Saturday morning, I was out for breakfast with my mother. Naturally, the Tigers came up in conversation. ("You're still doing that?" - Just kidding; she didn't say that. Not out loud, anyway.)
Eventually, I said that the Tigers were still in good shape because Justin Verlander was pitching on Sunday.
"Is he really that good?" Mom asked.
Yes, Mom, he's that good.
This is why teams want that one great starting pitcher, that ace that can carry you to heights you might not otherwise reach. This is why Jim Leyland saved Verlander for today, in case the Tigers absolutely needed a win to extend their season. And this is why the Detroit Tigers live to play at least one more game.
Verlander dominated the White Sox for seven innings, allowing no runs and just two hits. And just to make sure that effort stood up, the Tigers' lineup scored five runs, thanks largely to Ryan Raburn and Magglio Ordonez. Verlander tired out in the eighth inning, giving up four straight hits that resulted in three White Sox runs. That made the crowd at Comerica Park (and any other Tigers fans watching on TV, obviously) squirm in their seats with dread.
But Fernando Rodney took over to get the last out of the eighth, and retired the side in order in the ninth to close out the ballgame and ensure a one-game tiebreaker on Tuesday in Minneapolis. (The Tigers had a chance to win the division outright, but the Twins crushed the Royals, 13-4, to stay tied for first in the AL Central.)
And so one more game is needed to decide this division. Just when the Tigers (and their fans) thought they'd never have to see the Metrodome, again they must enter that teflon-coated field of screams. But how many demons could be conquered, and how many painful memories erased, if they can win there on Tuesday?
Besides Verlander's turn in the rotation coming up, perhaps the second most fortunate development of Sunday's game for the Tigers is that they faced a left-handed pitcher. With John Danks getting the start for the White Sox, Raburn was in the lineup. And when he gets a few at-bats in a game this season, he tends to do something. Sunday was no exception.
Raburn went 3-for-4, with two home runs, three RBIs, and three runs scored. For a team that scored one run in its past two games, he provided a much needed jolt. And perhaps Leyland has finally realized that Raburn gives them the best chance to win, announcing after the game that he'll get the start on Tuesday against Scott Baker.
Ordonez also continued being the Tigers' most consistent bat with a 4-for-4 day. He's now on a 12-game hitting streak, during which he's batted
18-for-40 22-for-44. (Thanks for the correction in the comments.)
A closer's job changes a bit in the postseason. No pitching strictly in the ninth inning. If more than three outs are needed to finish off a playoff game, a closer has to extend himself. Rodney's track record hasn't been great when he's asked to pitch in situations other than what a closer is accustomed to.
But the Tigers needed someone to finish off the eighth inning on Sunday, and Leyland figured he might as well put his best guy in there. Their season was on the line, after all. And he'll likely have to do it again if the Tigers make the playoffs. Consider also that Rodney was working a day game after a night game in which he threw 24 pitches.
Comment of the Day:
Okay, forget my statements about Raburn being 0-for-8 against Danks with 5 Ks