In the process, they're picking themselves up and dusting themselves off from the slow start that seemingly doomed them. Their latest step in that direction Sunday included a lot of scratching and clawing.
Magglio Ordonez accounted for two of San Diego starter Randy Wolf's 10 strikeouts before hitting a go-ahead two-run homer and doubling in what turned out to be a critical insurance run. Justin Verlander needed 115 pitches to last 5 1/3 innings but racked up 10 strikeouts in the process. Joel Zumaya gave up two hits in the seventh, but Marcus Thames and Edgar Renteria teamed up to throw out the potential tying run at the plate on a well-executed relay.
"This was a grind-out game," Leyland said.
And then there was Jones, who was inches away from a major knee injury but gathered himself to finish his 14th save in as many chances this year. He felt well enough to watch replays of his fall and share a self-deprecating chuckle with his teammates.
"I knew it didn't hit my [kneecap]," Jones said. "Plus, I saw Tiger Woods shoot a 4-under with it, and his was worse."
Ordonez had been mired in a 1-for-18 slump before Saturday, when his drive to center glanced off Jody Gerut's glove for a home run to go with a single in that win. On Sunday, Ordonez struck out on three pitches in his first two at-bats against Wolf before the veteran left-hander made his biggest mistake pitch of the afternoon, a hanging curveball that dropped right over the middle of the plate at belt-high level. Ordonez belted it over the left-field fence in a hurry for his 12th home run of the season to give Detroit a 3-1 lead.
That was the only extra-base hit the Tigers managed in six innings against Wolf (5-6). He had dueled Tigers starter Verlander to a tie score up to that point and managed to fan five of the final 10 batters he faced.
San Diego halved its deficit in the bottom of the inning, but couldn't erase it. When reliever Cla Meredith couldn't handle Carlos Guillen's seventh-inning comebacker for a two-out error, Ordonez converted the chance with a line drive to the left-field fence, allowing Guillen to score and restore a two-run lead.
Verlander (4-9) had a hard time with his changeup, Leyland said, but the fastball was appropriately in midseason form. He hit 98 mph several times on the ballpark radar gun and sustained it, including back-to-back heaters at 98 for a fifth-inning strikeout on his 102nd and 103rd pitches of the day. He fanned eight of the first 13 hitters he faced and went on to finish with a season-high 10.
The downside, of course, was his pitch count.
"Really, I was trying to steer away from strikeouts, because I wanted to get my pitch count down," Verlander said.
Between all those strikeouts and five walks, two of them intentional passes to Adrian Gonzalez after his first-inning solo homer, Verlander crossed the century mark to get the second out of the fifth inning. Nonetheless, Leyland let his pitcher hit in the top of the sixth and go back out for the bottom of the inning before Bobby Seay retired the final two batters in the frame and handed Zumaya his first lead to protect since coming back from the disabled list on Friday.
Zumaya kept Detroit ahead, but it wasn't easy. An Edgar Gonzalez walk and Adrian Gonzalez single leading off the seventh set up Khalil Greene's two-out RBI double. Edgar Gonzalez scored, but Thames fielded the ball in the corner and fired to Renteria, whose relay beat Adrian Gonzalez home. Gonzalez tried to slide under Ivan Rodriguez's tag and might well have done so, but home-plate umpire Jim Joyce ruled him out.
After Jones regrouped from Jody Gerut's comebacker leading off the ninth, Jones finished it by retiring the Gonzalez brothers -- a double-play ground ball from Edgar, followed by a flyout to center from Adrian.
"It hurt real bad, and then it went numb. After it stopped being numb, I was fine," Jones said. "I had to throw up some breaking balls to make sure, because I wasn't about to throw Adrian Gonzalez fastballs. I was good. I just needed a couple minutes."
It's the second time in a week that the Tigers came back to win a series after losing the opener. They've taken four straight series after splitting a four-game set with the Indians early this month, and they've improved to three games under .500 for the first time since May 3.
They're getting back up and crawling.
"We could've really won this whole road trip, but you have to start somewhere," Jones said. "This is a good place to start. We've got our bullpen lined up. We've got our rotation coming around. And everybody's starting to hit, so hopefully we can make up some ground these next six weeks and see what we've got."