This game initially had major potential for disaster. Dontrelle Willis walked the first two batters he faced, and added injury to indignity when his right foot slipped on the rain-slicked pitching mound as he was making a throw, resulting in what's been diagnosed as a hyper-extended right knee. Willis left the game without getting an out, which meant that the bullpen that's been making women and children cry over the past nine games had to cover the entire game.
And that's really the story of tonight's win. We're all too eager to throw tomatoes at the bullpen when they're terrible, so when those relievers do a good job, we should stand up and clap. Four relievers pitched nine innings and gave up only four hits to a White Sox lineup that crushed the ball last weekend in Detroit.
Aquilino Lopez was thrown into an extremely difficult situation, as a short reliever who simply had to give the team several innings. And for just the second time in his career, Lopez pitched four of them. Jason Grilli - the last guy any Tigers fan presumably wants to see on the mound right now - took over for Lopez and pitched three hitless innings of his own. He started off shaky, hitting one batter and walking another, but got every hitter out from there. Finally, in a save situation, Detroit's bullpen was able to progress from set-up man to closer. Denny Bautista threw a scoreless eighth inning, capped off by Clete Thomas throwing Jermaine Dye (who clearly underestimated the young man in left field) out at second base. And really, can you ever not appreciate Todd Jones pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning?
The night almost got even uglier when both Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen pulled up on the bases, feeling a twinge in their surely cold-stiffened legs. Trainer Kevin Rand may have been on the field more than Jim Leyland tonight. But neither player left the game, and the Tigers managed to end it before anything worse could happen.
But tonight was all about the bullpen, and this time for the right reasons. A tip of the cap and a slow clap go to the relievers who gave the team exactly what was needed.