DETROIT — As soon as he hit it, you knew it was gone.
The sound of bat-meets-ball resonating throughout Comerica Park said so.
So did where the ball eventually landed, in the seats down the right-field line, directly behind a Bell Tire advertisement plastered on a facade 400-plus feet away from home plate.
Prince Fielder’s eighth-inning, two-run homer turned a 3-3 tie into a 5-3 Tigers victory over the Baltimore Orioles in the first game of a key weekend series in the American League wild-card race.
But that wasn’t the only epic homer for a dialed-in Fielder, who during his final two at-bats of the night seemed to see the ball like a 10-year-old boy sees a mud puddle — eyes wide open, target identified, SPLASH. Or in Fielder’s case, SMACK.
In the bottom of the sixth, he smacked one over the shrubs in right-center field — 462 feet, according to a press-box announcement — to erase a 3-1 deficit. It was just the fourth hit for a stale Tigers offense off Orioles starter Tommy Hunter.
The fifth and last Tigers hit was Fielder’s winning homer, his 22nd of the season, which came off lefty reliever Darren O’Day.
“As long as they go out, I’m happy,” Fielder said.
The Tigers had one other one “go out.” Miguel Cabrera, who was on base for both of Fielder’s homers, hit his 31st of the season.
Just a couple of days ago, he became the first Tigers player to hit 30 or more homers five consecutive seasons.
Friday, before the sun had even begun to set on a glorious night at the ballpark — clear skies, cool breeze, 73 degrees — the Tiger led 1-0 in the first inning after Cabrera crushed one over the visitors’ bullpen in left-center field. Like Fielder’s two homers, the ball traveled 400-plus feet.
“Got the big blows from the big guys,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Obviously, they did what they do, and tonight it was huge for us.”
So on Dream Cruise weekend in the Motor City, Cabrera and Fielder were vintage ’57 Chevy.
Surprisingly, the Tigers’ starting pitcher, Justin Verlander, was more minivan without a GPS than his usual muscle-car self.
The Tigers ace seemed lost at times. He couldn’t find the plate. He couldn’t even find ginormous first baseman Fielder on a pickoff attempt in the fourth inning. Instead, Verlander threw the ball past Fielder for an error, allowing Manny Machado to trot down to second base.
Verlander made it through six innings, but it was hardly a dominating effort. He played escape artist with timely strikeouts, six in all, but his most telling stat was four walks.
“That’s not like me,” Verlander said. “I was definitely out of sync.”
In addition to the walks, Verlander gave up two scorching doubles to Nick Markakis and a long two-run homer to Matt Wieters.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Leyland said of the 2011 A.L. MVP and Cy Young winner. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
Fielder and Cabrera bailed Verlander out, though, and small-ball artist Quintin Berry loved watching it.
“Man it’s amazing, exciting,” he said “I’m having so much fun watching these guys put good swings on balls.
“They pretty much carried us tonight.”
And somewhere Armando Antonio Galarraga is watching SportsCenter replays and wondering where the heck umpire Tim Timmons was on June 2, 2010.
Timmons did what should have been done on Jim Joyce’s blown call at first base that cost Galarraga a perfect game. Timmons, the home-plate umpire Friday, overruled what appeared to be a botched call by first-base ump Jeff Kellogg in the fifth inning.
On the play, Jhonny Peralta grounded to third baseman Machado, whose throw across the diamond, at least to the naked eye, looked to pull first baseman Mark Reynolds off the bag. Kellogg called Peralta out, but after a quick conference by the umps, Timmons reversed the decision.
Reynolds and Orioles manager Buck Showalter got tossed for excessive arguing in the aftermath.
Safe or out, the bickering was all for not. Peralta got caught stealing to end the inning with no harm done to the Orioles.