No matter how this season ultimately ends for the Detroit Tigers, you can't say it wasn't a fun ride.
Sure, there have been some bad stretches, the kind that make you wonder whether you should really spend so much time watching baseball. Last night's sixth inning was one of them. Justin Verlander was nearly untouchable through his first five innings, giving up just two hits. But then something happened. Maybe Verlander relaxed with a 2-0 lead. Maybe the Blue Jays lineup noticed something they could capitalize on.
Whatever the reason, Verlander suddenly began pitching batting practice, and Toronto hit everything he threw all over the field - and beyond. The first five batters in the inning reached base. Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion hit home runs. The Jays knocked out six hits and scored five runs. Verlander was shell-shocked. Everyone watching the game was stunned.
And suddenly, what looked like a hard-fought win in the making became a sure loss. Because the Tigers had only managed two runs by that point, both driven in by Ryan Raburn. How could they score another four now?
But this season has brought plenty of good times, too. Oh, so good. Last night's ninth and tenth innings were among them.
The Tigers needed a break, an opening to slip through. And Marco Scutaro gave it to them when he missed Curtis Granderson's grounder on a tough hop. Pinch-hitter Alex Avila followed with a single. (Doesn't something good seem to happen when this kid is at the plate?)
Then Jim Leyland reached into his goody bag and pulled out Aubrey Huff to pinch-hit. It was kind of a curious move, with Carlos Guillen also on the bench. But Jason Frasor fell behind after throwing his first two pitches high and outside. So he had to come in with a strike. Oh, he came in, all right. Right down the middle.
Huff attacked the pitch. Is there any other way to say it? He swung like he was trying to break something. And when he connected, Huff knew he crushed it. The picturesque follow-through, the brief pose. We've all seen it before (but from other hitters). How far did that ball go? 20 rows behind the right-field fence?
(And did we mention it began raining at this time? Pretty hard, actually. Pardon me for getting flowery, but it was like the sudden downpour washed away the previous eight innings.)
Take issue with Huff's bat flip, if you'd like. Yeah, it was a showboat move. And if it had been a guy from the other team, a lot of us would be ticked off at him today. But isn't there something to be said for getting caught up in the moment? Especially when you've been waiting to pull your share in this pennant race? This is why the Tigers brought Huff to Detroit. And he knew it.
Act like you've been there before? Isn't that kind of the point? Huff hadn't been.
But that home run tied the game. The Tigers still had to win it. But they were rolling downhill, and the Jays just had to get out of the way. In the tenth, Brian Wolfe couldn't keep it in the strike zone. He struck out Marcus Thames to lead off the inning, but needed seven pitches to do it. Brandon Inge walked on six pitches. Curtis Granderson followed him on base in five pitches. That brought up Avila. Remember what we said about good things happening when he's at-bat?
Avila swung at the first pitch - which was enough to make you pull your hair out, considering Wolfe had trouble throwing strikes - grounding to second base for a likely double-play ball. But Scutaro misplayed the throw to second base, and Inge never stopped running. By the time Edwin Encarnacion ran over to field the ball Scutaro had dropped, it was too late and he didn't even bother with a proper throw.
The game that was a sure loss turned into a win. And the Tigers gave us another moment to remember. This season has been full of them. And it ain't over yet.
Huff and Avila will get the big headlines today, but there's no way the Tigers don't make that comeback without the bullpen. The gang that couldn't pitch straight over the past week threw three shutout innings. Fu-Te Ni, Jeremy Bonderman, Ryan Perry, and Bobby Seay combined to allow only two hits.
Comment of the Night:
it's hard to be optimistic sometimes
but hey, gotta try eh?