Until Raburn jumped on a high fastball from Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez and sent it to the depths of the left-field seats, Sanchez and Tigers starter Kenny Rogers had put on a battle of contrasting left-handers. The 25-year-old Sanchez, armed with a lower-90s fastball to complement his breaking stuff, not only took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, he didn't allow a ball in play out of the infield through five. The 43-year-old Rogers and his curveball kept pace by scattering runners early before settling in and finding his command.
It was shaping up to add another chapter to Rogers' list of stingy no-decisions. He had allowed just three earned runs over 29 innings in his previous four starts, but had no wins to show for them. One was the Tigers' 1-0 loss in 12 innings at the Angels on Memorial Day; more recent was a 2-1 walk-off victory over the White Sox on Thursday.
"I want to win as much as anybody," Rogers said afterward. "I want to pitch good and win. I know they're trying harder to give me runs. I've been kidding Marcus the last few days. I said, 'You don't love me. You've hit one for everybody else, two for some [starting pitchers].' Then last night he hit two, and I said, 'Man, you have just put an elephant on your back.'"
Sanchez actually kept Thames contained with two strikeouts and a fly ball to right. It wasn't until the ninth inning that Thames extended his home run streak to five consecutive games, taking a Vinnie Chulk fastball an estimated 465 feet to straightaway center field. That matched the franchise record of five straight games with a homer last reached by Willie Horton in 1969 and shared with Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, Rudy York and Vic Wertz.
Thames' last eight hits have been home runs -- the longest such streak in the Majors since Mark McGwire had 11 in 2001, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Lost in that moment, however, was his play to help keep the game tied heading into Raburn's at-bat. After sixth-inning singles from Curtis Granderson, Edgar Renteria and Placido Polanco broke up Sanchez's no-hit and shutout bids to put the Tigers ahead, Fred Lewis' leadoff single and Ray Durham's walk set up a Giants rally in the bottom of the inning.
Randy Winn sacrificed the runners up for Bengie Molina, whose sinking line drive to left looked like an RBI single until Thames reached down for a backhanded grab. Lewis scored on what became a sacrifice fly, but the catch kept it at that.
"I got a good jump. I just told myself to go ahead and go after it," Thames said. "That's the only thing [outfield coach] Andy [Van Slyke] teaches us. I just got a good read on it and it helped us out and got us out of a jam. I knew he was going to score, so I wanted to make sure I gathered myself."
Rogers retired the side in order in the seventh before his spot in the batting order came around to lead off the eighth. Raburn, 3-for-14 in his big league career as a pinch-hitter, sat on Sanchez's fastball and got one over the middle of the plate on the second pitch.
"From what I'm told from guys that have pinch-hit before, they always said to be ready for the fastball," Raburn said. "If I got one close enough to hit, I was going to be hacking. I put the barrel on it."
It couldn't compare to Thames in terms of distance. The drama was pretty good, though.
"Well, that was huge," manager Jim Leyland said. "He jumped on a fastball and got every bit of it. He caught that guy at the end of his outing and he jumped on one."
A walk and another Polanco single chased Sanchez from the game. Carlos Guillen barely beat out a potential inning-ending double-play throw to allow Renteria to score and stretch the lead further before Thames' home run and a Jeff Larish pinch-hit RBI single seemingly put the game away.
Three batters and three singles into the bottom of the ninth, however, closer Todd Jones was facing the potential tying run at the plate. Rookie John Bowker couldn't provide the huge home run this time, but it took a sliding catch from defensive replacement Brent Clevlen in left to get the out. Jones took care of the rest to finish out a scoreless inning.