Inge starts, finishes Tigers' comeback
Infielder leads off eighth with homer, then drives in last runs
DETROIT -- The Tigers had already been shut out twice at this point last season. The way Kevin Millwood handled them Sunday, they were six outs away from their first blanking of this season. Even if they scored, overcoming a four-run deficit was another challenge.
Three outs, six runs and two Brandon Inge hits later, they were on their way to a victory. They didn't need the ninth inning.
"They have to make 27 outs," said Carlos Guillen, whose two-run double in the eighth tied the game ahead of Inge's go-ahead, two-run single for a 6-4 win over the Rangers at Comerica Park.
Twenty-one outs were about the limit for Millwood with his pitch total. Once he left, the Tigers pounced.
When Inge took left-hander C.J. Wilson deep for his fourth home run of the season to lead off the eighth, he merely ended the shutout bid. Little could he have known that he would be back up for another critical at-bat in the same inning, having a chance to put Detroit on top.
In between was a combination of timely hits, a critical Rangers error, a Guillen injury and a pair of intentional walks. One of those walks went to Miguel Cabrera, who became the eventual go-ahead run. Cabrera scored on Inge's second hit of the inning, which concluded an opening-week offensive surge that has confounded scouting reports.
"I'm very appreciative and happy the way things are turning out," Inge said, "and I feel like I'm just scratching the surface on this. I feel that I can help out a lot more."
Inge homered in Detroit's first three games, but the Tigers won only one of them. He was 1-for-10 since then, including two groundouts during Millwood's seven scoreless innings, until he stepped up to the plate leading off the eighth. He hadn't abandoned his revamped approach -- he just wasn't getting results.
When he jumped on Wilson's slider and drove it deep to right, he stayed one off the Major League lead held by Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria. The Tigers, however, were still three runs down.
"It's very easy to try to do too much," Inge said. "I was trying to actually not do a lot, and that was the home run. I was just trying to take the ball to right field, a nice little base hit to right, and ended up hitting the home run."
All the hits that followed were nice, little ones. Adam Everett escaped an 0-2 count with an opposite-field liner on an offspeed pitch. After an Elvis Andrus error put Curtis Granderson on base, Placido Polanco bounced a chopper over third baseman Michael Young and down the right-field line to make it a 4-2 game with the tying run on base.
Once Wilson recovered to strike out Magglio Ordonez, the Rangers walked Cabrera rather than give him a chance to put Detroit on top with one swing.
"Nobody wants to face Cabrera," said an understanding Guillen, who followed him to the plate.
With Guillen in an 0-2 count, it seemed like shrewd strategy. But Guillen laid off two high fastballs, then fought off a nasty breaking ball to stay alive for one more slider, which he poked inside the left-field line to drive in the game-tying run.
"Unbelievable," manager Jim Leyland said. "Great at-bat."
That was it for Guillen, whose sore Achilles' tendon flared up on his way into second before Josh Anderson pinch-ran for him. Guillen is considered day-to-day.
Warner Madrigal came in and intentionally walked Marcus Thames, then struck out Gerald Laird with the bases loaded for the second out. Back came Inge, this time against a pitcher who struggled with his command on Friday and looked difficult to hit on Sunday.
"I watched what he did to Laird," Inge said. "It was a matter of staying in and making sure I got a strike from him, because he seemed kind of wild at that point. He throws the ball hard, so you have to be ready."
Madrigal nearly hit Inge with his first pitch, then came back to the fastball like Inge expected. Again, Inge didn't try to pummel it, simply lining it back through the middle as the Easter crowd roared.
Inge ended up as the bookends of the comeback, and Sunday was the cap to an incredible opening week. And the team that came home from Toronto seemingly struggling had a winning record and a three-game sweep of a Rangers club that was hot heading into the weekend.
"If today was the ending, it would be about as happy of an ending as I could get as far as the turnaround," Inge said. "There's a lot of ups and downs in my career here."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.