CLEVELAND -- The last time Jeremy Bonderman earned a win in a Tigers uniform, he was a starter wrapping up his Detroit tenure. He threw eight innings of three-hit ball on Sept. 8, 2010 against a White Sox lineup that included Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel (who homered off of him for the lone run), Manny Ramirez, Mark Teahen and Andruw Jones He didn't survive the sixth inning in any of his four starts after that, and the Tigers -- who were 13 games out in the division race when Bonderman picked up that win -- opted not to offer him a Major League contract.
That's the last time the Tigers went down the stretch without a division race. The way they're rolling now, you have to wonder if they'll have a race come September. Bonderman's return Wednesday night, with three innings of one-hit ball in a 14-inning victory, helped stretch Detroit's lead to six games.
"These guys have done all the work," Bonderman said after earning his first Tigers win in nearly three full years. "I'm just trying to fit in, see if I can contribute in any way to get this team back to the playoffs."
The Tigers signed Bonderman in mid-July and called him up Monday to see if he could add some experience in a long relief role. It wasn't simply sentimentality about giving a former player another chance. Both Bonderman and the Tigers are treating it as a pitcher trying to fit a role.
That's why, when asked if it seemed odd when his Tigers return began with an at-bat against former teammate Ryan Raburn, who just signed a two-year contract extension in Cleveland, Bonderman shrugged it off.
"It doesn't seem that weird. It's baseball," Bonderman said. "I mean, it's fun to be back and be around all the guys and be back and part of this organization. I'm comfortable here. I know a lot of people. It definitely makes it a lot easier to come in and fit in than probably go to other places. It was just fun, honestly, to get an opportunity to come in and pitch and do my part."
It wasn't just experience on display from him. Bonderman, pitching in a relief role without the need to pace himself, threw stuff that looked like his younger form. The nasty, biting slider that was his best pitch for years in Detroit is still there, and Bonderman got four swings and misses out of the nine that he threw Wednesday, according to brooksbaseball.net.
Meanwhile, the fastball that had steadily dropped over the years in Detroit had its old punch. Bonderman's four-seam fastball averaged 93 mph, topping out at just under 95. He threw six fastballs at 94, including back-to-back pitches to Michael Brantley in his third and final inning.
"The only thing different about pitching in the bullpen is you don't have to reserve anything. You can just let it go," Bonderman said. "That's one thing I kind of like. You don't have to worry about saving anything for seven or eight innings. You can just go out there and let it fly and attack guys."
If he can let it go like that, that stuff will play.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.