Before the Tigers took the field Saturday, manager Jim Leyland talked about the disappointment a team has after losing a long extra-inning game. Hours later, he nearly had another one to deal with, the Indians threatening and the Tigers holding on. In the end, it was another clutch Ryan Raburn hit, a 12th-inning insurance balk, and more long relief work that helped Detroit pull out a 4-3 win at Progressive Field.
Leyland still has a potential mess to deal with in his bullpen to rest some tired arms. But thanks to some clutch outs, Fernando Rodney's first blown save of the year did not end up being a blown win.
"Kind of a weird game, a wild game," Leyland said, "but it ended up right."
Not since Aug. 26-27, 1988, had the Tigers played back-to-back games of at least 12 innings. That team was fighting for dear life to stay on top of the American League East and split those games at Milwaukee before it lost 10 of 11 to fall out of the lead for good, part of a late-season collapse.
This year's Tigers are hoping that fate doesn't happen to them, but they've had to fight for the last 2 1/2 months to maintain their AL Central lead. The White Sox beat the Yankees again Saturday afternoon, meaning a Tigers loss would've brought Chicago to within a half-game.
So when Asdrubal Cabrera led off the ninth inning with a triple off Rodney, it would've been understandable to fear the worst. At that point, it would've been tough not to expect extra innings.
"To be honest with you, when a guy gets a leadoff triple, I'm thinking it's a tied game," Leyland said. "I'm not going to lie. When a guy gets a leadoff triple, nobody out, you've got to think it's a tied game, and you've got to be thinking what you're going to do next, who's coming up for you."
At that point, with Cleveland's Cabrera on third and nobody out, Rick Porcello's gem of an outing might as well be in the distant past. His eight innings of one-run ball weren't just his first quality start since June 12, but arguably the best outing of his brief career.
Porcello retired 15 of 16 batters after giving up a first-inning run, and he induced twice as many ground balls (16) as fly balls (eight). With a 20-year-old rookie at 91 pitches, close to his usual pitch count, and a closer Leyland prefers to bring in to start an inning rather than insert with runners on base, there was no question, even with Rodney coming off two innings Friday.
"If you're talking about a veteran guy like [Justin] Verlander or [Edwin] Jackson, it may be little bit different," Leyland said.
Rodney, whose streak of 21 consecutive save opportunity converted was the Tigers' longest since Matt Anderson in 2001, still nearly converted this one. He struck out Shin-Soo Choo for the first out and had Jhonny Peralta in a 1-2 count before he hit a soft fly ball into shallow left-center field.
"I never think that run's going to score," Rodney said. "I'm pitching to keep the run at third base, but that blooper happened. Little popup, very difficult play, nothing you can do."
Granderson's diving catch couldn't stop Cabrera from tagging up to score, but it kept the winning run off base. Once Rodney retired Travis Hafner, back they went into extra innings, and back came the extra-inning mentality of Detroit's relievers.
"You know when it's a tie game and they've got their last at-bats, you have to make quality pitches," left-hander Bobby Seay said. "If you do get beat, you get beat with your best pitch. Obviously, with home-field advantage, they get the last at-bat. I think it speaks volumes about how Zach [Miner] pitched and how Ryan [Perry] pitched as well."
Perry escaped a 10th-inning jam when Wyatt Toregas' liner to short allowed Adam Everett to double off Jamey Carroll, Friday's hero, to end the inning. Seay (2-2) stranded a runner at second in the 11th by striking out Hafner.
Raburn, who drove in the go-ahead run in the Tigers' 16-inning win July 3 at Minnesota, singled in Placido Polanco before Jose Veras (1-1) gave up an insurance run on a balk. That extra run became huge after Carroll singled and Trevor Crowe doubled with one out in the bottom of the 12th.
As Crowe's liner scooted to the fence in left-center field, Granderson was thinking to keep him at second, regardless of whether Carroll scored.
"Right away, I thought there's going to be a run on second base. There's no play at home," Granderson said. "But they ended up stopping him."
As it turned out, he fired the ball back in quickly enough to hold Carroll at third, rendering Toregas' run-scoring groundout meaningless and allowing Miner to hold on with a first-pitch popout from Grady Sizemore for his first Major League save.
"Trevor Hoffman better watch out," Miner joked.
Add up Friday and Saturday, and Tigers relievers pitched 12 innings in just over a 24-hour span, allowing five runs on 15 hits with 11 strikeouts. It's a split decision they'll take, hopefully with some rest to follow.
"We battled down to the last out tonight," Seay said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less