Tigers win a weird one in 15 innings
Detroit scores winner off catcher Burke pitching for Mariners
SEATTLE -- Miguel Cabrera couldn't remember a stranger game. Others could, but they weren't standing in Cabrera's shoes.
There was Detroit's slugger, stepping to the plate to lead off the 15th inning after Seattle's bullpen had held the Tigers scoreless on two Ivan Rodriguez singles for the previous nine innings. Into the batter's box Cabrera stepped to face Jamie Burke.
That's Mariners backup catcher Jamie Burke, who had spent the previous six innings behind the plate. Now he was trying to throw the baseball instead of catch it. And Cabrera was trying not to be too eager.
"You have to get short [with your swing] even more," Cabrera said after his leadoff double set up Marcus Thames' sacrifice fly that finally decided the Tigers' marathon against the Mariners with a 2-1 win. "You can't get too big. So when you see a ball, you have to try to put a good swing on it and don't pull it. Don't try to do too much."
That was the flip side for the Tigers. Up to that point, they had barely done anything offensively.
While Yuniesky Betancourt's third-inning RBI double was the only run off of Tigers pitching, Ryan Raburn's fifth-inning solo home run off the facing of the upper deck in left field had been Detroit's lone run. Detroit hadn't scored a run on anything other than solo homers since Thursday's series opener.
When a reporter asked Cabrera if that was his strangest game, he thought about it.
"Strangest series," he said.
It was through Nate Robertson's strongest outing of the season and six innings of scoreless relief that the Tigers essentially outlasted the Mariners in the bullpen. That's why it was a little bit of a bittersweet ending for Detroit and a huge sense of relief.
On one hand, the Tigers were a little flustered that it took them so long to take control of that game. On the other, as deep as that game went, it would've been a devastating one for them lose.
"That's a heckuva win," manager Jim Leyland said. "Some people will make a joke out of it because of [Burke pitching]. I won't make a joke out of it. That's a big win right there. That's a heckuva game."
Robertson turned in by far his deepest start of the season. After giving up 11 hits in each of his last two outings and not pitching into the eighth inning all year, the left-hander scattered four hits over his nine innings. Betancourt accounted for the lone run Robertson surrendered, scoring Willie Bloomquist following his infield single.
Robertson had retired his first seven batters until that rally, and he recovered to retire Seattle's next 11 batters. That allowed Raburn's blast to tie the game against Mariners starter Ryan Rowland-Smith.
That's the way the scoreboard remained through nine more innings and eight relievers. Cesar Jimenez, Seattle's left-handed specialist, tossed four hitless innings with three strikeouts.
He went that long not simply because he was effective, but because he was Seattle's last option. Arthur Rhodes was unavailable because he had slept wrong on his left arm. Young closer Brandon Morrow had pitched in four of the previous five nights. The Mariners' rotation was short-handed.
Enter Burke, who had four innings of Minor League pitching experience on his record. And enter Cabrera, 0-for-5 on the afternoon.
He didn't do too much, lacing a 3-1 pitch over Bloomquist and into deep center field. But with his hip flexor bothering him running, the other challenge for Cabrera was not doing too much on the basepaths and adding himself to the list of Tigers on the disabled list. He lumbered around first base before picking up speed once it appeared there might actually be a play at second.
"I was nervous going into second," Cabrera said. "When I got to second, I said, 'Thank God.'"
Pinch-runner Michael Hollimon took it from there. A wild pitch from Burke (0-1) sailed to the backstop, advancing Hollimon to third and putting him in position to score on Thames' fly ball to left.
As it turned out, Cabrera's double was the lone hit against Burke. The way the Tigers were pitching, it was enough.
Because Robertson had worked so deep, Detroit had just about its full allotment of pitchers available for extra innings. Because Robertson worked so efficiently, the game was less than 2 1/2 hours old once the 10th inning started.
Robertson used 100 pitches through nine innings, and eight of those were for two intentional walks to Adrian Beltre. The four relievers that followed used 98 pitches to shut down Seattle over the next six innings.
"I really liked the tempo," Leyland said of Robertson. "It looked like he wasn't overthinking. He knew what he wanted to do. It looked like he was really in sync mentally, and that's important. When you do that, I think it's very good for your own team, the infielders, the outfielders. And it looks like you have a game plan and you're committed to it."
It carried over. Joel Zumaya entered in the 10th and overpowered Seattle hitters, hitting 101 mph on the ballpark radar gun and striking out three of the eight batters he faced. The only baserunners he allowed were on two nine-pitch walks, accounting for 18 of his 37 pitches.
"When the pitchers work quick, that's good, but you've got to support them," Cabrera said. "You have to score some runs and give them some support."
Freddy Dolsi followed with two more scoreless innings on two hits and a walk with help from Ivan Rodriguez, who had a big fastball of his own to throw out Ichiro Suzuki with a big lead trying to steal second after his one-out walk in the 13th.
"I threw a nice four-seamer to second base," Rodriguez said with a smile.
Once Detroit pulled ahead, Todd Jones finished it up with his 16th save, erasing a leadoff hit-by-pitch to Bloomquist with a double-play grounder from Betancourt on the next pitch. Leyland visited the mound to remind him that with no pitchers left, Betancourt would be swinging away for the win rather than sacrificing the tying run into scoring position.
Jones remembers pitching in a 17-inning game in the first game of a doubleheader, but he couldn't recall saving a game like this. He had warmed up and sat down more times than he could remember.
"It's a weird game," Jones said. "Definitely one of the weirdest games I've been a part of it."
It took all of that for the Tigers to finish with a split. But at least they finished it.
"Heckuva win," Leyland said. "Makes the flight home a lot easier."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.