Homer-happy Tigers down Rays
Five long balls, including two by Santiago, give Galarraga win
DETROIT -- Armando Galarraga has had his share of quality outings end up without a victory, even with as many wins as he's had. He closed out his remarkable rookie season for the Tigers with a win that included help from some of the least expected sources.
On a day when Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria were all out of Detroit's starting lineup, the result was a season high-tying five home runs. Ramon Santiago, who entered the day with seven homers for his Major League career, hit two. And with Thursday's 7-5 win over the Rays, the Tigers not only delayed Tampa Bay from clinching a division title, they did it by scoring more runs than they did in their entire three-game series against the Royals.
As it turned out, the 83-degree game-time temperature in late September was just the start of the surprises.
"Everybody will say, 'Oh, it was great today. They had more energy.' It wasn't more energy," manager Jim Leyland said. "We just got some hits."
Compared with Tampa Bay, the difference in energy was understandable, considering the Rays flew in from Baltimore in the early-morning hours after a night game against the Orioles. Rays starter Scott Kazmir, however, flew in earlier Wednesday night, and he carried on a 3.36 ERA with him. He blanked the Twins for six innings five days earlier, but gave up nine runs over three innings to the Red Sox in his start before that.
Six pitches into Thursday's outing, he had given up his first run. However, it wasn't to usual leadoff threat Granderson. It was Santiago, owner of only one previous home run off a left-handed pitcher back in 2003 against former Blue Jay Mark Hendrickson. On Thursday, he took a 2-2 fastball from the left-handed Kazmir (12-8) and lofted it just over the bullpen fence.
Sometimes, Leyland has said in the past, a home run can be the worst thing for Santiago's hitting, because he can start trying to put the ball in the air rather than look for line drives and ground balls. After taking back-to-back strikes to fall in an 0-2 hole leading off the third inning, he got another fastball over the plate and drove it even further. The ball hit off the roof of the bullpen dugout.
It was actually the second career multihomer game for Santiago, who hit two off the Red Sox as a rookie with Detroit in 2002. With Renteria limited by a strained left pectoral muscle, Leyland said he'll start Santiago again at shortstop on Friday. He just doesn't want Santiago getting carried away.
"If he lives in the air, he won't hit much," Leyland said. "But today, he was swinging pretty good and got a couple out."
Santiago capped his day with a more typical hit. His seventh-inning single off reliever Jason Hammel tied his single-game high with his third hit, setting him up to come around to score on Marcus Thames' ensuing double and left fielder Eric Hinske's error.
Home runs from Mike Hessman in the fourth inning and Dusty Ryan in the fifth had padded the lead before that insurance tally. Once Miguel Cabrera's sacrifice fly plated Thames, Granderson -- who entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Hessman in the sixth -- added to the power display with his 21st home run on the year.
Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist also got in on the home run parade, having started it with a first-inning solo shot for his ninth homer on the season. However, Galarraga (13-6) shrugged it off and turned on a display that answered any lingering questions over whether he was tiring going into the offseason.
A pair of walks comprised the lone baserunners he allowed between Zobrist's first homer and Evan Longoria's solo shot in the seventh. Not only did he retire 17 of 19 hitters in between, he allowed just three balls hit in play out of the infield.
"My body feels strong," Galarraga said. "My arm, my shoulder feel strong. This is really important for me. I'm happy I got the win the last time I pitched this year."
Not until back-to-back singles leading off the eighth did the Rays threaten to close in on this game. Galarraga answered with fire, giving a small fist pump after he caught B.J. Upton looking at a called third strike for the second out. He was one out away from getting out of it with eight innings of two-run ball, but he'd have to retire Zobrist.
Given how he has performed this year, plus the fact that he was under 100 pitches, Leyland felt he warranted the shot.
"He deserved it," Leyland said. "We let a couple get away from him [this year]. He should actually probably have 15-16 wins."
After falling behind in the count, Galarraga challenged Zobrist on the payoff pitch. Zobrist drilled it 424 feet to straightaway center for a three-run shot, narrowing the gap to two runs and ending Galarraga's outing.
Fernando Rodney's walk to Carlos Pena brought up Longoria as the potential tying run, but Rodney spotted a changeup on the outside corner for a called strike to end the threat on his way to his 11th save. With that, Galarraga had the cap to a year neither he nor the Tigers expected with the kind of win that was surprising in its own right.
"For him, outstanding," Leyland summarized Galarraga's season. "For us, probably surprising. We didn't really expect that, to be honest with you, but he was outstanding."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.