Tigers pounce early, often in victory

Tigers pounce early, often to take series

SAN FRANCISCO -- Armando Galarraga provided a steady, calming presence through Detroit's early-season struggles. On Wednesday, with the Tigers poised for their 10th win in their past 12 games with a 7-2 win over the Giants, he finally let a little emotion show.

It wouldn't be much for most Major League pitchers. For the poker-faced Galarraga, however, it was an outburst, and it had nothing to do with his two-walk game at the plate.

The right arm of Galarraga that has proven to be a godsend to the Tigers' rotation gave a little fist pump when he struck Aaron Rowand to strand the bases loaded in the fifth. An inning later, with a run in and another runner on second, Galarraga practically skipped off the mound after he caught Fred Lewis looking at a breaking ball over the plate, and he pumped his fist a little more intensely.

It was his final pitch and final escape of the afternoon, and it helped the Tigers take an Interleague series in which they had lost a hard-fought game in the opener on Monday. Galarraga knew what it meant and didn't hold it in.

"It's when you show this is your game," Galarraga said. "In important moments, when you've got runners on third and second, it's when you have to make a good pitch and concentrate on that pitch. I got excited, because that's the pitch I want."

He wants those situations, and he had four of them, but this wasn't simply his game. With each start, this seems to be becoming his season.

While Marcus Thames' home run streak ended at five consecutive games, Galarraga's career breakout continued. His six innings with two unearned runs not only allowed the Tigers to press on with their winning ways, taking their third consecutive series, it earned him his fourth victory since his last defeat on May 23. He didn't start the season in the Majors, yet he's tied for ninth among American League pitchers in wins.

The Tigers, meanwhile, are 9-2 in games he starts, accounting for better than a quarter of Detroit's victories.

"He's been a savior so far," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's not only given us innings, he's won games. It's one thing to give innings, it's another thing to win games when you get those innings."

Many of those innings Wednesday came down to big outs with runners on base. Galarraga had a five-run lead by the time he took the mound for the bottom of the second inning, thanks to a rough outing for Giants starter Barry Zito, but San Francisco had runners on base to start a rally from the second inning on. Each time, Galarraga and the Tigers' defense behind him came up with the play to stop it.

A Miguel Cabrera error and a Galarraga wild pitch converted Travis Denker's one-out double in the second into the Giants' first run, but Galarraga stranded another runner in scoring position with a strikeout of Brian Horwitz and a Fred Lewis groundout. Randy Winn's one-out single an inning later resulted in nothing when Carlos Guillen fielded Bengie Molina's tricky grounder and started an inning-ending double play.

"Carlos made a heckuva play on the Molina ball," Leyland said. "That was a huge play. It was a bad hop, hard hit, and [second baseman Placido Polanco] made a great turn."

Galarraga took it from there, ending his final three innings on strikeouts with runners in scoring position. The only other run he allowed came when Guillen skipped a ball across the infield and past Cabrera trying to retire Emmanuel Burriss and end a sixth-inning threat, instead allowing a runner to round third and score on the miscue.

Leyland made a visit to the mound with the bases loaded an inning earlier to make sure Galarraga wasn't panicking. It was a quick trip.

"I was worried about him, being a young guy," Leyland said. "He had an 0-2 count and hit [Molina], which obviously he wasn't trying to do, and I could tell he was frustrated. He got a big out, and a huge out."

Galarraga's mannerisms certainly backed up how huge it was.

"I think he fell into a little trap with a big lead and a little more excitement," Leyland continued. "He wanted to get through it and make sure he got that win. He was thinking about it a little bit, so I think he got more animated."

Five consecutive Tigers reached base safely on singles and walks in the opening inning after Zito (2-11) started the game by retiring leadoff man Edgar Renteria. Magglio Ordonez and Cabrera both had RBI singles before Zito escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam with an Ivan Rodriguez strikeout and a Curtis Granderson flyout.

It turned out to be a temporary reprieve for Zito, who lost Galarraga and Renteria to back-to-back walks leading off the second. Polanco and Guillen followed with consecutive doubles down the left-field line, the latter plating two runs to build a 5-0 lead.

When Galarraga drew a one-out walk in the fifth off lefty reliever Alex Hinshaw, he became the first AL pitcher to walk twice in the same game since Scott Schoeneweis did it with the Angels at this same ballpark on June 23, 2001, according to research on baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org. Former Tiger Bryce Florie and ex-Oriole Scott Erickson are the only other AL pitchers to pull off the feat in the DH era, both doing so in 1998.

Combined with Galarraga's walk last month at Arizona, he became just the second AL pitcher in the DH era to walk three times in a season, Erickson being the other.

He wasn't pumping his fist after any of those -- more like a shrug.

"I don't swing too much," Galarraga said. "They threw me ball, ball, ball, so I said, 'OK, I'm not going to swing.' They want to give me a walk, I'll walk."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.