"I'm glad I mentioned Marcus [Thames] before the game," Leyland said.
Before the game, Leyland talked about playing Thames regularly for the near term, trying to get him on a hot streak that could boost the club. After Thames' two home runs helped the Tigers salvage Wednesday's series finale against the Angels with a 6-2 win, the boost was there. Most of it was propelling his drives over the outfield fence.
"He can hit big flies," Leyland said. "That's what he does pretty good. His ratio [of home runs to at-bats] is pretty good over the years, probably as good as anybody. Let's take a look. Maybe that'll give us a spark. It certainly did tonight, but off a left-handed pitcher. When you face the [right-handers], you don't know what's going to happen. It worked out OK tonight."
A few extra feet were all that separated Thames from a three-homer game. As it was, his two-run home runs in the first and fifth innings proved more than enough for Detroit to end its three-game losing streak and continue its relative dominance against left-handed pitching.
Seven of Detroit's 22 wins this season have come against left-handed starters. The Tigers entered Wednesday hitting lefties to a .301 average, second in baseball only behind the Red Sox. In this case, it wasn't just the offense, but everything that seemed to flow.
"We haven't been in sync," Leyland said.
After walk-off losses in the first two games of the series, the Tigers strolled in the finale. While Thames powered his way to four RBIs, Armando Galarraga came within two outs of throwing the Tigers' first complete game of the season, let alone their first shutout.
As Friday's upcoming starter, Nate Robertson, put it simply, "We're streaky."
It wasn't just the Thames decision that worked out. After Leyland decided to play Curtis Granderson against left-handers in an effort to get his struggling bat going, he led off the game with an opposite-field single. Two batters later, Thames took a Joe Saunders changeup and lofted it deep to left.
Thames barely missed another homer to the same part of the park, sending left fielder Reggie Willits to the fence for a fly ball he later said he hit off the end of his bat leading off the third inning. Thames responded his next time up by hitting the ball out of the deepest part of the park, launching a first-pitch changeup to nearly straightaway center in the fifth following Placido Polanco's double.
Saunders (8-2) entered the night tied for the American League lead in wins and second in ERA by limiting his damage. Not only had he surrendered just five home runs over 70 innings, opponents had a mere .306 slugging percentage against him. Just 11 of the 55 hits he had allowed had gone for extra bases.
His ratio ran into Thames' ratios. His rate of at-bats per home run was at 13.4 two years ago and 14.9 last season. It's a small sample size so far this year, but his two homers dropped his ratio this season to 13.8.
"I don't get to play that much, so I don't look at the [opposing] numbers that much," Thames said. "[Saunders] has been doing great, but he left a couple pitches out over the plate where I could get extended on them."
Thames already had been told before the game that he'd be playing more often. Leyland didn't go into the details of looking for a spark but simply told Thames that he felt like the outfielder deserved it.
"He's done something up here," Leyland said, "and I think he deserves an opportunity before you go out there and give it to someone else."
The way Thames hit Wednesday, he won't be turning elsewhere anytime soon.
"It sounds good," Thames said. "I'm a guy that I need to get more at-bats to get going, so hopefully this will get me going a little bit to help the ballclub."
Given a three-run lead by the time he took the mound, Galarraga (4-2) used it as a cushion with which to attack Angels hitters. After taking a no-hit bid into the sixth inning against the Angels last month, he didn't try to change a whole lot. He was more concerned with improving his command after five walks in his previous outing last week against the Twins.
He was going to go after the Angels regardless. The first-inning outburst helped.
"I have to be aggressive," Galarraga said. "I have to be aggressive with every guy. I know they're struggling a little right now. Just try to be aggressive and go pitch for pitch."
Granderson's diving catch in left-center field took care of the one really solid ball hit off of Galarraga early. He sent down 13 of 14 batters from the third inning through the seventh, using few pitches in the process. He retired the side in order in the fifth on just five pitches.
With 91 pitches heading into the ninth, Galarraga took his shot at the shutout with no one warming up in the bullpen. A full-count groundout from Sean Rodriguez and a five-pitch walk to Willits showed the wear of the night on him. Finally, an 0-1 slider to Maicer Izturis ended up driven out of the park to right.
"I was a little tired," Galarraga said. "I was just trying to get the ball down. He got me."
When that's the worst that could be said for the Tigers' evening, it's not bad.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less