Ninth-inning rally sparks impressive Tigers' comeback

BY foxsports • September 21, 2013

DETROIT -- Even Jim Leyland couldn't blame the Tigers for taking the night off on Saturday.

They were being dominated by Chris Sale, they knew Cleveland had won, ruining their chances to clinch the Central Division at home, and they weren't going to get much sleep before Sunday's day game.

That's when Robin Ventura stepped in.

Ventura decided that one of baseball's best pitchers was exhausted after 97 pitches, and pulled him out of the game with two outs in the eighth inning.

"(Sale) was done," Ventura explained after the game. "He had done his job and we had the right guys in there."

He didn't. Not even close.

Nate Jones got the final out of the eighth, then completely collapsed as the Tigers realized that they might have a chance at an extremely unlikely victory. Torii Hunter started the inning with a triple, and scored on Miguel Cabrera's single. Prince Fielder singled. Victor Martinez doubled to make it 6-2.

At that point, Ventura huddled with pitching coach Don Cooper, trying to decide what to do. He sent Cooper out to the mound, and only then called the bullpen to get closer Addison Reed warming up. It was too late.

Andy Dirks hit the next pitch for a 3-run homer, making it 6-5 and sending the sold-out crowd into something approaching delirium. Jones had just given up five runs without getting an out in the ninth, and Ventura rushed to the mound to bring in Reed, who had only thrown a handful of warm-up pitches.

That went about as well as you would expect. A flustered Reed walked Omar Infante, and after a sacrifice bunt, he walked Alex Avila. Then he walked Austin Jackson. With the bases loaded, Hunter hit a long sacrifice fly, tying the game, and Reed promptly reloaded the bases by walking Cabrera -- his fourth walk of the inning.

On a more poetic night, Prince Fielder would have ended the game right there, but he grounded out, putting the party on hold. No one scored in the 10th or the 11th. Al Alburquerque pitched a second scoreless inning in the top of the 12th, and the Tigers won it in the bottom of the inning on three walks, another sacrifice bunt and a walk-off infield single by Omar Infante.

"Obviously, you don't expect to win a game when you are down 6-0 in the ninth, but this team is good at playing all nine innings," Leyland said. "They could have packed it in, but they kept grinding away, and once they started to smell it, they really got after it."

Detroit went into the bottom of the ninth with a 0.3% chance of victory, according to Fangraphs.com. They hadn't won a game after trailing 6-0 in the ninth since 1947, and the White Sox had never lost such a game in their 113-season history.

Hunter, the old man of the team at 38, hadn't seen anything like it.

"This is one of my favorites of all time," he said. "Six down? No, never. Two, three, maybe four, but not six. It is just a testament to this team to how this team is built -- we've got a lot of professional hitters, guys like Victor, Cabrera and myself, and we never give up."

Hunter started and finished the rally, and greatly enjoyed both parts.

"When I got up there the first time, I knew I couldn't hit a six-run jack with no one on, so I was just trying to have a good at-bat," said Hunter, who was so excited that he seemed to think that he could hit a six-run homer with enough runners on base. "With the bases loaded, I have all the pressure on me, and that's what I like. I just wanted to get the ball in the air somewhere, and that's what I did."

It has been 26 years since the Tigers clinched a division title at home, and after Saturday's miracle, they've got a chance to do it on Sunday. It's not a great chance -- the helpless Astros would have to beat Cleveland while the Tigers beat Chicago -- but the champagne is going to be on hand just in case.

"We've got to go out and play a game tomorrow -- play our game and not worry about all that other stuff," Dirks said. "But winning it here? That would mean a lot to us, and it would mean a lot to the fans. Tonight was excitement. We just want to keep it rolling."


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