Polanco comes through for Tigers win
Victory in 10th extends lead in AL Central to five games
DETROIT -- Placido Polanco is making a habit out of these go-ahead RBIs. Unlike Sunday's homer, though, his big play Thursday was a 10th-inning sacrifice fly to finish off the Tigers' 4-3 win over the Indians, so he had to bear the brunt of the celebration afterward.
With the Tigers, walk-off celebrations include a punch or two from slugger Miguel Cabrera. With a series sweep over the Indians and a five-game lead in the American League Central over the idle Twins, those celebrations -- and the shots that go with them -- get a little bigger.
"When you have a teammate like Miggy, it's really dangerous," Polanco said. "He was pounding that right rib. But I got him [back] in the [clubhouse] kitchen."
Cabrera laughed when asked about that.
"You saw that, huh?" he said as he threw some combination jabs in the air. "Big win. Big win."
It wouldn't have been a debilitating loss in terms of the standings, obviously, but it would've been an opportunity missed. It was more the nature of the win, and the Indians rally the Tigers took and overcame, that made it so important.
Moreover, on a day when the Tigers didn't have much offense against Indians starter Fausto Carmona, despite his five walks over 6 1/3 innings, it was the opportunity they converted in extra innings when Rafael Perez couldn't regain his command after an intentional walk.
For 6 1/3 innings, the only run of the game was on Curtis Granderson's leadoff homer in the opening inning. Carmona didn't allow a hit from the second inning until the seventh, when he paid for two walks with a Clete Thomas two-run triple. Nate Robertson, armed with a nasty sharp slider and an effective offspeed pitch, had one of his best outings in a couple years to leave on the upside of a pitching duel.
"He's a different pitcher than we saw last year or two years ago," Indians manager Eric Wedge said of Robertson and his six scoreless innings. "He really had it working today. That's the best we've seen him throw in a while."
A day after the Twins blew a late lead to the White Sox with two outs in the ninth, the Tigers had a 3-0 lead and needed four outs for what looked like an easy victory. Fu-Te Ni just retired Grady Sizemore for the second out of the eighth and had an 0-2 count on Jamey Carroll, whose squibber up the middle caught Ni off balance for an infield single.
A more fortunate roll, and Ni might've been out of the inning. After Asdrubal Cabrera's RBI single and Shin-Soo Choo's two-run double, both on two-strike pitches, Ni was out of the game with a tie score.
"I was trying to get him to get that breaking ball away off the plate," catcher Alex Avila said. "It just came out of his hand a little flat. That's going to happen. He made some really good pitches to Cabrera and to Carroll. They just happened to get in there."
After Zach Miner hit Jhonny Peralta with a 2-2 pitch to put another runner on for Matt LaPorta, it could've been worse. The Indians were a hit away from pulling ahead and going to their late-inning relievers. Miner and the Tigers were still thinking they had this game if they could just get out of that one jam.
"The biggest thing was we get last at-bat here, and we've been playing well at home," Miner said. "We know that. So you have that extra confidence. As long as we didn't give up that fourth run; that might've been a little deflating. You just try to keep the team in it. The way we've been swinging the bats lately, you get that feeling that eventually we're going to pull through, hopefully sooner than later."
To Miner, the key was simply not giving up a hit there to drive in the fourth run. Once he retired LaPorta to end the eighth, he didn't have to worry about it. His lone baserunner over the next couple innings, Michael Brantley, was thrown out in the ninth trying to steal second base on late-inning catcher Gerald Laird.
"The real momentum changer was Zach Miner," manager Jim Leyland said.
It took until the 10th, but once Ryan Raburn doubled to the out-of-town scoreboard, they were set to pull through. Perez made the obvious choice to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera, but then he couldn't get his control back, unintentionally walking Magglio Ordonez on five pitches to move Raburn to third and load the bases.
From there, Polanco just needed a loft shot to get Raburn in.
"I liked the fact that I had the infield in and the winning run on," Polanco said. "I looked to maybe get [a pitch] up, put the ball in play, and chances are, something good's going to happen."
The sacrifice fly was good, as was the extra half-game in the standings. The body blow from Cabrera, maybe not.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.