Was this the most exciting win of the season? Early on, there was despair, as Armando Galarraga looked like someone who hadn't pitched for a couple of weeks, whose right elbow might still be bothering him a bit. The Rays jumped on him early for a 4-1 lead, powered by Evan Longoria's three-run homer.
The Tigers cut the lead to 4-3, thanks to a Carlos Guillen two-run triple. (Guillen's batting line this season versus James Shields this season: .714/.714/1.857 with two homers and six RBIs.) Tampa tacked on two more runs in the third inning, and Jim Leyland took Galarraga out before the deficit became insurmountable.
Detroit tied the game in the seventh, with a monstrous two-run homer from Alex Avila and RBI single from Placido Polanco. (One of the Tigers' best offensive plays in this series is pinch-running Wilkin Ramirez on second base. That kid rounds the bases fast. And as far as Avila's homer, that thing might have shown up on radar, had the Tropicana Field roof not contained it.)
Then some unlikely heroes came through when called upon in the eighth. With the bases loaded and one out, pinch-hitter Marcus Thames smacked a RBI single. And with Clete Thomas pinch-running for Magglio Ordonez on third base, Leyland pushed it further by calling for a squeeze play. Adam Everett laid it down to bring in Thomas, and Detroit had a two-run lead.
The Rays threatened to tie the score in their half of the inning, as Zach Miner gave up singles to his first two batters. But when he needed it, Miner got the ground ball he needed, getting Gregg Zaun to hit into a double-play.
Right now, these Tigers have the look of a team that can beat you in several different ways. They can beat you with power, they can beat you with speed, and they will almost certainly beat you with pitching. Leyland seemed to sneer at the idea of bringing up more players in September (except in regards to the bullpen), but this expanded roster gives him many options. And last night, he used just about every one of them.
All of a sudden, the team that couldn't win on the road has won two against the defending American League champions. In September, during a pennant race, when it counts most.
[Apologies for the late recap. The morning got away from me a bit. Blame the holiday?]
The Tigers' bullpen did a fantastic job taking over for Galarraga, pitching almost seven innings of scoreless baseball, and giving up just four hits. Perhaps most notable among the six relievers used was Jeremy Bonderman, pitching in the majors for the first time since early June. Bondo looked pretty good, striking out two batters in his 1.2 innings.
And Brandon Lyon, taking over as closer for the fatigued Fernando Rodney, showed Tigers fans what a 1-2-3 ninth inning looks like. You mean a closer can get a save without spiking our blood pressure?
Comment of the Night:
And your runner-up, because this game was a duel of rotating pitchers.