Tigers go small-ball for win

Tigers go small-ball for win

TORONTO -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Sunday morning he wanted to push his team offensively. He doesn't have to worry about doing it with his catcher. Ivan Rodriguez pushes himself.

Rodriguez missed his chance at a big hit once Sunday afternoon. He wasn't going to miss it again. Not only did he convert his second chance with his bases-clearing double in the fourth, but he added a two-run homer to boot, sealing Detroit's 10-5 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Pudge's RBIs are coming in bunches. Of his 30 RBIs on the season, half of them have come in three games. Though Sunday marked his third five-RBI effort this year, it was his first against a team other than the Royals.

"RBIs sometimes come in a streak," he said. "I hope I can get many, many more."

In an ideal setting, Rodriguez wouldn't have played Sunday. Leyland wanted to rest him at least once in the three-game series, but settled on DH-ing him Saturday. He might still have been tempted to sit him Sunday, but with second hitter Placido Polanco and cleanup man Magglio Ordonez given the day off, Leyland needed some run production.

Between Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen, he had plenty of it.

Six other Tigers entered Sunday with more RBIs than Rodriguez, though he bats third in the lineup. Yet his big games have become routine enough that he doesn't surprise with a five-run game. Rodriguez himself expects run production. That's why the frustration was so evident when he missed a chance at one.

Detroit's aggressiveness manufactured a run in the opening inning. Omar Infante singled and advanced to third on a hit-and-run play on Rodriguez's bouncer through the right side, setting up Guillen's sacrifice fly. Jays starter Ty Taubenheim retired 12 of 14 hitters before the Tigers struck again in the fifth.

Ramon Santiago ended his 0-for-14 slump with a well-placed bunt between the pitcher's mound and first base with one out. He reached third on another hit-and-run single, this one from Curtis Granderson, before Infante's four-pitch walk loaded the bases.

Rodriguez struck out on three pitches and wore it on his expression on his way back to the dugout. He brightened a few pitches later.

"I got mad," he said, "because my job is to bring at least one run in. It was early in the game and Carlos Guillen backed me up. That's the best thing about when you have a good team. If I don't do it, the guy behind me is going to do it."

Guillen's two-run single to right-center field put the Tigers ahead and knocked Taubenheim out of the game. Rodriguez's next two at-bats would break it open.

Three walks off two different Blue Jays relievers and an Infante RBI single off another brought up Rodriguez in the sixth with the bases loaded again. Rodriguez responded with a three-run gapper off Vinnie Chulk to the fence in left-center field for an 8-2 lead.

Fifteen of the Tigers' 22 runs this trip entering Sunday had come on homers, including every run in Saturday's 5-3 win. Guillen and Rodriguez provided Detroit's first multi-run hits that weren't home runs since a June 1 win over the Yankees.

"You put pressure on the other team," Guillen said, "and good things can happen."

It would've marked Detroit's first win without a homer since June 1 if not for Pudge's next at-bat. The lead was down to 8-5 in the eighth, but Santiago was on base again with another infield hit. Jason Frasor entered and put Rodriguez in an 0-2 hole, but Pudge stayed alive before hitting Frasor's 10th pitch into the left-center field seats for his fifth home run of the season.

"He threw me some tough pitches," Rodriguez said. "I'll tell you what, I took two good breaking balls in the dirt. I could've swung, but I just make some adjustments and stayed back. Even the one that I hit, it was a good breaking ball, but I stayed back a little longer."

Tigers starter Nate Robertson (6-3) scattered two runs through five innings, one of them on a Bengie Molina home run, before Troy Glaus and Shea Hillenbrand knocked out the left-hander with back-to-back homers to virtually the same spot in left field leading off the sixth. Jason Grilli stranded two runners in the sixth before the Blue Jays put the potential tying run at the plate with no outs in the seventh.

Joel Zumaya needed just seven pitches to retire the side, then went the rest of the way for his first Major League save.

With that, the Tigers salvaged a 3-3 record out of a road trip that began with back-to-back losses to the White Sox and included a series-opening loss here thanks to an eight-run eighth inning. They also guaranteed a return home holding onto the Majors' best record entering a four-game series against Tampa Bay.

"You just have to keep playing," Leyland said. "You can't get too up if you come back and win one. You can't get too down if you let one get away."

Rodriguez let one winning hit get away. He wasn't going to let another.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.