Improbable night ends with extras win
Detroit racks up 22 hits and 14 runs in extra-inning thriller
CLEVELAND -- Shortly after Wednesday turned to Thursday at Progressive Field, Kenny Rogers got up from his seat in the dugout and headed to the bullpen.No, "The Gambler" didn't make his first relief appearance since the 2006 World Series. But on a day(s) like Wednesday, which started off with the Tigers dealing future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez to the Yankees and ended with a 14-12, 13-inning comeback win that took five hours and 33 minutes to complete, nothing could be ruled improbable. "No matter what happens, that will go down as one of my most memorable because of everything that happened," Jim Leyland said after his 2,633rd game as a Major League manager. "I'll never forget that game." For as much significance as many Tigers put into Thursday morning's win, the unforgettable game ended rather unceremoniously. Casey Fossum struck out pinch-hitter Jamey Carroll, sending the team off to a mini standing ovation from a handful of displaced Tigers fans. But it was how the Tigers got there that made it so memorable. Facing the odds-on favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award in Cliff Lee, the Tigers, particularly starter Nate Robertson, didn't help themselves as they saw the AL's eighth-best offense put up eight runs in the first three innings to take an 8-1 lead. Errors from outfielders Marcus Themes and Curtis Granderson certainly didn't make things easier on Robertson, but all the runs were definitely earned as the spectacled lefty couldn't close the deal with two outs. Both the home runs he allowed -- a solo shot to Ben Francisco and a three-run homer from Grady Sizemore -- came with two outs. "I didn't throw very well," Robertson said. "My slider was off and on, and they weren't missing a whole lot of pitches. But what's so great about the game ... is you can come to the ballpark and you never know what you're going to see." What Robertson and the rest of the 26,596 in attendance saw was the Tigers peck away at Lee with a run in the third and another in the fourth on Miguel Cabrera's 19th homer of the season. Then, in the fifth, the Tigers chased the 14-game winner after new everyday catcher Brandon Inge's leadoff homer, an RBI single from Placido Polanco, a sacrifice fly from Cabrera and another RBI single from Gary Sheffield. "Next thing you know," Granderson said, "we've got a shot." All of a sudden, it was 8-6 and the game was in the hands of the Major League's worst bullpen. "I've seen that happen before where a guy that's having a [heck] of a year gives up five, six, seven runs and it looks like you've got another win," Leyland said. "You're sailing through, then, all of a sudden, something freaky happens." "Freaky" might be the only way to describe how the Tigers finally tied it in the eighth inning and eventually took the lead in the ninth. Down to their last four outs and now down 11-7 after Aquilino Lopez and Todd Jones allowed home runs to Ben Francisco and Kelly Shoppach, respectively, the Tigers rallied for four runs on a walk and four straight hits off Ed Mujica. Polanco followed with a sacrifice fly in the ninth to put the Tigers ahead and set up new closer Fernando Rodney for his second save of the year. But it didn't go down that easy. Shoppach ripped a knee-high Rodney fastball into the left-field bleachers to tie the game at 12 and send the game into extra innings. All Leyland could do was "tip his cap" to the Indians' catcher, who finished the night 5-for-6 with three doubles and two home runs, tying the Major League record for most extra-base hits in a single game. "It's very rare that the other team wins when a guy has a night like that," Leyland said. They did, though. Never really mounting a threat through the first three extra innings, the Tigers had to rely on their bullpen to keep them afloat. Bobby Seay escaped in the 10th inning when, after loading the bases with an intentional walk to Shoppach and a plain old walk to Andy Marte, he struck out Andy Gonzalez to end the threat. In the 12th, it got even more hairy when Casey Fossum loaded the bases with no one out and Shoppach at the plate. "That's where the emotions go up and down," Granderson said. "Mentally, you're just trying to stay tough and understand that your team isn't the only team that's out there for five-plus hours. They're out there as well battling." But the battle would go on as Shoppach went down swinging before Marte grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat. "I've had it happen to me many, many times in my career," Leyland said. "You're at home, you load the bases in the bottom of the extra innings and you don't get the run. Invariably, the other team scores in the next inning." The Tigers did, of course, as Polanco scored Carlos Guillen with a groundout and the Tigers tacked on an insurance run. "It's just one of those moments where it shows you it's an incredible team game," Inge said. "Some of your guys may not be having their best nights, but everyone picked up the slack." And just think, the Tigers and Indians get to go at it less than 12 hours after Fossum struck out Carroll as Thursday's first pitch is set for 12:05 p.m. "I'm ready to go," Leyland said. "I wish the casino was open. I'd go for an hour or two and play the slot machines."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.