Wild walk-off win caps furious rally
Verlander struggles again but Tigers' bats come alive late
DETROIT -- Technically, Justin Verlander was long gone from his start Sunday by the time the Tigers came back. Physically, he was right outside the dugout, steps away from storming the field as the rally unfolded.
Verlander had given up a five-run opening inning that included his first grand slam in three years, but he didn't care, just as the Tigers didn't care about the 18 baserunners they stranded. As Indians reliever Chris Perez's wild pitch skipped to the backstop and Carlos Guillen dashed home with the winning run, completing Detroit's six-run comeback in a 9-8 win, everything else was secondary.
They won. That's what mattered.
"I wanted to run out there so bad," Verlander said, "but I was in flip-flops."
Verlander was stuck in the tunnel. Eddie Bonine was stuck in the training room after receiving treatment for a cramp below the ribs that knocked him out in the ninth inning and forced Phil Coke (1-0) to enter with a full count to the leadoff man. Johnny Damon, who started out with the day off, was on base taking four balls as a pinch-hitter. He wanted to run out to the dogpile on Guillen, too, but he had traffic.
"As soon as I tried getting there, Cabrera almost ran me over," Damon said.
Technically, Damon counts as one of 18 Tigers stranded on base Sunday, since he was on first base when Guillen scored. It's just the third time since at least 1920 that the Tigers stranded that many runners in a nine-inning game, win or lose, according to research on baseball-reference.com. The other two Tigers teams to do it lost the game.
The fact that they won in the process makes them just the second team to win with that many left on base since 1986. The Mariners stranded 18 at San Diego and still pulled out a 5-2 win on June 27, 2008.
"That was a game we probably shouldn't have won," manager Jim Leyland said.
Again, the Tigers don't care. At least they went 6-for-19 with runners in scoring position. They didn't have to swing the bat to score the tying and winning runs. Needing one more out for the save, Perez fired nine of his final 10 pitches out of the strike zone.
Damon was ready to swing. He talked afterwards about how it took him three years as a Yankee before he got a game-winning hit. He just never had to, taking a four-pitch walk that forced in Miguel Cabrera with the tying run.
"I was ready to swing at the first pitch," Damon said. "It definitely comes with experience, to be able to see a pitch and be ready to offer at it or take it. Fortunately, I've been around the league a while. There's going to be situations where I do swing at a bad pitch in that situation, but I felt real good, especially with all the work I did in the cages during the game. Those pitches were just off."
That experience not only led Leyland to turn to Damon with the game on the line, it led him to wait a batter before turning to Damon. Leyland could've pinch-hit Damon for Ramon Santiago a batter earlier, after Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera hit the ground to rob Brandon Inge of a single and record the second out.
Had Damon hit for Santiago, he very likely could've been walked then. That would've left young Alex Avila as the lone pinch-hitter for Gerald Laird with the bases loaded, two outs and the tying run on third.
"I wanted a veteran guy up there," Leyland said. "That's why I hit Damon [for Laird] instead of Avila. I just thought the veteran guy would take closer pitches for balls. I felt comfortable with [Santiago]. If I hit Damon [for him], they might walk him, and then I hit Avila for Laird."
Santiago is a veteran hitter now, and he had reached base safely three times Sunday, despite a double-play grounder that limited Detroit's five-hit, eighth-inning rally to two runs that brought Detroit within 8-6.
He knew exactly what he was doing in the ninth, having watched Perez give up a one-out single to Magglio Ordonez, a walk to Miguel Cabrera and an RBI double to Guillen.
"Before I do anything, I'm thinking about getting a strike," Santiago said. "Make him throw me a strike. The guy behind me, he can do some damage."
Perez (0-1) walked Santiago on five pitches, then Damon on four. Ironically, that brought up rookie Scott Sizemore with a chance to win just his fifth Major League game. He didn't get that shot; Perez bounced a first-pitch slider in the dirt and past catcher Lou Marson.
Detroit's final two runs scored without hits, yet they still had 16 hits over the final five innings after Indians starter Jake Westbrook limited them to two singles over the first four innings. They scored two runs on Ordonez's sixth-inning single and another on Sizemore's two-out double in the seventh, yet left the bases loaded in both innings.
Miguel Cabrera reached base safely in all six of his plate appearances, becoming the first Tiger to do that since Carlos Pena in 2004, but he scored just the final two times. Those were two critical runs in the game.
It was that kind of afternoon, and it made the win that much sweeter.
"Play nine innings and you've got a chance," Santiago said. "It's a great win. It's the best it can get right there."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.