07/18/08 12:24 AM ET
Tigers' homer trio seals victory
Sheffield, Inge, Thames go deep in second-half opener
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
With Thursday's 6-5 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards, the Tigers have not only racked up six wins in which they've been outhit, they've won six times when giving up 14 or more hits. Not since 1991 have they won more such games in an entire season, and that '91 season marks their highest total since at least 1956, according to research on Baseball-Reference.com.
That's the luxury this offense was expected to afford Detroit. On a hot, humid, ball-carrying night in which starter Kenny Rogers felt like he made good pitches, yet ended up allowing 11 hits over six innings nonetheless, the Tigers smacked three home runs -- including Brandon Inge's go-ahead two-run homer and Marcus Thames' solo shot for ultimately the game-deciding run.
Yet just as important as overcoming the hits they allowed were the hits and baserunners they denied. None were bigger than in the ninth inning.
The O's took closer Todd Jones to the brink of a blown save, bringing the potential winning run to the plate with nobody out after a Luke Scott leadoff double and a Ramon Santiago error putting Brian Roberts on base. Adam Jones tried to sacrifice them up a base and nearly ended up with a bunt single, dropping a roller to the third-base side of the mound that kept curving towards the line as it rolled.
"If it's hard-hit back to the pitcher, you want to get that out at third," said Inge, who made his first start at third base since June 6. "When it came off the bat, it had that trajectory like it was going right back to the pitcher, but it was one of those side spinners where it lands and comes back over. Technically, it's supposed to be my ball. It's a tough read, though."
Inge initially broke for third, then tried to charge in on it late. Jones broke in front of him, picked up the ball and fired off-balance, but on-target, to first base for the out.
"He bunted it way deeper than I thought," Jones said, "so I had to make a backtrack. I was just lucky, just happened to be lined up correctly. I saw [Miguel] Cabrera fine and I just kind of spun.
"That might be the luckiest, best play I ever made."
It still moved the runners up, putting the O's within a single of tying the game. It earned an out, however, that became huge once Aubrey Huff's ensuing sacrifice fly scored pinch-runner Freddie Bynum and moved Roberts to third with two outs.
"That was a great play," manager Jim Leyland said. "That saved the game. If that guy's safe, we're really in trouble."
Instead, they were an out away from salvaging the game, but it ended up being another big out. Jones put Kevin Millar in an 0-2 hole before inducing a ground ball to third base. Inge fielded it cleanly, but his throw was off-balance and down the first-base line. Not only did Cabrera jump off the bag to catch the ball cleanly, he whirled and tagged Miller as he tried to slide into first base.
"It's what [infield coach] Raffy [Belliard] and the coaches tell me," Cabrera said. "You have to be ready for everything. I see the ball and react."
In this case, his reactions were game-saving ones.
"He's made a nice adjustment over at first base," Jones said. "The work with Leyland and the work with Raffy is starting to pay off, because he's becoming nimble over there. He's more confident, more sure of himself."
Baltimore had doubled Detroit's hit total through five innings, but held just a one-run lead thanks to damage control from Rogers (7-6), who stranded the bases loaded in the fourth inning and had runners thrown out at the plate in two others. He kept the game close enough for the Tigers to pull ahead late.
"I kept getting in trouble," Rogers said, "and I kept thinking, 'How many mistakes did I really make?' I mean, give them credit, because I think they took a good approach and hit some good pitches to where they were supposed to. I just couldn't make the adjustment to get in on the corners a little bit and keep them honest. ... But the first thing is, when I get into that kind of trouble, I'm trying to think, 'How I can get out of it with as little damage as possible?'"
Gary Sheffield's two-run homer in the second inning and Thames' RBI double in the third comprised Detroit's scoring to that point before O's starter Garrett Olson (6-5) had settled down. He retired the first two batters of the sixth and shattered Edgar Renteria's bat on a ground ball hit just hard enough to get through the left side for his second hit of the game.
That extended the inning for Inge, who worked the count full before lofting a ball that kept carrying to left-center field until it landed out of the reach of a leaping Adam Jones and into the Orioles' bullpen.
"He'd been pretty tough on me," Inge said of Olson. "He kept throwing me sliders down and in, and I couldn't keep them fair. I assumed he was going to throw me either a slider or a fastball in, and he threw me a changeup."
Thames' loft to left in the next inning off of Dennis Sarfate was his team-leading 18th homer of the year, and his 12th in a one-run or tied game. In this case, it was just enough insurance for Jones and Cabrera to save the game.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.