Flu, Yanks not too much for Tigers

Flu, Yanks not too much for Tigers

NEW YORK -- The flu-ridden Tigers aren't quite on their death bed. On the field Thursday, they couldn't have looked much better.

"I feel good," Carlos Guillen said, "after hitting a grand slam."

Guillen wasn't one of the worst cases; there were plenty who were further under the weather than him. But on Thursday night, the Tigers were all over Mike Mussina. Guillen's first-inning slam powered a six-run onslaught against him before Ivan Rodriguez's seventh-inning solo homer off Ron Villone capped an 8-5 win over the Yankees.

The win put the Tigers back alone on top of the American League Central. They moved a half-game ahead of the Indians, who were idle Thursday.

Plenty of Tigers looked like they should be idle. Though Placido Polanco was the only Tigers starter left out of the lineup with the famous flu virus that has worked its way through Detroit's clubhouse, he was the most severe of many cases. Rodriguez said he felt awful Thursday morning, but a barrage of medicine had him feeling well enough to return.

He wasn't the only one on a regimen. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said the Tigers did not run through all their medicine and antibiotics, but they had to restock.

"It's unbelievable," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "They should quarantine this place."

Actually, they did. The Yankees medical staff put up a sign in the home clubhouse asking their players to avoid unnecessary contact with the Tigers and their "medical issues."

Guillen, for his part, said he felt pretty good. He was seen carrying a carton of orange juice and a glass around the clubhouse before batting practice in the afternoon, but he said he normally drinks a lot of juice.

"Everybody has a bit of the flu," Guillen said. "It's part of life: You get sick. I never had it as bad as those guys, just a little bit."

Guillen's big remedy wasn't his health, but an adjustment in his approach at the plate. He worked on hitting the ball with more authority, and the move paid off.

Inge and Magglio Ordonez added RBI singles in the second inning before three straight singles plated Guillen in Mussina's fifth and final inning. The seven runs tied the Tigers' highest total off Mussina in his 17-year career, though one was unearned.

"You don't play at 100 percent [health] in this game," Guillen said. "You go out there and try to do the best you can, try to do your job."

For Justin Verlander, his best was very impressive under the circumstances.

When this road trip began, Verlander wasn't immediately on it. He was sick enough Sunday that the club sent him home and had him travel separately to Cleveland to try to prevent the virus from spreading on the team plane.

"I was better in two days," Verlander said. "I couldn't do anything."

The containment strategy clearly didn't work, but his game plan against the Yankees' lineup generally did. He wasn't efficient, but that's the kind of labor New York's hitters can draw out of a pitcher. He threw his 100th pitch to the second hitter of the fifth inning, but he lasted for 119 pitches -- one short of his season high -- before leaving after a one-out single in the sixth.

"That's a lineup that's real tough on a pitcher and real tough on a manager," manager Jim Leyland said.

Yet Hideki Matsui's first-inning single and Bobby Abreu's two-run homer in the third was the extent of the damage off Verlander (13-4), who beat the Yankees for the first time in his young career. When the Yankees warned against unnecessary contact, that probably wasn't what they had in mind.

Once they worked Verlander out of the game and got into Detroit's bullpen, any contact seemed forbidden. Fittingly, some of their worst struggles came against some of the Tigers' sickest players.

Tim Byrdak is feeling somewhat better now, but still not great. Once Jason Giambi's single knocked Verlander from the game, Byrdak entered and sent down Robinson Cano looking at a fastball on the corner.

Not bad for someone who didn't feel like he could run as part of his workout regimen until Thursday.

"When you come back, you really have to take your time with it," Byrdak said. "Because it stinks. And it's summertime. You don't expect to be sick. I've still got it going on, to tell you the truth."

Melky Cabrera's single put a second runner on and brought on pinch-hitter Shelley Duncan, who would've been the Yankees' hero Wednesday if they had gone on to win. Leyland countered with right-hander Zach Miner, who was lying on a couch in the clubhouse Thursday afternoon looking pretty bad.

"I still don't feel that good," Miner said after the game.

His stuff showed no effects. Firing away with fastballs, he sent Duncan down swinging to escape the threat. After a Derek Jeter walk led off the seventh, Miner set down the middle of the Yankees order -- Abreu, Alex Rodriguez and Matsui, all swinging.

"The atmosphere like it was tonight helps out a lot," Miner said. "You don't really think about it. You might be feeling bad, but I know when I came in in the sixth, that was as loud of a stadium as I've been in other than a dome. I didn't even remember being sick."

Fernando Rodney wasn't sick, but his pitches arguably were. He struck out the side around a leadoff single and a one-out walk in the eighth, giving him three-strikeout innings in each of his last two appearances.

Considering the scrutiny over the bullpen for much of the summer, it said a lot about the team's health -- in their performance, anyway.

"It pumps you up when you go out there," Byrdak said of the Yankee Stadium environment. "You want to prove you can do your job. I think that's kind of what happened today. You just let everything take care of itself. Then you get some water, take your medicine and go to bed."

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