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Pudge carries Tigers on his back

Pudge carries Tigers on his back

DETROIT -- Four years ago, he started the Tigers' climb from the cellar to the World Series. On Monday night he might have done it again.

As his team trailed, 9-4, furthering its immense early-season struggles, catcher Ivan Rodriguez put the team on his back and ignited a thrilling rally at Comerica Park. He went 2-for-4 with a triple and a home run and scored two runs, including the eventual game-winner.

"You know he's going to hit the ball hard," first baseman Carlos Guillen said. "He's a good hitter. He's a Hall of Fame guy."

A 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove winner, Rodriguez paved the way for such future All-Stars as Guillen to come to Detroit when he signed with the Tigers as a free agent in February 2004, just one year after the team had set the American League record for losses in a season. It was Rodriguez who started the renaissance. He made it possible for the offseason's big signings and the following championship hopes.

Those hopes, however, faded after the Tigers started the season 0-7. As for Rodriguez, after a solid spring in which he led the Grapefruit League in home runs, he entered Monday's game hitting .195.

An error in the second inning didn't help. A popup behind home plate that should have ended the inning slipped out of Rodriguez's glove, giving the Twins extra life. Two consecutive singles immediately after made it 2-0 Twins.

But the 18-year veteran knew better than to dwell on his mistake.

"I got mad," Rodriguez said. "I take pride in my defense. But nobody's perfect. I put it behind me and kept playing."

With the Tigers down, 9-4, in the seventh, as fans headed for the exits, Rodriguez knocked a bullet toward the right-field corner. Twins outfielder Denard Span bobbled the ball, and it went over the fence for a home run.

Then, in the key six-run eighth, with the Tigers down by two runs, Rodriguez strutted toward the plate with runners on the corners and one out. He blasted a triple to right-center that skipped past the Twins' outfielders and allowed the tying runs to score. Rodriguez then tagged up on Jacque Jones' ensuing fly ball to left and barely scored under the tag of Twins catcher Joe Mauer, putting the Tigers up for good and sending the home dugout and the remaining fans into delirium.

"He's been a special player for a long time," manager Jim Leyland said. "And one of the reasons that he's been such a great player is his competitive spirit. He comes to beat the other team. I like players like that, and we've got a whole bunch of them."

Rodriguez sat at his locker after the game with a poised look on his face. He saw no reason for an animated celebration. He's had big hits before.

But these hits might, just might, be the ones that give the Tigers the boost they need to save their season.

Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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