ST. PETERSBURG -- It was just one of 162, as they say, but Saturday night provided the type of win the Tigers would love to duplicate over and over again, because it could lead to a very eventful October. Not the beginning of the game, per se -- when starter Armando Galarraga put the Tigers in a deep hole before making an exit in the third inning. It's what happened after the fact, when the bullpen blanked the Rays through six innings and the offense combined to score five runs in the seventh and eighth en route to an 8-6 win in front of a sold-out crowd of 36,973 at Tropicana Field.
With its fifth straight win, Detroit moved a season-high 13 games over .500 and kept its six-game lead over the victorious Twins in the American League Central. "That's a nice win for us," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose team came into this series a mediocre-at-best 27-39 on the road. "They had a nice crowd, had everything going for them ... and for our guys to hang in there and battle back and assure ourselves two out of three down here, that's pretty good. It didn't look too good there for a while." With the calendar turned to September, the Tigers' clubhouse is especially crowded with extra players these days. And perhaps that's what makes this win most satisfying -- the fact that practically everybody contributed. There was Alex Avila, hitting a two-run homer off James Shields to eventually knock him out of the game in the seventh and bring the deficit to 6-5 -- before Placido Polanco tied it with an RBI single. "That home run definitely turned the momentum of tonight around," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose club has lost four of its last five and is sinking in the playoff race. There was Marcus Thames, pinch-hitting with one out and the bases loaded in a tied game in the eighth and coming through with an RBI single to give the Tigers their second lead of the game. And then there was shortstop Adam Everett, who didn't start on Saturday but emerged off the bench after Thames and perfected a suicide squeeze off Dan Wheeler to score Clete Thomas and give Detroit some integral insurance. Eight Tigers recorded hits, and a different player scored each run. "I don't know how many guys we have on the roster right now, but it seems like we use every single guy," Everett said. "Everybody's contributing, and that's what it's going to take." Perhaps no entity came up bigger than the Fernando Rodney-less bullpen, as Eddie Bonine, Fu-Te Ni, Jeremy Bonderman -- making his second Major League appearance of the year and his first since June 8 -- Bobby Seay and Zach Miner all set the stage for a perfect ninth inning by Brandon Lyon. "I think the bullpen gave us confidence," Leyland said. "The way we pitched, we owed it to them, really, to get something on the board the way they kept holding them off, because that's not an easy thing to do." But there was one negative, and that revolved around the efforts of a perhaps-still-injured Galarraga. The 27-year-old right-hander was originally supposed to make a precautionary start at Triple-A Toledo on Friday because of some right elbow inflammation, but Jarrod Washburn's sore left knee brought Galarraga to the big leagues on Saturday instead. Galarraga struggled from the get-go, putting the Tigers in a 4-1 hole after a 25-pitch first inning in which he gave up a sacrifice fly to Pat Burrell and a three-run homer to the next batter, Evan Longoria. In a 4-3 game in the third, Galarraga put the first two runners on and gave up an RBI single to Carlos Pena. Burrell then followed suit by bringing in another run with a sacrifice fly and ending Galarraga's sluggish outing. That short outing saw him use 54 pitches -- only 28 of them strikes -- to get through 2 1/3 innings, a span in which he gave up six runs on four hits and three walks. The Tigers have options in the rotation now, as Nate Robertson has looked good in his last two starts, so Leyland said he's going to talk to Galarraga and further evaluate the team's options in the starting staff moving forward. "I don't know if there was any rust on him, but the arm slot was underneath him sometimes," Leyland said. "It's a little concerning, obviously." But not to worry. The Tigers came back, and they did it the same way they did it in a series-opening win on Friday -- by attacking the Rays' bullpen late. All of the contests in Detroit's five-game winning streak have been decided by three runs or less, and that's another sign of a first-place team -- winning close ballgames. "It's a team win," Avila said. "That's how you win games in the playoffs. When you get everybody contributing, you can't ask for anything better than that."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.