Inge's walk-off finishes off Twins

Inge's walk-off finishes off Twins

DETROIT -- It wasn't the much-anticipated matchup of Jeremy Bonderman and Johan Santana. It was nonetheless a duel, even if Mike Maroth wasn't thinking about it.

Maroth didn't want to hear about matching up with Santana leading up to Sunday's series finale because he knew the pitcher he needed to focus on was himself. Between Santana's usual dominance against Detroit and Maroth's struggles to find his old form this year, it wasn't a good matchup to think about.

The pair didn't trade many zeros, but Maroth pitched Santana to a draw. The deciding matchup instead went to Brandon Inge, whose walk-off homer off Jesse Crain leading off the bottom of the ninth salvaged a win for the Tigers out of the series with a 4-3 victory over the Twins at Comerica Park.

Santana remained 10-2 for his career against the Tigers and 3-1 at Comerica Park, but the Tigers are now 4-3 in Santana's starts at Detroit. All of those wins have been by two runs or less.

"I'm sure most people thought we were swept," manager Jim Leyland said. "But that's why baseball's such a great game."

Maroth didn't have to deal with Santana's numbers against Detroit as much as his own numbers versus the Twins. He was 3-9 for his career against Minnesota with a 4.73 ERA, including 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA and just three quality starts in 10 outings since the start of the 2004 season.

His 2007 season has been more about getting hitters out on any team. Between his 29 hits allowed over 21 1/3 innings and his 10 walks, five of them in his last start, he wasn't happy with the way he was pitching despite a 2-0 record. He was giving his team a chance to win, but largely because the Tigers scored so many runs behind him.

That clearly wasn't going to happen Sunday, but he wanted to improve regardless.

"I think I was fighting myself a little bit last time out," Maroth said. "I was jumping out at the plate. I was doing a lot of things that I shouldn't be doing. I was able to work on the side with [pitching coach] Chuck [Hernandez]. We changed up a few things, tried to work on staying back, and I brought it today."

More than anything, he wanted to get ahead in counts and work deeper into the game. He had a big lead last Monday at Anaheim but fell an out shy of qualifying for the win. He still faced trouble this time out, but it wasn't as often, and it wasn't as easy to convert.

Though the Twins managed hits, five of them for extra bases, Maroth's outs were quick. He needed just nine pitches in the second, eight pitches in the third, and induced eight of his outs in three pitches or fewer.

"I had a pretty good outing today," Maroth said. "Was able to get deeper into the game. I hadn't been able to do that so far this year. Threw a lot more strikes, got ahead of hitters, things that I need to do to be successful."

Considering the opposing pitcher, the Tigers needed that for any chance to be successful. But while Maroth finished with very similar numbers to Santana, the Tigers felt much better about hanging them on the Cy Young winner.

All three Tigers runs off Santana came on home runs, the first time Santana had ever given up multiple homers to the Tigers. Magglio Ordonez gave Detroit the early lead with a two-run, opposite-field homer in the third inning, then Marcus Thames' leadoff homer in the fourth put the Tigers ahead again. Both came off Santana sliders.

Many at-bats that didn't result in anything, however, were just as impressive, mainly because they were long. All three of Santana's walks were on full counts, including a 10-pitch at-bat from Ordonez in the first inning. Inge fouled off three balls on a 1-2 count to stay alive for a second-inning single, then fouled off two more to battle out of an 0-2 hole for a walk in the fourth. Another 0-2 count turned into a one-out single after Inge stayed alive with two more fouls.

"They battled every single at-bat," Santana said, "made me throw a lot of pitches, and put good at-bats every time that I was out there. They made me work a lot today. We were trying to stay on the game plan that we had, made a couple mistakes, a few pitches, a couple sliders that didn't break. They took advantage of that."

Those battles earned Inge, who entered the day batting .122, just his fourth multihit game of the season. His biggest at-bat came long after Santana had left.

Jesse Crain escaped the eighth inning with a strikeout-throwout double play after being down on a 3-0 count to Thames. He opened the bottom of the ninth by falling behind again on Inge, and he paid for it.

"He timed a fastball right," Crain said. "It was a 3-1 count. He hit it far enough just to get it out."

Barely. The fly ball took left fielder Jason Kubel backpedaling before finally running into the fence. From there, he turned and watched the ball land in the Tigers bullpen.

"It was like the 'Major League' movie where you say, 'It's too high,'" Inge joked. "I'm sitting underneath of it just blowing for it to get out. Vance Wilson said he was trying to push the wall in."

If it had landed on the track, that would've been just the way the rest of Inge's season has gone.

"I looked at the sweet spot on my bat," he said, "and I have a ton of marks on it, which is telling me that I'm hitting it where I'm supposed to. Maybe I'm popping it up. Maybe I'm hitting them in the ground, but I'm sweet-spotting the bat, which is half of it. And the last three or four games, I've felt terrible, like I didn't even know what I was doing up there. That's why this game is amazing, good and bad."

Maroth could relate, if only he thought about Santana. He didn't get a victory out of it, but Maroth's best performance of the season essentially accomplished what he needed to nullify a Cy Young winner.

"You guys can tell the fans that," he said. "For me, it's [a goal] to go out there and do what I'm capable of doing on the pitching mound. Keep it simple."

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