DETROIT — Ninety feet. Thirty yards. A quick dash for Reggie Bush or Devin Gardner, and a few long strides for Andre Drummond.
For Prince Fielder, though, 90 feet can seem like a long, long way.
Victor Martinez had just doubled into the left-field corner, and Fielder was trying to score the go-ahead run from first. As Raul Ibanez finally corralled a tricky bounce, Fielder was rounding third. Tom Brookens waved him home, but it might not have mattered — when he gets to full speed, stopping is even harder than finding the stamina to keep running.
Ibanez’s throw was good, but the relay throw forced Mike Zunino to reach toward the third-base dugout. It was last weekend’s play against Kansas City all over — Fielder was going to be thrown out at the plate again.
This time, though, his slide kept him on the ground instead of bouncing him into the air like a rubber ball. He was even headed toward the inside of the plate, instead of sliding directly into the tag as he did against Salvador Perez.
“I’d give myself about a five or a six on that one,” Fielder said. “I’m too big to be creative when it comes to slide. I’ve just got to go for the plate.”
All that made it a little tougher for Zunino. His tag caught Fielder in the upper chest and it was … well, to be fair, the replay made it look like he was very possibly out. Home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa, though, called him safe and the Tigers had a 5-4 lead.
“It was pretty close,” he said. “I was just faster.”
Seattle manager Eric Wedge said he couldn’t tell, but that he was told that replays showed Fielder didn’t beat the throw.
“That’s what someone said, but all I knew was that it was a bang-bang play at the plate,” he said. “Mike did a great job of getting the throw and making the tag. We just didn’t get the call.”
Fielder had gotten an energy boost earlier in the game, thanks to a fan’s tortilla chip. After a long, unsuccessful chase of a foul ball down the right-field line, Fielder bumped into the railing and almost fell into the front row. As he was gathering himself back up, he noticed that one of the fans wasn’t paying enough attention to his nachos, and helped himself to a chip.
“I’ve never taken a chip, but it looked good and I don’t think he even noticed,” Fielder said. “I thought about dipping it in the cheese, but he might have been double-dipping, so I decided not to do it. Cheese would have been better.”
Martinez had been intentionally walked twice earlier in the game, and Wedge wished he could have done it again in the seventh.
“I’ve known Victor for a long time, and I know all the different ways he can beat you,” said Wedge, who managed Martinez for seven seasons in Cleveland. “I would have walked him again, but there was nowhere to put him with Prince on first. He’s just a great hitter and he got us again.”
The run ended up being the difference in the game, as Doug Fister, Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit shut down the Mariners in the final two innings for a 5-4 victory. The win dropped Detroit’s magic number to four, pending Cleveland’s game against Houston Thursday night.
Detroit can’t clinch Friday, but with some help from Cleveland and Kansas City, the party could be at Comerica Park on Saturday or Sunday.
“We definitely want to clinch over here,” Martinez said. “Our fans have been with us all year, and they really deserve to see the celebration at Comerica. We’re trying really hard.”
The Tigers had one small reason to celebrate after Thursday’s win — they didn’t lose Jose Iglesias to what everyone thought was a broken hand. Tom Wilhelmsen hit him with a 95-mph fastball, sending Iglesias crumpling to the ground in agony before heading directly to the stadium’s X-ray machine.
“Absolutely, I’m afraid — it was really painful,” he said. “When you get hit in a spot like this one, it’s bad. A broken hand, and I miss the rest of the season. I got lucky.”
With Iglesias only nursing a bad bruise, his teammates could focus on the important aspect of the afternoon — Fielder’s running and eating.
“You see your kid running for a touchdown in Little League, and you start running down the line with him,” Torii Hunter said. “That’s what I do every time Prince scores from first. It’s exciting. That big boy can move.”
As for the in-game snack, Hunter thought that was a good move.
“Hey, he ran all the way over there,” he said. “He deserved a nacho.”