The Tigers head into a three-game series with the A's having won seven of their last eight games, tying their best stretch of the season. They're within two games of .500 for the first time since they went into Oakland for the last weekend of July. They lost 11 of their next 14 from that point, culminating with three losses in a four-game set at Toronto.
"It feels like forever ago," catcher Vance Wilson said of that last Blue Jays series. "The funny thing is [that] we're playing well, but it's a little frustrating that we could've swept Boston."
That's how confident the Tigers feel right now, that they should've swept the defending World Series champions.
"Confidence is the key to baseball," Brandon Inge said. "You can have all the athleticism in the world, but if you're confident in what you're doing, you're going to win ballgames. You're going to put up numbers."
The Tigers didn't have to wait long for the numbers to pile up on Sunday. A week and a half after Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan earned his first Major League victory against the Tigers in Toronto, Detroit made his first big-league loss a memorable one.
Beginning with an Inge single up the middle, six consecutive Tigers reached base safely and scored after McGowan retired Placido Polanco to lead off the bottom of the first inning. Pena, recalled from Triple-A Toledo on Wednesday, powered his third home run of the series, an opposite-field shot off a pitch low and away.
"It just seemed like it snowballed from there," manager Alan Trammell said. "Momentum was on our side."
Two hits, a sacrifice fly, an error and a walk later, Inge finished off the opening damage with a two-run single. Detroit sent 12 batters to the plate and tied its season high for runs in an inning. It marked the Tigers' largest first-inning outburst since they scored eight against the Angels on July 30, 1996, at Tiger Stadium.
"He threw some good pitches," Inge said of McGowan. "There's going to be days like that in baseball, and he just happened to have one of those. He stuck it to us in [Toronto], and he didn't throw much different. We just didn't get the hits we needed to. That's the way it goes sometimes."
McGowan (1-1) survived the early barrage and lasted a few more innings after that. Unlike other games in which the Tigers have scored big early, however, they added on, starting with Monroe's second-inning homer and continuing with RBI singles from Polanco and Inge in the fifth.
"When we have a big lead, I have certain things that I've been taught, that you don't rub it in," Trammell said. "But you still play the game."
As tough of a spot as McGowan was in, Tigers starter Sean Douglass faced a whole different challenge after retiring the side in order in the top of the first. Douglass had to keep putting up clean innings without the motivation of a close game. Considering the Tigers' infamous fifth inning in a game at Texas last year, when they scored eight in the top half and gave up 10 in the bottom, they didn't need to be reminded.
"When you know you have a big lead, sometimes it's hard to have your concentration there like it's a 0-0 game," Douglass said. "You still have to make your quality pitches. You can't let that team get back into the game. When you get a big lead, guys get up there and they just want to hit home runs. If you make a bad pitch, the way they're swinging, you can get into some trouble quick."
Any semblance of trouble for Douglass (5-2) didn't come until the Tigers had a two-touchdown lead. He took a four-hit shutout into the seventh inning before the Blue Jays put up six consecutive hits and five runs off Douglass and reliever Roman Colon. Corey Koskie hit a solo homer before Eric Hinske added a two-run blast.
"Sean did a great job, no question about it," Trammell said. "It's difficult in that situation, when the score's 15-0 and you're trying to throw strikes. He was at 95 [pitches] going into the seventh, so we knew seven [innings] was going to be it. He just couldn't get out of there. He threw strikes and they hit it."
Douglass was not going to complain about a big lead.
"Score as many runs as you can," he said. "I'll find a way to get loose if you guys score runs."
The Tigers are finding no shortage of ways to succeed these days. A week that began with a three-run ninth inning for a walk-off victory ended with a seven-run first inning for a relative cakewalk. Detroit put up its highest run total since May 27, 2004, at Kansas City, when Pena had his six-hit game. The Royals avenged that loss with a 26-5 rout in Detroit last September.
Everything turns around, including a rough series against Toronto.
"In Toronto, it seemed like we didn't have that fire, the desire to really go out there and win every single day -- put runs up, play defense, do the things it takes to win ballgames," Inge said. "Now, we took two out of three from Boston and we're on top of the world. It told us we can beat any team in this league."