Bonine excellent in relief as Tigers win
Right-hander pitches three scoreless innings
ARLINGTON -- Johnny Damon, who knows a thing or two about playing on the best team at the end of the season, stood at his locker after Saturday's 8-4 victory over Texas and determined this was a victory of some significance.
The Tigers got a yeoman's effort from the bullpen, which turned in six shutout innings. Detroit got enough key hits to rally from a 4-0 deficit, and big defensive plays from rookie center fielder Austin Jackson and utility infielder Ryan Raburn.
"This was big win for us," said Damon, who has won World Series rings with the Yankees and Red Sox. And it's supposed to be one of 162.
Sometimes it's not, and Saturday's victory for the Tigers was a meaningful one. They started the night in a bind with Dontrelle Willis forced to miss his start because of an upset stomach. That meant an overused bullpen had to get all nine innings.
Enter middle reliever Eddie Bonine, who has quietly become a crucial part of the relief corps. So key that manager Jim Leyland considered starting Bonine on Saturday night, and thought better of it because the skipper didn't want to mess with the order in his bullpen. So Brad Thomas got the start and made it through the first third of the game trailing, 4-3.
Bonine delivered a shutdown inning after the Tigers scored five two-run outs in the top of the fourth for an 8-4 lead. He allowed a leadoff single to Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, then got one of the league's best hitters, Michael Young, to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
Bonine ended the fifth inning with another double play with runners at first and second, and got three groundball outs in the sixth.
Bonine, who has been using a knuckleball as an out pitch, used it more often Saturday knowing his outing would be extended. He said he used his knuckleball 80 to 90 percent of the time he went with an offspeed pitch, sometimes early in counts. He did get both of the double play balls on fastballs.
"The guys played great defense behind me," Bonine said. "We knew this was a bullpen day. Brad got us three innings and got us out of the gate. [Joel] Zumaya had great stuff."
Zumaya, still building himself up after being hurt most of last season, had five strikeouts in two innings. He is moving closer to becoming the dominant setup man he's been in the past. Closer Jose Valverde breezed through the ninth inning, though he did give up an infield hit to Young.
"We're all going pretty well in the bullpen," Bonine said. "As a group, we all feel pretty good."
The Tigers fell behind, 4-0, before grinding their way back. Thomas gave up four runs and eight hits in three innings. He did get a crucial out in the second, forcing Nelson Cruz to groundout back to the mound with the bases loaded and the score already 4-0.
"Sometimes the big out in a game comes in the second, or third, or fourth inning," Leyland said. "Brad took it for us tonight. It's not an easy thing to do. It's good for him to get to pitch."
The Tigers cut the lead to 4-3 in the third as Adam Everett started the rally with a single and Jackson reached on a bunt. Damon, one of the hottest hitters in the American League, pounded a two-run double and Magglio Ordonez grounded out to score another run.
The Tigers produced five runs with two outs in the top of the fourth.
Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and rookie Brennan Boesch had consecutive RBI doubles in the inning.
Defense also played a key role. Jackson made a splendid running catch on a deep drive hit by Young to start the bottom of the seventh. Raburn had all three assists in the ninth inning, including a play in which he went deep behind second base to throw out Andrus.
Damon called Saturday's victory one of those team wins, then gave the credit where it belonged, to the bullpen.
"They've been getting us our wins," he said.
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.