Tigers surge late to beat Rangers
Sheffield's 493rd career homer starts comeback
ARLINGTON -- Nobody has won more games at Rangers Ballpark than ex-Ranger Kenny Rogers. He feels a lot better doing it as a visitor.
Games like Monday night's 8-7 Tigers win are a pretty good example why.
"Every game I pitched in this park, I would expect to give up three or four runs, even if you pitched well," Rogers said. "Because it's that explosive of a ballpark for offense. You're going to give up some runs. You're not going to shut many guys out here. I know that going in.
"It's just a park where you never know what's going to happen. Pitching here for a full season is extremely difficult, mentally, if not more physically."
The physical challenge was evident in the extreme humidity that had Rogers changing shirts every inning. The mental challenge was also evident in a game whose twists might've fit the rides down the street at Six Flags.
Rangers starter Scott Feldman gave up a 10-run first inning in his last start six days earlier at Boston. On Monday, he carried a two-hit shutout and a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning. Three batters later, he was out, and the Tigers had the tying run in scoring position.
Gary Sheffield's 493rd home run started the rally that eventually had the Tigers carrying an 8-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. By the time Fernando Rodney struck out American League MVP favorite Josh Hamilton to end the inning, the Rangers had the potential tying run on second.
"I think there were two good things about tonight: The fact that we came back after being down, and it looked like we could've given it up," manager Jim Leyland said. "We could've come in a real sad bunch tonight, but we didn't. We came in the right way."
Considering the conditions, they weren't sure they were going to get a chance to go out and play in the first place. Rain came down virtually all afternoon until letting up soon before game time, leaving a draining, humid night in its wake. With the Tigers having come off a long Sunday afternoon loss at home, they went through the first six innings looking like they had the "blahs," as Leyland likes to call them.
Sheffield's second-inning soft line drive and a Brandon Inge ground ball accounted for Detroit's hits through six, both of them singles. Meanwhile, Rogers was simply trying to keep the game close, while RBI doubles from Gerald Laird in the fourth and Michael Young in the fifth began building out the lead.
"It doesn't matter if you're a finesse guy or a power guy," Rogers (9-10) said. "The difficulty to pitch deep into ballgames and give your team a chance [here], it's harder."
The humidity drained Rogers physically, but also helped keep the ball from flying as much as it can in this park. That, and a sharp sinker, worked in Rogers' favor while he racked up seven strikeouts over six innings.
Still, he was trailing when he delivered his final pitch. Carlos Guillen's infield single leading off the seventh didn't do much to change the flow. The 2-2 sinker that Sheffield drove down the left-field line and inside the foul pole for his 13th home run of the year did.
"He's a big guy -- he hides the ball well," Sheffield said of Feldman. "It looks like a pitch right down the middle until you swing at it, and it's in on your hands a little bit. Basically, I just made an adjustment."
The game took a dramatic turn from there. Once Matt Joyce followed with a double into the right-field corner, Feldman was out. Frank Francisco entered to strike out Edgar Renteria and nearly did the same to Brandon Inge. Left with a full count, Francisco (2-5) went at him with an offspeed pitch, which Inge lined to left for the game-tying single. Another full count to Granderson ended with a fastball lined into the gap in right-center field and the Tigers suddenly in front.
With the bases loaded an inning later, Granderson found the opposite gap for another triple to clear the bases and build an 8-3 lead. A Texas-sized rally off Kyle Farnsworth in the bottom of the inning essentially nullified that rally.
One night earlier, Rays manager Joe Maddon made headlines with his decision to intentionally walk Hamilton with the bases loaded and a four-run lead. With Detroit's lead down to one and Milton Bradley waiting on deck, the Tigers never considered that option. But it was drastic enough to go to Rodney in the eighth, hoping his change of speeds could fool one of baseball's most dangerous hitters.
It worked. After Hamilton fouled off back-to-back two-strike fastballs at 97 mph and watched a changeup in the dirt, he went down swinging at another offspeed pitch. It was just Hamilton's 11th strikeout with two outs and a runner in scoring position this season, a situation in which he was hitting .375 entering the night.
"[I] tried to make a good pitch to him and not leave anything hanging," Rodney said. "I know this is a good hitter. That's what I worked on tonight."
A hit-by-pitch to Byrd and a wild pitch moving him into scoring position created a little more drama in the ninth, but Rodney set down Gerald Laird swinging out of the zone at a four-seam fastball before Chris Davis flew out to finally end this wild affair.
The Tigers shook off their blahs, and Rogers shook off his personal four-game losing streak. In the process, he stretched his career wins lead here to 17 over Rick Helling. He could get another shot here when the Tigers visit in September.
Still, he'll be glad to make his next start in Kansas City.
"When you're pitching here, you just want to hang around long enough to where your offense can get going," Rogers said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.