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Sheff delivers satisfying walk-off single

Sheff delivers walk-off single

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DETROIT -- Todd Jones provided the best relief of the night for the Tigers on Wednesday. Then he came out and provided the best actual relief early Thursday morning.

With the tarp on the field during a 2-hour, 25-minute rain delay, Jones provided the fans who stuck around Comerica Park with some on-field entertainment. He tossed packs of sunflower seeds and gum to fans hanging outside the Tigers dugout in the rain, then he provided his best impression of Magglio Ordonez's walk-off home run in the postseason two years ago, adding a small slide along the tarp for flair.

A couple hours later, his scoreless ninth inning set up the Tigers' latest walk-off heroics. Gary Sheffield's fourth hit of the night plated Clete Thomas in the bottom of the inning, sending the Tigers and some drenched, yet dedicated fans home with an 8-7 Detroit victory over St. Louis.

It was a night in which the Tigers bullpen outlasted the Cardinals relief staff in a game that featured nine lead changes, five of them in the final three innings. Jones' work made sure the Tigers had the last laugh, well after he gave his teammates the biggest laughs.

"You don't realize until you're in a rain delay how regimented baseball is," Jones told reporters afterwards. "You get to this time of the night and you sit for 2 1/2 hours and it throws the whole program off. I think rain delays like this when you win are great. When you don't, it's rough. Hopefully we can get some momentum from this and try to win a series [Thursday]."

The rain had already been coming down steadily for a while once Rick Ankiel's second home run of the night off of Tigers starter Armando Galarraga tied the game with one out in the top of the fifth. A heavy dose of drying compound, a single and a fielder's choice later, heavy downpours halted the baseball game and started the waiting game.

The teams headed for cover in their respective clubhouses, but once the first batch of showers eased, Jones emerged from the dugout with a giant bucket of goodies to give to fans.

After he and Nate Robertson pretty much emptied the bucket, Jones took off his pullover to reveal an Ordonez jersey on his back and a dark-haired wig tucked inside a cap. From there, Jones went into the act -- the swing, the trip around the bases, the high-five to an imaginary third-base coach -- as a handful of teammates watched from the dugouts, fans roared from the seats and the concourse, and a live audience watched once the local broadcast cut in.

"I never had a chance to go on the tarp because, you know, it's kind of taboo," Jones said. "You don't really do it. But I figured, what the hey, have a little fun. It was pretty cool. I'm glad everybody got it."

Eddie Bonine and Joel Zumaya did. They were among the fellow Tigers watching and cracking up in the dugout.

"That's awesome," Bonine said. "He's a great guy to have around. That's just an extension of what he does around the clubhouse."

Once the game resumed just after 11 p.m. ET, it became a battle of relievers and their command. Both teams took advantage of walks to change leads in a nip-and-tuck affair.

Zach Miner closed out the fifth inning and worked a scoreless sixth before a two-out walk and a single in the seventh put the Cardinals in position to take the lead with back-to-back walks off Zumaya.

Back and forth they went from there. Two singles and a walk off Jason Isringhausen loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, but Detroit managed a lone run out of it when Miguel Cabrera scored on Edgar Renteria's double play. Aaron Miles' bloop single off Zumaya in the eighth put St. Louis back on top. Ordonez tied it back up when he singled in Placido Polanco off Kyle McClellan.

"It wasn't the best game, in the sense that we walked too many people from the seventh inning on," Leyland said, "but we survived it. Both teams battled hard, and it looked like it was one of those games where whoever hit last would win the game."

Indeed, they did, but only after Jones (3-0) kept the Cardinals from taking back the lead by retiring the side in order with help from his defense. Carlos Guillen made a sliding stop and throw across the infield to retire Troy Glaus for the first out, then Clete Thomas' running catch on Yadier Molina's liner to left-center ended the inning.

Thomas, who entered the game in the fourth inning once Marcus Thames was ejected for arguing a called third strike, took his heroics to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth once McClellan (0-3) fell behind on a 3-0 count. The count went full before Thomas slashed a sharp line drive off the left-field fence and rolled into second with a leadoff double.

"I was just a leadoff guy trying to get something, trying to hit a single or draw a walk, do something to get on base and have the guys behind me drive me in," Thomas said. "I got lucky and hit a double."

It looked somewhat similar to Sheffield's second-inning double that started Detroit's first run-scoring rally. Sheffield pulled two more singles after the rain delay, but McClellan didn't want to give him anything to hit again.

"He kept pounding me in," Sheffield said, "so I said, 'Forget trying to get him over.'"

All six pitches were fastballs, three in a row inside to work a 3-1 count and force McClellan back over the plate. He went to the outside corner on a sinking fastball, and Sheffield showed how much better his shoulder feels after resting it on the disabled list.

Earlier this season, when he battled shoulder pain, "I would try to pull that pitch to protect myself," Sheffield said. "But now I can swing like I want to swing and do what I need to do with it."

Sheffield sent it into the gap in right-center field. And at just before 1 a.m. ET, he sent everybody home entertained, and not just from the rain delay entertainment.

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

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