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Inge powers Tigers in climactic return to team

Inge powers Tigers in climactic return to team

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Inge powers Tigers in climactic return to team
DETROIT -- Brandon Inge returned to Comerica Park looking to enjoy playing baseball again. And the way his Tigers reunion went on Saturday night, it would have been tough not to have fun.

By the time Inge stepped to the plate for his third at-bat in the fifth inning, he had tied his season high in RBIs with two. He had two extra-base hits in a game for the first time in exactly a year, including his first Major League home run since April 13. And he had a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate by night's end. But almost as important to him was the fact that he wasn't fretting about outs.

He didn't have many to fret.

"It's baseball," Inge said. "There's no way of figuring it out."

And with a comfortable lead en route to a 10-1 win over the Indians, the Tigers were on their way to adding another game to their advantage atop the division. Detroit enters Sunday's series finale up 3 1/2 games on Cleveland with a chance to add another and complete a series sweep, if it can find a way to rough up Ubaldo Jimenez on Sunday afternoon.

A happy reunion might be an understatement. By the time Inge came up for his fourth at-bat, he was getting a standing ovation before the first pitch. Doug Fister, meanwhile, was getting the second-highest total of run support of his career, the only higher total coming this past April -- also against the Tigers.

It was the kind of night in which Inge said that he was chuckling at himself as he made his way around the bases after his second-inning homer. The first pitch that he saw back in the big leagues was fouled back, but the second was deposited over the left-field fence.

"I just kind of laughed," Inge said. "What a year, you know?"

It was precisely the kind of situation that prompted the Tigers to recall Inge now rather than wait until Sept. 1. They're projected to face a handful of left-handed starters over the next 10 days, beginning with David Huff on Saturday night and continuing with David Price next week in Tampa. Price is a big worry for the Tigers, as he holds a perfect record against them for his career. Huff was a different scenario, but enough of a concern that Leyland loaded his lineup with right-handed bats.

And thus, up came Inge, who pounded left-handed pitching at Triple-A Toledo for a .395 average (15-for-38). Also in the lineup was Magglio Ordonez, making his first start since Detroit acquired Delmon Young on Monday. The combined result from the two longtime Tigers: three hits, three RBIs and a triple shy of a cycle.

"That's a good thing right now for all of us," manager Jim Leyland said. "To see those guys contribute, that's a real plus for our club."

Ordonez's single was part of a two-run opening inning that put Inge ahead by the time he stepped to the plate leading off the second. Once David Huff left a changeup high and over the plate following back-to-back fastballs, Inge pounced on it.

His new-look open stance at the plate looked like it helped him do that, but Inge said that he has stayed away from worrying about mechanics.

"To be dead honest with you, on my very first at-bat, I just was going to pretend that I was playing softball," Inge said. "So apparently that's what I would swing like if I was playing softball. That way, I would just try to hit the ball. It's kind of fun."

Ordonez chipped in again three batters later with a sacrifice fly to drive in Ramon Santiago, who nearly followed Inge with a home run but settled for a double off the wall in left-center field.

Inge wasn't searching for reasons. But Huff was.

"I don't know what it was, to be honest," Huff said. "I was just trying to get the ball down and find the strike zone. When I did find the strike zone, it was up and over the middle. It was just a tough outing all together."

Huff (1-2) left after issuing two walks in the third inning. Former Tiger Chad Durbin struck out Jhonny Peralta, bur fell behind on Inge, who got a 2-0 fastball over the middle of the plate and drove it to the deepest part of the ballpark. It hopped over the fence near the flagpole for a ground-rule double.

Once Durbin intentionally walked Peralta to load the bases for Inge in the fifth, the sellout crowd of 44,629 was roaring in anticipation of a big hit.

"I just thought it was a pretty cool atmosphere," Inge said. "I felt pretty honored to go back and get an ovation."

He didn't get the hit, but the run still came in once left field Michael Brantley dropped Inge's pop-up.

Again, it was that kind of night. And for the Indians, it was another difficult night.

"The same thing happened last year," Tribe manager Manny Acta said. "For some reason, we don't win as many games over here and they don't win as many games in our ballpark. Last year was the same thing. It's kind of too bad, because I like this ballpark. It's a very nice ballpark. I like it, but we just don't win here."

Fister (5-13), however, does win at this park. Given the run support, it would've been difficult not to on Saturday. He came in still owning the lowest run support in the AL, but came out with his third win in as many tries at Comerica Park this year. He has two wins in his old home park in Seattle, and no wins anywhere else.

His seven strikeouts on Saturday were just about as unusual as the run support. His seven innings of one-run ball were not.

"I feel like I'm still thinking it's 0-0, no matter what the score is," Fister said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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