Thomas' walk-off caps Tigers' big comeback
Detroit storms back from four-run deficit after rain delay
DETROIT -- Jarrod Washburn couldn't beat his old club, but his new teammates did.
Though Washburn has only one quality in four outings so far as a Tiger, Detroit has somehow won in his past three starts, the last two of them walk-off wins. On a day when the Mariners seemingly punished every Washburn mistake for four home runs in six innings, it was up to Zach Miner -- just a couple days after the birth of his son -- and Clete Thomas to help pick him up, returning the favor Washburn did for the Tigers offense last time out.
And as the Tigers head for the West Coast with a 7-6 comeback win, having overcome a four-run deficit capped by Thomas' second walk-off hit this month, their long flight seemed a little bit shorter. Moreover, with a 2 1/2-game lead over the idle White Sox in the American League Central, their place in the playoff chase felt at least slightly better.
"It's important, because we came from behind," said Carlos Guillen, whose collision at the plate with Kenji Johima not only ensured Guillen of touching home plate for the tying run, but also set up the winning run at third for Thomas' walk-off single. "When you get on a plane for five, six hours, you're going to feel different [if it's a loss]."
It's a feeling Thomas has gotten to know relatively well.
Less than three weeks ago, Thomas was mobbed coming around the bases on a walk-off homer with two outs in the ninth, completing Detroit's comeback from what was once a five-run deficit against the Orioles.
He has been 5-for-40 with 13 strikeouts since and his playing status has become more tenuous with Guillen back in left field and fellow left-handed hitter Aubrey Huff having come over in Monday's trade from Baltimore.
If not for a slumping Curtis Granderson, Thomas probably wouldn't have been in the lineup. But with Granderson getting the day off, manager Jim Leyland needed a center fielder, earning Thomas a rare start against a left-handed pitcher. Thomas liked it not just for the at-bats, but for the chance to work on his timing at the plate against a lefty, something Granderson has discussed before.
Once he came up against right-handed closer David Aardsma with two outs and the winning run on third, he really liked it.
"I think it definitely helped," Thomas said. "It was good to see one."
He saw nothing but mid-90s mph fastballs from Aardsma (3-5), but he only swung and missed at one before fouling off three others. The last of them might have been the best spotted, a 95-mph heater low and inside.
"It was right where I wanted it," Aardsma said. "It was probably a ball, actually. It was down and in, and he just dropped the head of the bat on it."
Thomas got enough of it to pull it through the right side and into right field. Miguel Cabrera, who advanced to third when Guillen's collision at the plate knocked the ball away from Johjima, trotted home before making a left turn and darting for Thomas at first base.
It was 90 feet away for Thomas, but it was a familiar feeling.
"This was a little rougher," Thomas said of the crowd of players around him. "It was fun. It's fun to get beat up like that."
That kind of beating certainly felt better than the home runs the Mariners hit on Washburn. Four weeks after he pitched seven scoreless innings at Comerica Park in a Seattle uniform to win a pitching duel, he gave up shots to Johjima, Jose Lopez, Mike Sweeney and Russell Branyan.
What kept the Tigers in the game and helped salvage a no-decision for Washburn was none of them resulted in many runs. Three were solo shots, the other a two-run homer, in building a 6-2 lead for the Mariners.
"It wasn't that bad," Washburn said. "I gave up four home runs, but two were wind-blown and would've been outs any other day. Unfortunately, those still count."
Still, said Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, "If you had said we would hit four home runs and lose, I would think you'd be crazy."
It was a crazy setup to get there. Though Mariners lefty Ryan-Rowland Smith had a comfortable lead, he was also getting into trouble, walking four of the final nine batters he faced. His four-pitch passes to Magglio Ordonez and Thomas loaded the bases with one out in the sixth and brought up Wakamatsu for a pitching change.
Just then, the rains through which they had been playing, intensified enough that the umpires had to stop the game. A 58-minute rain delay passed before Huff could step in as a pinch-hitter against reliever Chris Jakubauskas. He grounded out to drive in a run and Alex Avila's pinch-hit, two-run single brought the Tigers to within a run.
Miner, who was away from the team for two days, kept them there.
"It was a huge win," Washburn said, "the kind of win that builds character and tell you what kind of guys you have in the clubhouse. That's awesome to see."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.