As Granderson fouled off pitch after pitch from White Sox starter Gavin Floyd with runners on the corners and one out in the fifth inning, he didn't look like somebody playing a meaningless game on the Tigers' schedule. He looked like somebody in a playoff game himself.
One pitch after another, Floyd tried to finish off Detroit's leadoff man and erase the scoring opportunity. Each time, Granderson stayed alive. He grounded back-to-back 1-2 pitches just foul of the first-base line, then fouled back a 79-mph curveball and a 93-mph fastball to keep going. He took a fastball just off the outside corner, nearly getting a flinch from home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro, rather than chase it to go to 2-2.
"Just trying to put the ball in play to get him in, hopefully with a sac fly, especially with two strikes," Granderson said.
Not until Floyd unleashed a full-count breaking ball that dropped over the plate did Granderson finally give in, swinging late. It was far from somebody playing out the schedule.
"I had a lot of talk from friends last night," the Chicago native said, "and they were saying, 'You've got to let the Sox win.' And I was saying, it's definitely not the case like that. At the same, we're in a very dangerous situation for the White Sox. They're playing to win, and we're playing to finish the season. If we pick up a win, great. If we don't, we're playing hard at the same time they're playing to win."
That was how many of the Tigers chose to look at Monday's makeup game, postponed from a mid-September series that had back-to-back rainouts on a rain-soaked Chicago weekend. The only reason this game was played was because it held playoff implications for the White Sox and Twins, who will battle it out on Tuesday night for the American League Central title.
It had nothing to do with the Tigers, whose only gain from a win would be to tie the Royals for fourth place in the division rather than finish last outright. Yet for a team that had so little to gain, it played with absolutely nothing to lose.
"I wanted to win this game today bad," manager Jim Leyland said, "because we wanted to get another win. It's not like you're trying to knock the White Sox out as much as you're trying to get a win and you're trying to be professional and go about your business. I tried everything I knew how to do."
It was enough to make the Tigers look like they were fighting for a playoff spot themselves. After Freddy Garcia walked his first two batters and allowed an RBI single to the next, Leyland had starter Armando Galarraga warming up in the bullpen -- in the opening inning. He had runners going early and often, enough to tie a season high with three stolen bases.
This is from a team that finished last in the AL with 63 stolen bases and had just one player -- Granderson -- in double digits.
"We just know that Floyd's a little slow home, so we were trying to take advantage of it," Leyland said.
They had their reasons. Still, after reading comments from the White Sox suggesting that the Tigers wouldn't want to be here playing this game, it was clear that some players also had their extra motivation.
"We came in here to play hard," Cabrera said. "We don't give up. We showed them we were ready to play today. We were ready to play baseball."
Asked if he was angry about the White Sox comments, Cabrera said. "Not angry. This game's like the playoffs. We had a chance to play a big game today, so we came in here, played hard and did what we could do."
In the end, it wasn't enough. Even if it was, of course, it wouldn't have changed the Tigers' fate. But it was clear that the Tigers had a respect for what this game meant to other teams' fates -- not just the White Sox but the Twins.
"It's not about knocking them out," Gary Sheffield said. "It's that you have to honor the other team. We would've done the White Sox a disservice if we had just gone out there and laid down. That's a playoff atmosphere game, and they rose to the occasion."
There was, at least, some consolation that Leyland could take from the result.
"Maybe this is justice, who knows?" Leyland said. "Maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. The two best teams in the division all year have to play one game to see who goes. I'm really thankful that the White Sox weren't ahead a game and that this would've clinched it for them. That way, the Twins still have their shot. They'll play tomorrow, and somebody will go."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less