're a good team. If we can be consistent, we can do that a lot."
Said Gary Sheffield: "You never know what can jolt an offense or jolt a pitching staff or jolt a team. You just have to keep fighting, come in and work hard every single day. And then you create your own breaks."
The breaks all came in the later innings. Rookie starter Nick Blackburn blanked the Tigers on four hits through five innings, and three Detroit errors -- a muffed foul ball by Ivan Rodriguez, a high throw from Miguel Cabrera and a bouncing ball past center fielder Clete Thomas -- led to three unearned runs off Jeremy Bonderman and a 5-0 Minnesota lead.
But just as the Twins seemed ready to cruise through the late innings the way the White Sox did against the Tigers on Sunday, Detroit's at-bats improved.
The initial rally came with two outs in the sixth, and it started with a break. After missing on strike one and pulling another ball foul, Sheffield drove a ball into the ground for a bouncer to third and a much-needed single. A patient Magglio Ordonez singled, then Cabrera drove in Detroit's first run since his eighth-inning RBI single on Friday night.
At that point it was a moral victory. Within two pitches -- one a Guillen two-run double to knock out Blackburn, the other an Edgar Renteria single to greet Matt Guerrier -- they had a chance for a real win.
Those chances seemed lost within a half-inning, when four Minnesota runs restored the five-run lead. It was the spirit-draining turn that Leyland dreads, a Tigers rally that's followed by more runs allowed. Instead of falling off, however, his offense turned the tables.
"You're talking about a club that's 2-10," Leyland said, "and gets within one, goes out and gives up four, and battles their tails off like they did. I think that says a lot for them. I think that says a lot about this team."
The table-turning began with a lone run in the seventh, when Rodriguez's opposite-field loft was headed for the top of the right-field fence. Twins right fielder Denard Span could have crushed Detroit's spirits with a highlight catch, but instead the ball squirted out of his glove and over the fence for a solo homer.
After Francis Beltran (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth, Detroit's scoring resumed. Sheffield and Ordonez hit back-to-back doubles, then Minnesota shortstop Adam Everett short-armed a throw to first to put Cabrera on base and brought the tying run to the plate.
Guillen singled in another run to draw the Tigers within two, and he also drew out Minnesota setup man Pat Neshek, owner of a 2.35 ERA and .204 batting average allowed over 15 1/3 innings against Detroit. By inning's end the Tigers had nearly doubled their run total off of him, from four to seven.
After a Renteria out, back came Rodriguez, this time with more authority. His next opposite-field shot was more on a line, and it rolled untouched to the fence in right-center as Cabrera and Renteria scored and Pudge pumped his fist at third.
That's when the only hitless member of the Tigers' lineup turned in the underrated at-bat of the game. Jacque Jones fell into an 0-2 hole, but fouled off back-to-back pitches, reaching for one on the outside corner. After taking ball one, he slashed an opposite-field line drive toward the left-field line.
"Coming off the bat, I thought I hit the ball pretty good," Jones said. "But they had their defense set up right on the line."
Twins left fielder Delmon Young made the catch, but it left him a challenge on the throw home, as Rodriguez darted for the plate. Young's throw was on target but too late.
Thomas' ensuing triple and Placido Polanco's RBI single provided the insurance run.
Whether the entire rally provides a spark remains to be seen.
"Is it one game? Yeah. Does it mean we're going to win tomorrow? No," Leyland said. "But they could have packed it in. I didn't see anybody pack it in. I haven't seen anybody packing it in the whole time. We just haven't hit. We hit tonight, so everybody's happy. We won the game. That's all people care about, whether you win or lose."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.