If there was a game on the brink of disaster two years ago, Rodney seemed to be there, usually to pull out a win. His return to the Majors, then, seemed somewhat familiar -- a sacrifice fly away from a tie, an extra-base hit away from a victory, a strikeout away from preserving the lead. He was a strike away from the best-case scenario, but a hanging changeup brought him the worst -- a go-ahead three-run homer from Giants rookie John Bowker, powering a five-run eighth inning that ended Detroit's six-game winning streak with a wild 8-6 loss Monday night at AT&T Park.
It wasn't the lift the Tigers hoped to get with him back. But then, as Leyland admitted, it wasn't exactly the greeting the Tigers wanted to give him for his first big league pitches since last September.
"I really would've rather given him a little different situation," manager Jim Leyland said, "but obviously, we were going for the strikeout. He's very capable of getting them. He just didn't locate [his pitch]."
Hours earlier, the Tigers had activated Rodney from the disabled list after spending the first 2 1/2 months of the season battling back from right shoulder tendinitis. His injury woes had set up a Tigers bullpen that had been in flux but had performed well recently, when Freddy Dolsi had stepped up to become a late-inning presence.
Leyland had talked before the game about giving Rodney an inning of work to ease him in but wasn't sure if he'd be able to do it. The way this game unfolded seemed determined to prove the manager right.
While Marcus Thames stretched his home run streak to four straight games with his two-homer effort, the Tigers' perfect record when Thames homers ended in dramatic fashion. Hard-throwing youngsters Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum battled through six innings with a tie score before Edgar Renteria's pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the seventh brought home Ivan Rodriguez for a 4-3 Tigers lead.
The catch, of course, was that Renteria was pinch-hitting for Verlander. Without a designated hitter, Leyland had to make the decision when Verlander's spot came up, leaving Verlander out after six innings of three-run ball.
Dolsi entered and retired the side in order in the seventh before coming back out for the eighth. If he got into trouble, Leyland said, he was going to Rodney to face Bowker, a left-handed hitter. A pair of two-strike singles from Randy Winn and Aaron Rowand created the trouble.
Bring in the lefty against Bowker, Leyland said, and the Giants would probably pinch-hit with right-handed bat Jose Castillo. The changeup was the key that prompted Rodney in that situation.
"Rodney's been our guy that gets lefties out, because of the changeup," Leyland said. "He's done a good job of doing that over the years."
The first two pitches backed it up. Bowker swung and missed badly at back-to-back offspeed pitches before fouling one off. That wasn't necessarily a surprise; Rodney's changeup had been solid since returning to game action last month in rehab outings.
It's the fastball location that was the challenge for him, and what pitching coach Chuck Hernandez worked with him to polish during a bullpen session last week. Rodney threw only one to Bowker, but the 0-2 offering missed high enough that catcher Ivan Rodriguez had to reach up to prevent it from flying to the backstop.
With that, Bowker could sit on the changeup. He got it on the next pitch, and he put it out to right.
"We just made some bad pitches in big situations," Leyland said.
Rodney struggled from there, allowing a two-run, ground-rule double to Fred Lewis before Leyland replaced him with lefty Casey Fossum to retire Ray Durham and end the inning. Those extra tallies proved crucial once the Tigers rallied with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Giants closer Brian Wilson.
Renteria, who has two grand slams this season, could not do the same against Wilson, who sent him down swinging at a 97 mph fastball. However, Curtis Granderson singled in two runs and became the potential tying run on base as Placido Polanco stepped to the plate.
Wilson and Polanco battled for eight pitches. At one point, Wilson threw an inside fastball that came close enough to Polanco that he shook his right arm and walked away to take off his shin pads, believing he had been hit around his right elbow. Home-plate umpire Tom Hallion called him back to the plate.
"I tried to sell it a little bit," Polanco admitted, "but the ball did hit me. ... It's a tough one, because the ball just kept on going. If the ball really hit me solid, it's going to go down, do something."
Another pitch nearly tied the game, but Polanco's opposite-field line drive landed just foul down the right-field line. Finally, Polanco grounded the final pitch toward shortstop. Jeff Larish nearly acted as a screen between second and third, but shortstop Omar Vizquel saw it through to his glove and made the throw for the final out.
It was a wild way to end what had been a relative pitching duel between two of the game's best young starters. It was an equally wild greeting back to the Majors for Rodney.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.