NEW YORK -- Detroit reliever Joaquin Benoit escaped the seventh inning of the Tigers' 3-2 victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium -- but only by a hair.
Benoit entered Thursday's contest holding a two-run lead with one out and a runner on first. In addition to nursing the Tigers' advantage, he was sporting a bandaged lump on the left side of his face -- the result of an ingrown hair that just kept swelling. The umpires made him remove the bandage, and at first, the infection turned his attention from the task at hand.
Benoit made a fielding mistake, allowed two hits and walked in a run, but when all was said and done, the Tigers left clutching a 3-2 lead.
"At the moment, it kind of got in my head," Benoit said. "I've got a hair infected there. I was trying to battle that, and it was just a situation where I was going to pitch or not."
First, Curtis Granderson slapped a hard grounder through the left side of the infield for a single. Then Robinson Cano hit a ball with significantly less force, but carrying the same consequence. The soft dribbler to the left of the mound mysteriously snuck under Benoit's glove, and neither third baseman Brandon Inge nor shortstop Jhonny Peralta charged the ball to make the play. The infield single loaded the bases with one out for Alex Rodriguez.
"I guess I didn't get down enough," Benoit said. "What I have to do is just try to get one out at a time, and what happens is going to happen, so I leave everything to God."
"I couldn't get the angle to get there," Inge said. "I was too far back, so I tried to pull up quick so I wouldn't run into Peralta."
Then came the agita. Amid mound visits from catcher Alex Avila and the din of a postseason-record crowd at the new Yankee Stadium, Benoit reached back to strike out Alex Rodriguez swinging on five pitches. Benoit followed his supreme success by committing the cardinal sin of relief pitching, walking Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded to bring in a run, despite Teixeira having only three hits the entire series. This inspired a coaching visit.
"He was having a little trouble seeing the signs with the shadows, so we wanted to make sure we had all that stuff down," Avila said.
Not dismayed, Benoit got ahead of Nick Swisher and never looked back. Benoit set him up with a splitter outside and away, and blew him away with a high fastball that left the bases loaded and the Yankees one run short.
Despite having already thrown 23 pitches to retire two batters, Benoit came back out for the eighth in order to get the ball to closer Jose Valverde. With slightly less drama, he retired three of the four batters in that frame, the last out coming with a runner on first via a long drive by Derek Jeter that landed safely in the mitt of right fielder Don Kelly.
In all, Benoit threw 38 pitches in Game 5, two more than he had thrown in any prior outing this season.
"What a tremendous gutty performance," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's been like that all year. We're very fortunate to have him."
Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.