Tigers' rally falls short with wild pitch

Tigers' rally falls short with wild pitch

MINNEAPOLIS -- Another Tigers comeback ran headlong into the Twins' late-inning magic in their new home stadium. And there wasn't much the Tigers could seemingly do about it.

As many late-inning rallies as the Tigers have enjoyed this year, they seemed set to take the lead as Ramon Santiago's ninth-inning ground ball headed through the left side of the infield and Alex Avila rounded third. Not only did shortstop J.J. Hardy's diving stop prevent that run from scoring, it ended the rally, catching Avila rounding third on a highlight stop nobody expected.

Once Hardy scored the winning run himself on a Ryan Perry wild pitch in the bottom half of the inning, the Tigers had a 4-3 loss and a new memory of a rally thwarted in Minneapolis. It wasn't the Metrodome, and it wasn't in a tiebreaking game, but it was still tough on an already emotional night for the organization, as long-time broadcaster Ernie Harwell passed away Tuesday night.

"We had a shot," manager Jim Leyland said. "We hung in there the whole way. We just couldn't quite get it done."

They hung in despite a start that seemed destined to resemble the loss they took a night earlier. Dontrelle Willis gave up two singles, a double and three walks to the first 10 hitters he faced, allowing two first-inning runs and putting two more on base in the second.

Just as Willis seemed to be reeling, though, he got out of that jam with back-to-back groundouts. After that, he went on a roll. He not only sent down 12 consecutive Twins in order, he did it quickly, coming nowhere close to another walk.

"I think they came out swinging, and I think they did a good job of adjusting, especially just facing them five days [ago]," Willis said. "They hit me in the mouth early and they came out swinging. I was able to just weather the storm, and I swung back.

"I just wanted to continue to attack. I didn't want to get into a situation where I was trying to be passive and miss the strike zone and nibble. I've played against those guys a bunch of times. When it gets like that, it gets competitive and it gets fun."

Said Leyland: "I just think he made better pitches. His ball was moving late, making them mishit some balls. I thought he settled down and pitched a whale of a game."

Essentially, Willis bought the Tigers time to get back into the game, which they did with four straight singles and RBIs from Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera. A one-out double in the sixth chased Willis and led to another run on Hardy's RBI single, but Detroit's bullpen kept it at that.

After Twins starter Nick Blackburn carried the Minnesota lead through eight innings, he went back out for the ninth looking for a complete game. Boesch greeted him with a mammoth home run into the upper deck of the right-field seats, an estimated 398-foot shot that tied the game.

Avila's two-out double put the potential go-ahead run in scoring position for pinch-hitter Santiago. His ground ball looked to be headed to left field for a single.

That's how the Tigers played it. Avila and third-base coach Gene Lamont were anticipating a play at the plate. Nobody was anticipating Hardy making a play at third.

"In that situation, you're taught to get a big secondary [lead] and get a good jump on the swing of the bat," Avila said. "I got a real good jump. If that ball gets through, I score easy. And he made a heckuva play.

"My head was down running, and I kind of caught out of the corner of my eye [Lamont] starting to give me the wave in, and then put the stop sign up. With as much momentum as I had going, I probably should've kept going. But I saw it and just reacted."

Momentum wasn't in favor of Avila, who had rounded third and wasn't able to stop quickly. Hardy fired to third baseman Nick Punto to start an inning-ending rundown.

"He made an unbelievable play, unbelievable play," Avila said.

The game was still tied in the bottom of the ninth. Hardy hit a drive off the left-field wall for a one-out triple to bring up rookie catcher Wilson Ramos with a chance to win.

He didn't have to swing the bat. Perry put a slider in the dirt and past Avila behind the plate, allowing Hardy to dash home without a play.

"It's unfortunate it ended like that," Leyland said, "but that's part of the game."

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