Guillen sinks Pirates with walk-off homer

Guillen sinks Pirates with walk-off homer

DETROIT -- Carlos Guillen could feel his right calf tightening early in Saturday's game against Pittsburgh, and it was getting worse as the game progressed.

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Luckily for Guillen, and the Tigers, the second baseman didn't have to do much running late in the game. All he had to do was trot around the bases after hitting one over the right-field fence for a walk-off victory.

Guillen blasted a home run in the 10th inning off Pirates pitcher Brendan Donnelly to propel the Tigers past the Pirates, 4-3, at Comerica Park.

With one swing, Guillen bailed out a hot-and-cold offense. Detroit had recorded 12 hits but had only three runs to show for it before Guillen's game-ending shot.

The Tigers left 11 runners stranded and went just 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Normally, that's not going to get the job done. On Saturday, Guillen's homer let the team throw away those disheartening numbers.

"We missed a lot of opportunities," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We have to start doing a little bit better. We should've had more runs than we did. But it worked out OK."

If Guillen would have recorded a single in the 10th inning, Leyland would have taken him out for a pinch-runner. But that wasn't necessary.

After going ahead, 2-0, in the count, Guillen was able to be selective and wait for his pitch. He got a hold of a fastball and knew right away it was gone.

His numbers at home haven't been staggering this season -- he's hitting just .208 at Comerica and .362 on the road. But his fourth homer of the season couldn't have come at a better time.

"I have to look for a pitch on the inside, trying to track the ball, not trying to do too much, trying to get a strike," Guillen said of being ahead in the count. "I was just trying to make good contact, trying to hit it hard."

Guillen lightly jogged around the bases and was greeted by his teammates at home plate after his homer. But with the Angels' fluke celebration injury that already occurred this season, his teammates were careful not to overdo it, especially with Guillen's tender right leg.

"It was a heck of an at-bat by him, and we were all happy," catcher Gerald Laird said. "We just wanted to make sure he touched the plate healthy, and then we went and got him."

Said right fielder Brennan Boesch: "We took it easy. We let him get to home plate. Then when he hit home plate it was mayhem from there."

The game was a seesaw battle in which the teams exchanged runs in the second inning before Pirates designated hitter Garrett Jones hit a home run off Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman.

From there, Bonderman was solid. He retired the last 12 batters he faced before exiting after seven complete innings. He allowed two runs on six hits with five strikeouts.

It felt like Bonderman's efforts were going to go to waste. The Tigers had no problems getting on base -- tacking eight hits on Pirates ace Paul Maholm -- but they couldn't come up with clutch hits with runners in scoring position.

No Tiger felt the pain more than Laird. With the bases loaded in the second inning, he crushed the ball to deep right-center field, surely to be a bases-clearing knock. But Pirates right fielder Ryan Church sprinted and made the catch, resulting in only one run coming across the plate on the sac fly as Guillen was thrown out at third.

"We hit balls hard all night," Laird said. "We just couldn't get a break. It's one of those things where I thought we could have easily scored seven, eight or nine runs tonight. They played a good defensive game, but we stuck at it and grinded it and just got enough runs to win the game tonight."

The Tigers scored two runs in the seventh inning to take their first lead thanks to an error by first baseman Ryan Doumit. The tallies resulted in Bonderman taking the no-decision in a pitching performance he described as so-so.

"I didn't throw the ball extremely well," Bonderman said. "But we won, and I was able to keep us in the game. The other game I just didn't do any of that. I'm just trying to go out there and give us quality innings and hopefully we will find a way to win at the end."

The Pirates scored a run on Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya in the eighth inning to tie the game, 3-3.

The Tigers' bullpen took care of the rest. Closer Jose Valverde struck out all three batters he faced in the ninth inning. Phil Coke threw the 10th inning and earned the win (4-0) despite allowing a deep fly ball to right field by Andrew McCutchen that had the home crowd holding its breath.

But Boesch made the catch at the warning track to retire the side and pave the way for Guillen's heroics.

"When you win by walk-off, it's always nice," Coke said. "For us to win in that fashion was perfect."

Saturday's victory gives the Tigers the opportunity to go for the series sweep Sunday afternoon. After the game, Laird repeated a goal he thinks is attainable for the Tigers this homestand: He wants to see the team win at least seven of its nine consecutive Interleague home games.

"This is the point where the good teams make their runs," Laird said. "We played good at home, and we are playing three pretty good teams. But they are three pretty good teams I think we should beat. We have a good enough lineup with good enough pitching. I think seven is a good number. Seven or more would be a really good homestand."

Alex DiFilippo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.