"I've never been as choked up as I was yesterday about that kid," Inge said. "He's just got such a bright personality, just a good all-around kid. For me to hit a walk-off, it's kind of special."
Gavin and Inge met during one of Inge's visits to Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. Inge and his wife, Shani, donate money, time and effort there during the season trying to help lift the spirits of kids battling serious illnesses. Each visit tugs at his heart strings, especially now that he's a father. When he met Gavin, however, it touched him enough to bring the boy out to the ballpark and give him a day with the Tigers.
Critically ill but still keeping a positive attitude, Inge said, Gavin spent pregame batting practice with him and met Sean Casey and Todd Jones, among others. Before watching the game from the suites, Gavin gave Inge a hug and a T-shirt with his name on it and the phrase "Never Give Up."
Inge went 0-for-3 with a strikeout Friday night in the Tigers' loss. Considering what kids like Gavin have to go through, however, Inge couldn't beat himself up over it.
"He sat in the suite and we didn't do so well for him," Inge said, "but it's kids like him that make you appreciate everything. It's things like that that make you realize this is a game. It's not life or death. And when the outcome like this comes out, it makes me appreciate stuff like this so much more."
This outcome took a game that included a potential slump-busting night for Craig Monroe, a wild night for Justin Verlander and another offensive splash from a pesky Royals club that lost for just the eighth time in its last 21 games.
"That's one we can't let get away," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "but to their credit, they came back on us."
The Royals sent the game into extra innings with two runs in the ninth off Jones, who suffered his first blown save since his ill-fated eighth-inning appearance June 1 at Cleveland. Back-to-back singles from John Buck and Tony Pena Jr. led off the inning and set up a David DeJesus run-scoring groundout. Mark Grudzielanek tied it with a ground-ball single through the middle.
That erased an advantage Detroit had held for much of the night. After Ryan Raburn's first Major League home run led off the bottom of the first, Monroe followed a Magglio Ordonez double by poking a Jorge De La Rosa pitch down the left-field line.
By ending his 0-for-7 slump, Monroe drove in his first run in two weeks. Two innings later, a Sheffield walk and Ordonez single extended the third for Monroe, who drove the first pitch he saw down the line and just inside the foul pole for a three-run home run, his first homer since June 1.
"We're not gonna forget about him," Leyland said about Monroe, back in an everyday role in left field with Marcus Thames on the disabled list. "We need him and if he can get it going, I think that will be a big plus for us. I think he will."
Verlander has been going well for much of the summer. On this night, however, his stuff was moving so much, it was hard to track for catcher Ivan Rodriguez as well as Royals hitters. Six of Kansas City's first 10 batters struck out, but a pair of wild pitches set up Billy Butler's RBI single before a breaking ball crossed up Rodriguez for a run-scoring passed ball in the third.
Verlander's three wild pitches extended his Major League lead to 15, six more than any other pitcher in the Majors entering Saturday night.
"Normally when you get up like that, Justin's going to put that one away," Leyland said. "But he just couldn't do that tonight for whatever reason. I didn't like what I was smelling there. The velocity went down there all of a sudden pretty consistently. He said he was fine, so that's good news.
"I didn't know if it was just one of those nights where your arm is a little dead or what, but like I said, I didn't like what I was seeing."
The ending had to make him feel a little better. Joakim Soria (1-3) stranded the would-be winning run on second in the ninth with back-to-back strikeouts of Ordonez and Monroe before coming out for his second inning of work. Casey's soft line drive to center put a runner on for Inge, who drove a first-pitch fastball onto the top of the bullpen dugout beyond left field for the first run off Soria in 17 appearances since May 20.
It was Inge's third career walk-off homer, two of them this season, but it's doubtful the other two felt like this.
"It makes you put things in perspective. It really does," Casey said. "I really believe Brandon hit that homer for him.
"Tell Gavin that one's for him."
Indeed, Inge wanted to dedicate the home run to him. But as much as it might touch him, it gave Inge a different perspective in good times and bad.
"After meeting this kid and seeing what he's going through, to be able to hit a home run like this, it makes you enjoy life and enjoy moments like this so much more," Inge said. "The kid right there is having such a tough time, but he's got a great head on his shoulders and he's making it through everything. Hopefully, I brought some joy to him."