It was a punctuation mark on a weekend set that saw the Tigers trail for all of half an inning after Chris Duncan's mammoth go-ahead homer in the top of the fifth. Detroit scored 28 runs in the series, more than in any other series this year, and they held Albert Pujols to two RBIs for the weekend. But they did not change the outcome of the Fall Classic.
"They had the last laugh," Leyland said Sunday afternoon. "They got the big ring and we got the second-best ring. We don't get a ring for winning these three games."
Instead, they get some momentum. After heading home Thursday night coming off a doubleheader sweep and three losses out of a four-game set at Boston, the Tigers head into Monday's off-day tied for first place in the American League Central with the Indians, who visit Detroit next weekend.
Among the pitchers the Indians will have to face that weekend is Justin Verlander, whose eight innings Sunday followed up his dominant performance last Tuesday in the Tigers' only win at Fenway Park and earned him his fourth straight win. His form wasn't exactly the same, but it wasn't far off.
His fastball was sitting closer to 94 mph on the radar gun Sunday more often than the 99 mph mark he was hitting regularly last Tuesday in Boston, but he was both effective at mixing his pitches and efficient in earning his outs. He needed just nine pitches to get through the first inning in order, and he didn't top the 100-pitch mark until his final inning.
"You've got to be careful that you don't get spoiled," Leyland said. "He's still a young pitcher. There might be some ups and downs yet, but when he takes his quality stuff out there and he's throwing strikes, then he's got a chance to beat you. He did that today."
Said Verlander: "It's nice, but at the same time, I expect myself to do that. I expect to be able to go out and give our team a chance."
Until the fifth, the only run Verlander had allowed came from Tigers killer Yadier Molina, who doubled and scored in the third. Then came Duncan, who battled out of an 0-2 count to work a nine-pitch at-bat that included three two-strike foul balls before getting the fastball he wanted and taking it into rare territory.
Center fielder Curtis Granderson watched it sail over his head and readied in front of the fence for the carom, only to realize there was none. Duncan became the first player in two years to homer over the center-field fence, a 420-foot shot from home plate.
"I didn't think it was going to go out," Granderson said. "When it went over, I said, 'Wow.' That was a lot of pop."
Only 23 home-run balls have gone out there in Comerica Park's eight-year history. Inge and White Sox slugger Paul Konerko were the last to do it on Sept. 26, 2005.
"It's one of those things where you've got to tip your cap," Verlander said. "It's 3-2, he knows a fastball's coming. I'm going down and away. I wasn't going to give him a chance to pull it, where it's easy to hit a home run."
With that, the Cardinals had their first lead of the series. It didn't last long.
St. Louis starter Brad Thompson had recovered from a leadoff triple from Granderson to retire 13 of Detroit's next 15 batters. After giving up a one-out single to Mike Rabelo, Thompson (2-1) fell behind in the count before firing a fastball over the plate to Inge, who hit it into the left-field seats.
A rough sixth inning for center fielder Jim Edmonds then put the game just about out of reach. Magglio Ordonez hit a blooper that Edmonds seemingly didn't read right away before it fell in front of him. A four-pitch walk to Craig Monroe knocked out Thompson, then Sean Casey greeted reliever Tyler Johnson by blasting a deep fly ball over Edmonds' head to score both runners before Rabelo singled him in.
"The thing was, we knew Verlander was throwing the ball real well," Gary Sheffield said. "The way Verlander was throwing, we knew all we had to do was tack on a couple more and we'd win the game."
Verlander (5-1) recovered to retire the next 10 St. Louis batters in order and didn't allow another base hit. The Cardinals scored one and put the tying run on deck in the ninth, but when Duncan came back up with two outs, Leyland went to Bobby Seay. With a five-pitch strikeout, Seay earned his first Major League save.
The Tigers earned nothing in relation to the World Series. They were all aware of it, which can only help in terms of a return trip.
"In my opinion, they're a different ballclub than when Detroit played them in the World Series," Seay said. "And I think we are, too. I could say it's somewhat satisfying, but it doesn't really matter. It's a new year. There's going to be a World Series champion this year, and I think that's what we're all aiming for."