"He looked like he was mad at me for not picking him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after Bonderman's eight scoreless innings helped Detroit salvaged a game this weekend with a 1-0 win over the Twins at Comerica Park. "He got some votes tonight, I would think."
Bonderman wasn't angry. In fact, he told Leyland before the game that he respected him for selecting Johan Santana over him for the final spot on the pitching staff. Santana was sixth in player balloting. Bonderman was seventh.
Except for cases where a team needed to have a representative, Leyland's selections went down the line according to the player ballot. That left Bonderman on the five-man list for Final Vote, where the player with the most online ballots cast by Thursday wins the final spot on the roster.
Between Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima's following in Japan and Twins reliever Pat Neshek's following online, Bonderman faces a tough candidacy. But with Sunday's performance, he made quite an addition to his resume. Curtis Granderson, who has had no place on the ballot, lent a hand to Bonderman's case.
Bonderman went unbeaten through his first 13 starts this season, but his year really had split in two. He took no-decisions in his first five outings, four of them quality starts in low-scoring duels. He rolled off eight consecutive wins from April 30 into late June in no small part because the Tigers scored at least eight runs in each of them. Though he had strong outings during the stretch, he was a statistically a better pitcher when he wasn't winning.
This was a return to the early-season form, only this time he got a win out of it.
"That's why this game is so fun," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. Any given day, you can come out and give up five and the team scores 10 and you get a win. There's other games where you can come out and do what we did tonight, be in a pitching matchup. I'd rather be in a pitching matchup any day of the week, because every pitch counts. Every pitch can decide the game."
While Twins starter Scott Baker retired the side in order through three innings, Bonderman gave up five hits in the same span. However, he was establishing the game plan that would eventually take over the game. He struck out the side in the first inning, all on breaking balls, then stranded two in the third by inducing Justin Morneau to swing at a ball in the dirt.
That started Bonderman on a roll of his own. He racked up four strikeouts in a seven-batter span on his way to retiring 16 of the final 17 batters he faced.
"He had an extra day's rest," Leyland said. "It was a cool night. He was strong, and I think that helped him. I really believe in stuff like that."
The only blemish once Bonderman started putting up one out after another was a Justin Morneau double off the wall in right-center field. Thanks to one of the better plays in center field in the brief history of Comerica Park, it wasn't a blemish that came back to haunt him.
One batter before Morneau's drive deep into the gap, Michael Cuddyer had centered a similar ball that sent Granderson running. Most of the Tigers who saw it expected it to fall into the gap, too.
"The wind was blowing pretty much dead out to right field," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "That ball started out pretty much right in his grasp and then went further towards right field. It was near impossible for him to gain ground on that because the ball was going away from him so much."
Leyland and Bonderman saw the same thing. Bonderman expected the ball to go to the wall. At first, so did Granderson.
"It mirrored the same ball he hit [Saturday]," Granderson said. "I was like, 'OK, not again. He's pushing it the same way. Let's see if we can try to get to it.' Sure enough, I closed it up and kept it in my glove before I hit the ground."
Said Bonderman: "When he left his feet and caught it, I was pretty much in shock. I was just like, 'Wow.' That's one of those plays that wins games for you."
The way Bonderman saw it, that play saved a run. It kept him in long enough to Thames to slug him out.
While Bonderman held Minnesota's resurgent offense in check for the first time all weekend, Baker (2-3) efficiently put away Detroit's hitters in order. He scattered two hits through his first 7 2/3 innings with the kind of efficiency the Tigers had seen only from Toronto's Roy Halladay this season. He needed just 24 pitches over his first three innings and 73 pitches for his first seven.
"We thought we had some pitches to hit, and we hit them early," Leyland said. "We just didn't hit them very hard."
When Granderson tripled leading off the fourth, Baker methodically erased the threat with two uncharacteristic plays from Detroit hitters. He induced Placido Polanco to chase an off-speed pitch off the plate, just Polanco's 15th strikeout of the season, then fired a high fastball for a first-pitch popout from Sean Casey. He escaped with a Magglio Ordonez groundout.
Baker was at 76 pitches through two outs in the eighth inning. His 77th pitch was the deciding one. Thames lined the first pitch he saw from Baker over the left-field fence for his eighth home run of the season.
"We live and die for the most part when he hit it over the fence," Leyland said. "When he pitch well, we have a chance to win. We're not the same type club as Minnesota. We really can't play that way very much, to be honest. We usually whack it, and when we whack it good and pitch good, we win."
They hadn't done much of that recently. But then, Bonderman hadn't had a game like this recently, either. If he ends up an All-Star, it will have been a very good time for one.
One game doesn't make an All-Star, but it could sure help.
"He got some votes tonight, I would think," Leyland said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less