Backup catcher Omir Santos emerges as the game's hero after hitting walk-off sac fly for Tigers.
By DAVE HOGGFS Detroit
DETROIT — The two most memorable moments in Detroit's 4-3 win over the
Miguel Cabrera's massive home runs to center field.
At the end of the day, though, Cabrera might not have even been the Tigers' biggest star.
It might have been
Don Kelly, who reached well over the left-field fence to rob Mark Teixeira of a lead-off homer in the fourth inning. Or maybe it was
Joaquin Benoit, who pitched hurt to get the Tigers out of a seventh-inning jam.
Or it might have been the most unlikely one of all — Omir Santos. Santos, playing because Alex Avila and Gerald Laird were sidelined by hamstring injuries, committed two errors and allowed five stolen bases without throwing out a runner. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, he delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly to end one of the stranger games in Comerica Park history.
"I got a feeling that if I got an at-bat, I was going to be the hero," Santos said. "I don't know why, but I had that feeling. I was just trying to forget all of the stuff that had happened earlier in the game."
Santos should have never gotten the chance for redemption, because the Tigers led 3-2 going into the top of the ninth. Jose Valverde, once so reliable, allowed the tying run on two walks, two hit batters and three stolen bases. Things could have been even worse, because Santos dropped a foul pop that would have ended the inning, but Valverde got Raul Ibanez to ground out and end the carnage.
That set things up for the bottom of the ninth when Brennan Boesch and Jhonny Peralta singled and pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago drew the second intentional walk of his career to load the bases.
Santos then lifted a fly ball to medium right and Boesch easily beat Nick Swisher's throw to the plate.
"When I saw them get to 2-0 on Santi and realized they were going to walk him, I just said, 'Thank you — I'm going to get it done,'" Santos said. "I was praying I would get to the plate. I wanted that at-bat."
ANOTHER INJURY CONCERN
Benoit had a spectacular seventh inning, coming in with two runners on and no one out before retiring Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez in order. Unfortunately for the Tigers, he didn't come through it in one piece.
Rodriguez called time while Benoit was already winding up, and he wasn't able to come to a stop. The resulting non-pitch sailed to the backstop and Detroit's set-up man immediately felt tightness in the right forearm. He finished the inning, but the Tigers had to use Octavio Dotel in the eighth.
Not only does Benoit join an injured list that includes Doug Fister, Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Avila and Laird, he might end up on the top of the pile.
"I'm more worried about him than anyone else," said Jim Leyland. "It tightened up on him pretty bad, so that's got me concerned. We've been pretty snake-bitten."
After Valverde's horrific ninth inning — his third blown save of the year — the last thing the Tigers need is Benoit to miss any time.
The Tigers went into the game with only four healthy outfielders, and used all of them in the starting lineup. Kelly was in left, Quintin Berry in center and Boesch in right, with Delmon Young serving as the DH.
Since Santiago was the only healthy player on the bench, it created a lineup issue when he hit for Kelly in the ninth. Santiago, Santos, Prince Fielder and Danny Worth have never played the outfield in the majors, while Cabrera hasn't done it since 2005.
It didn't end up mattering, since the Tigers won the game in the bottom of the ninth, but Leyland said after the game that Worth would have gotten the job. It would have been his first outfield appearance in his pro career — minors or majors.