Tigers win fifth straight on walk-off homer
Raburn comes through with pinch-hit, two-run shot in ninth
DETROIT -- Ryan Raburn had never hit a walk-off home run, not in the big leagues, Minors, college -- even high school. But then, the last time the Tigers had one like this, Alan Trammell was still playing for them.
What had been a pitchers' duel between Edwin Jackson and Carlos Zambrano on Tuesday at Comerica Park suddenly broke into a game of dueling go-ahead homers -- Brandon Inge in the seventh then Micah Hoffpauir in the eighth. And as Ryan Raburn stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth against Cubs closer Kevin Gregg with Don Kelly on first, he had a chance to turn the game again.
Still, not even he was thinking about a no-doubt walk-off shot, a 5-4 Tigers victory and a mass of players at home plate waiting to "beat the crap out of him," as Inge put it.
"That's the first one I've ever done," Raburn said. "I'm usually at the other end of those."
He isn't usually called on for those heroics at the end of a game against a right-handed closer, for that matter. But then, plenty of this game went against expectations.
Jackson loaded the bases three batters into the game, escaped the jam with a lone run allowed then held the Cubs to one run for his next six innings. Zambrano gave up a Placido Polanco RBI triple two batters into the game, stranded Polanco at third and went on to retire 17 of the next 20 Tigers.
"That's what good pitchers do," catcher Gerald Laird said. "They get into trouble, and they know how to get out of it."
The way Zambrano was pitching, it took a hit-by-pitch to Kelly to start a rally in the seventh, then a high fastball for Inge to hit his second go-ahead homer in as many nights. But then, on a night when Joel Zumaya hit 103 mph on MLB.com's Gameday and 104 on the television radar readings, it took an 85-mph changeup -- a pitch Zumaya shook off Laird three times to get -- for him to yield Hoffpauir's blast.
"It got to the point where I started to see the hitters get real jumpy," Zumaya said. "Gerald wanted a fastball away, and I shook him off."
With the bottom of the Tigers' order coming up and Gregg coming in on a dominant stretch, that should've been it. But once Kelly worked his way on again, this time with a nine-pitch battle that ended with a leadoff walk, the Tigers had another shot.
Inge had the first chance, but Gregg induced a popout to second base for the first out. With Josh Anderson coming up, manager Jim Leyland went with an idea and brought in Raburn, 4-for-22 in his big league career as a pinch-hitter.
"I thought right-handed hitters had a little better chance against [Gregg] than left-handed hitters," Leyland said. "The numbers show [that]. We felt like he throws the slider a little bit more to right-handers, and if he happened to hang one, he might be able to jump one. And we caught a big break."
Raburn wasn't looking for the slider specifically, but he was ready when he got it.
"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit," he said.
His 403-foot drive to left-center set off a celebration, not to mention history. The last pinch-hit, walk-off homer by a Tigers player came from Lou Whitaker, whose three-run shot off White Sox closer Roberto Hernandez sent Detroit to a 7-5 win on Aug. 23, 1995.
Trammell was the runner on third base when Whitaker delivered his dramatic homer. He was the Cubs' bench coach for the blast by Raburn, who is one of the Tigers that Trammell managed in his big league debut, back in 2004.
Like Kelly, Raburn is also one of the Tigers who began this season at Triple-A Toledo before getting his chance.
"I'm happy for those guys," Leyland said. "They're not in the limelight every day. They don't get the recognition they deserve. Very few times is the camera talking to them after a game. I like stuff like that. To me, that's great stuff."
It was certainly stuff that Raburn appreciated. So did Kelly, who had been involved in some walk-off celebrations before.
"Not like that," he said. "That was unbelievable. Just being on for that was awesome."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.