"When you start inning one and you know you're going to play hard for nine innings til the 27th out, you have a chance to sneak a game out," manager Jim Leyland said.
He said nothing about all 13 innings, but a reliever renewal and Curtis Granderson's game-winning single took care of the extra innings, earning Detroit a 4-3 comeback win.
It ended up being a much bigger win for Detroit than most would've expected. This was supposed to be the Tigers' stretch to take a breath following their 16-game test against the Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox and Blue Jays. It wasn't even easy for the stadium operations crew, let alone a bullpen that was still smarting from a rough weekend.
"We didn't start out the way we wanted to, for whatever reason," Granderson said. "I'm not sure if it was fatigue from the road trip or whatever. We definitely didn't come out the way we wanted to, but we finally started to pick it up. As a group, we finally got together and said we need to keep this going here."
Nobody on the offensive side seemed to rebound with a stronger finish more than Granderson. He went 5-for-24 on the just-finished road trip to Chicago and Toronto, going 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts over one stretch against Blue Jays pitching. He got out of it on Sunday with a single, walk, sacrifice bunt and two runs scored over his final three at-bats.
Once Granderson got past Devil Rays starter Scott Kazmir, all he did was get on base. His two-out walk off Travis Harper in the seventh started the brief rally that opened the Tigers' scoring. Placido Polanco followed him with a double down the right-field line that became a run-scoring error when Rays right fielder Damon Hollins ran into the wall, stumbled and fell.
That halved Detroit's deficit, but it was back to two runs heading into the ninth. An apparent computer malfunction knocked out four banks of lights, but as long as home plate was well-lit, managers and umpires decided in a conference, they could play through the dim outfield. Two batters later, Granderson was coming up with the potential tying run on base following Carlos Guillen's leadoff walk and Brandon Inge's ensuing single.
The infield came in on Granderson, expecting a bunt. Granderson swung away and nearly knocked out first baseman Ty Wigginton with a sharp bouncer that screamed past him and into right field. Guillen scored and Inge went to third, where he came home on Polanco's slow bouncer that Wigginton fielded but couldn't play into an out anywhere.
Walker regrouped to retire the side in order, including strikeouts of Magglio Ordonez and Marcus Thames. From there, it was up to the bullpens, which should've given Detroit an advantage if not for what happened in Toronto.
Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney combined for seven batters faced, no outs and seven runs charged in the Blue Jays' eight-run eighth inning on Friday night. Jones came back to save Saturday's win, though not without putting the potential tying run on base. Rodney hadn't pitched since then, having been sat to work out a flaw in his mechanics to keep his pitching arm in sync with his delivery.
"When those guys slip up once in a while, it's so noticeable," Leyland said. "They're never really appreciated the way they need to be appreciated."
Rodney entered in the ninth inning assigned to keep the deficit at two. Once the Tigers tied it, he was on long duty. The way he was pitching with his adjustment, scattering a single and a walk in a season-high three innings, he wanted as many innings as he could get.
"It was just a little thing I was doing in the bullpen," he said. "I feel great, the same as when I started this year."
Leyland kept asking if he could go one more, and Rodney kept saying yes. Once he finished the 11th, there was no question. Enter Jones, who returned to Detroit on Sunday night expecting to hear the reaction to his struggles over the last week and a half.
"It's been a hard 10 days," he said. "The fans have actually been very supportive, the fans that are here. I'm sure they're pretty disappointed with me, and I am, too."
Jones gave up a single leading off the 12th, then Rocco Baldelli launched a drive to deep left-center that eventually died at the warning track and made Jones glad he was pitching at home. He retired Toby Hall to end the threat, then sent down the side in order in the 13th.
It became a battle to see which side would make a mistake first, and Tampa Bay blinked. After two scoreless innings from Brian Meadows in which two Tigers drives died at the track, Detroit's game-winning rally in the 13th started with a routine ground ball from Inge. Shortstop Julio Lugo's throw ended up sailing over Wigginton and nearly into the photo well, putting Inge on second.
Granderson fell behind in the count, 0-2, but stayed alive until getting a pitch he could slap through the middle.
"Right away, I just didn't want to let a good pitch by," Granderson said. "He was going to try to get ahead with something. I definitely didn't want to miss that pitch, because I felt that was going to be the best pitch of the at-bat. I ended up fouling off, and then he started making very good pitches. Finally, [I] got one in the zone I was able to put it in play."
Inge scored and Granderson was mobbed between the mound and third base. The lights were back on.
"Momentum has been switching in our favor a lot," Granderson said. "We know there's always going to be a chance at the end. Just hopefully we can capitalize on the opportunities when they come up."