If manager Jim Leyland had known ahead of time that his relievers would throw 17 2/3 innings through the first three games of this series, he probably would've expected to have to salvage a game on Monday. If the Tigers are going to get on a roll, he said on Sunday morning, their starting pitchers are going to have to get on a roll.
They got their shortest start of the series on Sunday, but it was due to injury rather than ineffectiveness. Yet the 7 2/3 innings of relief that followed ensured that insult wouldn't be added onto it. Curtis Granderson's leadoff inside-the-park home run and two-run shots from Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames gave the Tigers a lead they held for a 5-4 win over the Yankees at Comerica Park.
And a sellout crowd that came to the park hoping to watch Jair Jurrjens earn his second Major League win instead saw Bobby Seay do it, six years after he earned his other big league victory.
"It's been a long time coming," Seay joked.
Jurrjens had been feeling pain in his shoulder while warming up in the bullpen, but he hoped it would vanish once he loosened up and threw some pitches. For an inning or so, it did. He retired the side in the first inning, but his velocity was down in the second. He struck out Hideki Matsui leading off the inning before Jason Giambi sent a 2-0 pitch into the right-field seats for his 12th home run of the season.
Catcher Ivan Rodriguez made a visit to the mound and signaled for manager Jim Leyland and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand. Jurrjens left with right shoulder inflammation, and he was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Before Leyland could consider his options to start in Jurrjens' place on Friday, he had to consider how he was going to fill the innings the rest of Sunday's game.
Rodriguez himself was gone in the fourth, ejected after an argument with home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook. When Mike Rabelo came out to catch Durbin in the top of the fifth, both ends of the battery were different from the start of the game. Yet after Robinson Cano's three-run homer in the fourth drew New York to within a run, the Tigers held down the mighty Yankees offense from there.
Those are the only runs the Tigers bullpen has surrendered in their 17 2/3 innings this series.
"We're jelling," Seay said. "We're meshing good as a bullpen right now. We've had to come in these last couple games and soak up a lot of innings, but that's what we're asked to do. We've got to contribute."
With runners at first and second and one out, Seay relieved Durbin to retire both Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez, then send down Matsui, Giambi and Cano in order in the sixth. With Wilson Betemit up leading off the seventh, Seay battled for nine pitches before catching Betemit looking at a fastball on the inside corner.
"Bobby Seay's performance today was absolutely tremendous," Leyland said.
It came almost six years to the day after his other win, when he pitched a scoreless eighth inning with the Devil Rays down a run before a three-run rally in the bottom of the inning -- including RBI doubles from Jason Tyner and Jared Sandberg -- made Seay the pitcher of record on Sept. 1, 2001 at Oakland. On Sunday, Jurrjens' early exit left it up to the official scorer to decide who deserved the victory.
"If I get the win, it means our team won," Seay said. "To see everyone joking around, happy, that's really what it's all about."
Joel Zumaya's job was the same as it usually is, to keep the lead for the closer. He did that by retiring all five batters he faced, capped by a curveball that sent down Alex Rodriguez swinging to end the eighth. It was Zumaya's first strikeout in three outings since coming back from the DL, and it didn't involve a 100-mph fastball.
"It's been a while since I struck anyone out," Zumaya said. "And especially to strike A-Rod out, it just felt really good."
Todd Jones finished it in the ninth for just his second save in as many opportunities over the past 15 days, though he had to do some footwork to pull it off. A Matsui ground ball took first baseman Carlos Guillen off the bag to snare it before Guillen fired high and across his body toward first. Jones reached up to catch the ball, then extended his foot to tap the bag for the out.
"That was the key to the inning," Leyland said of the out. "That first play, that was a heck of a play."
Giambi singled from there, putting the potential tying run on base for Cano. With Guillen guarding the line against a double, Cano hit a ground ball right to him, starting a game-ending double play that included a Ramon Santiago throw to first with Shelley Duncan flipping him behind second base.
It was a game the Tigers led from the first inning on. Phil Hughes (2-2) didn't allow a hit after Thames' home run scoring Granderson in the fourth, retiring 11 of his final 12 hitters, but it was one too many hits for his fate.
"We've had our moments, obviously," Leyland said, "but nobody can say we're not busting our tails trying to win ballgames. They can say whatever they want -- 'We haven't done this good, we haven't managed good, we haven't whatever good' -- but they can't say we haven't busted our tails.
"These guys come out there against a lineup that was stacked against us today, to be honest with you, and these guys battled their tails off and won a ballgame. So nobody can say there's lack of effort. We gave them their money's worth today. We battled."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.