Whether or not another hotly contested call in the game made a difference is up for debate.
Again, Leyland saw the wind, felt the heat and feared high-scoring conditions. However, he also saw the pitching matchup and thought this could be a battle. Yet on a day when rookie pitchers Justin Verlander and Carlos Marmol had their showdown, the pitcher who lasted longer and gave up fewer hits still surrendered more damage.
As Verlander stood in the batter's box Saturday afternoon, watching the other viewpoint of the pitcher-batter matchup, he realized something he had never noticed from the mound, something that Rodney later came to believe.
"I didn't realize how close the pitcher is," Verlander said. "I got up there and thought, 'He's like 10 feet away.'"
That was in the top of the second inning, when Verlander's first Major League at-bat ended in an opposite-field fly out that advanced Brandon Inge following his one-out double. At that point, Verlander was trying to add on to a 3-0 lead the Tigers had built five batters into the game with the help of Carlos Guillen's two-run homer.
A half-inning later, Verlander was within inches of watching the lead vanish. The first three batters slapped base hits, including a John Mabry double to the right-field wall and a Ronny Cedeno RBI single that put runners at the corners. Henry Blanco, who homered and drove in two runs Friday off Nate Robertson, had a 2-0 count before hitting what looked like a potential double down the left-field line.
Third-base umpire Bill Welke ruled the ball foul. Replays seemed to suggest the ball hit part of the line. Verlander saw it off the bat and thought it was close; third baseman Inge saw it and thought it was foul.
After Cubs manager Dusty Baker finished arguing, Leyland went out to ensure his pitcher focused on the next pitch.
"He said to focus on the pitches instead of the results," Verlander said.
The results improved from there. Blanco lined a 2-2 pitch to shortstop Guillen for the first out, then Marmol hit a 97-mph fastball to start an inning-ending double play.
Verlander was well aware of the situation presented by having the pitcher batting.
"In the American League, that guy might've been a .300 hitter with 20 home runs," he said.
Though Marmol, the 23-year-old Dominican, added to his deficit with Magglio Ordonez's RBI single in the third, he allowed just one more hit after that over his final 13 batters. Verlander, the 23-year-old Virginia native, continued to work out of trouble. He again retired Marmol in a key situation, leaving runners at the corners in the fourth.
"I was up in the zone all night," Verlander said. "I couldn't get the ball down. Thankfully, I was able to get some outs with the ball up."
"[Jim Leyland] told me I'm hitting, and I didn't believe him."
-- Tigers reliever|
Not until a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Tony Womack that put the potential tying run on base did the Cubs chase Verlander. That brought them Wilfredo Ledezma to face the left-handed-hitting Juan Pierre. Ledezma moved ahead quickly before jamming Pierre to end an eight-pitch at-bat with a weak pop to third.
Ledezma, called up earlier this week to become the team's second lefty reliever, stayed on to retire the side in the seventh. That allowed Verlander (8-4) to become Detroit's second eight-game winner despite nine hits and three walks over 5 2/3 innings.
"A tremendous job by Ledezma," Leyland said. "What a pick-me-up that was."
While Marmol ended two innings at the plate with runners on base, Verlander advanced runners in both of his at-bats -- once with the fly ball, another with a sacrifice bunt. The Tigers didn't use a pinch-hitter until the eighth, when a call that didn't go their way turned out to be moot.
Ordonez and Guillen hit back-to-back one-out singles before Infante, batting for Ledezma, hit a drive to deep left off Bob Howry. The ball hit off the top of the left-field wall and then off the basket before bouncing back into play. Infante ended up on third base, where the umpires left him. Leyland argued the call to no avail. On the next pitch, Chris Shelton singled in Infante to pretty much seal the game.
The next time the pitcher's spot came up in the ninth, up came Rodney, who had pitched the bottom of the eighth. He hadn't hit in a game, he said, since he played softball in the Dominican eight or nine years ago.
"[Leyland] told me I'm hitting," Rodney said, "and I didn't believe him."
He wanted to borrow Ordonez's bat, but he couldn't find one, so Ramon Santiago handed him one of his. Rodney swung big and missed at the first pitch, but he ended up slapping a 1-2 pitch back to the mound. He stopped running about halfway to first base, knowing he'd need that energy for the ninth.
"That tires you out," Rodney said.
More important to Leyland, he finished off the other side, too.