Monroe's slam sends Tigers to win

Monroe's slam sends Tigers to win

BALTIMORE -- The conditions weren't the greatest when Craig Monroe walked to the plate with two outs in the top of the 12th inning Wednesday night.

The rain that began late in the game kept growing harder, the temperature had dropped into the mid-40s with wind blowing around the field and making those fans left at Oriole Park at Camden Yards very cold. Monroe said later that since the bases were loaded, he just wanted to do something to drive in a few runs and give the Tigers a win.

Monroe got his wish -- and then some. The left fielder blasted a grand slam off Kurt Birkins to help the Tigers pull out a 4-1 victory over the Orioles in the finale of a three-game series.

Monroe said he enjoys getting the chance to bat in clutch situations. He came up with some clutch homers last year as the Tigers (5-3) made it to the World Series, and he did it again on this night, driving the 1-1 pitch from Birkins far over the center-field fence. The 416-foot shot broke a scoreless tie and gave the Tigers another tough win in a 3-hour, 42-minute marathon.

"I was able to relax, [and] I took a short, compact swing," Monroe said. "I was hoping to get a good pitch and a good swing. I knew I hit it good."

"I got in there, which was the important thing," Birkins said of his season debut. "I got my feet wet, although I could've hoped for something a little bit better. I threw strikes, and that's what I wanted to do. I don't want to walk guys and get guys on base. I threw one too many changeups, I guess, and left it a little bit up. He's not going to let that go."

Monroe hit 28 homers last year, but this was his first of this season. He went 3-for-6, the only Tigers batter to get three hits in the win, and brought his season RBI total to seven.

"I had some pretty good at-bats," Monroe said. "You [just] keep battling and you keep giving yourself a chance."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said hits like this came often from Monroe last year, and he thinks the outfielder now is more comfortable in these situations.

"I think he matured a lot last year," Leyland said. "He got a lot of huge hits last year. He got the big hit tonight. That's a big confidence thing."

The homer ended a long night of frustration for the Tigers, who left runners in scoring position in the second, third, fifth, eighth and 11th, unable to get the key hit. They stranded 13 runners overall.

But Detroit finally broke through in the 12th, manufacturing a rally against Birkins (0-1), who was making his first appearance since being called up a few days ago. Ivan Rodriguez led off with a single, and Magglio Ordonez kept the rally alive with a two-out infield single.

Birkins then walked Carlos Guillen to load the bases, bringing up Monroe.

The Tigers, however, were unable to capitalize on another fine effort from starter Justin Verlander. He gave up three hits in seven shutout innings. The right-hander struck out five and walked three in his 107-pitch effort. He hasn't allowed an earned run in the 13 innings he's pitched this season.

Despite his good pitching, Verlander earned his second no-decision in two starts. But that doesn't bother him.

"It's not an issue," Verlander said. "I did all I could do to keep our team in the game. As long as the team wins, it doesn't matter to me."

Fernando Rodney struck out three and blanked the Orioles in the eighth and ninth. Wilfredo Ledezma (1-0) got the win with two shutout innings of relief, stopping the Orioles (3-6) in the 10th and 11th.

The Orioles only had six hits, but they still gave the Tigers a few scares. The biggest one came in the 11th inning, when Kevin Millar hit a long two-out blast that Monroe ran through the rain to catch in front of the foul pole in left field.

Initially, it looked like the ball was headed out of the park and that the wind may have knocked it down, but Monroe said the ball just didn't have enough power to get out.

The Orioles pushed across one run off Bobby Seay in the 12th. Corey Patterson doubled to start the inning, and he later scored on a Seay balk. Melvin Mora doubled with two outs, and Todd Jones came on to get the final out for his fifth save. He's earned a save in each of Detroit's wins, and his four-pitch effort ended a long night.

"It was a real tough game," Leyland said. "We just kept grinding it out, trying to get the big blow. Sooner or later it was going to come from one of the teams, and fortunately it came for us."

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.