Detroit — It might be time to start calling the Tigers the comeback kids.
After Sunday’s stunning 9-8 victory over the Indians for the three-game sweep, the Tigers (5-1) have come from behind in three of their five victories.
The Tigers trailed 5-0 after the first inning, even though Justin Verlander was pitching, and 7-1 after the top of the sixth. Yet they managed to claw back into the game.
Miguel Cabrera drove in the first run in the fifth, Magglio Ordonez drove in two in the sixth, rookie Scott Sizemore had an RBI in the seventh and Brandon Inge drove in a run in the eighth, all setting the stage for the ninth.
With one out and the Tigers trailing 8-6, Ordonez singled. Indians reliever Chris Perez walked Cabrera. Carlos Guillen hit a double to the right corner to score Ordonez as Cabrera took third. After Inge grounded out, Ramon Santiago walked.
Manager Jim Leyland had Johnny Damon pinch hit for Gerald Laird. Damon walked on four pitches, tying the game. Sizemore came to the plate and Perez’s next pitch was a wild one, allowing Guillen to score and send the fans home happy.
“Wins like this, whether you’ve been playing with a guy for 10 years or five days, I think it helps to bring everybody together,” Verlander said. “This is my fifth year now and that’s one of the best comebacks I’ve seen. Just the way we battled back there towards the end of the game, nobody gave in. That’s something special.”
Said Inge: “Just pure heart. It’s almost keeping your cool. When the game gets out of hand at certain times like that, you could very easily pack it in. But we were very persistent. Get a run here, get a run here, good, solid at-bats, keeping a cool, level head.”
It was especially unusual considering the Tigers stranded a whopping 18 runners. According to baseball-reference.com, they are the second team since 1986 to win a game while stranding 18 or more runners (Mariners, 2008).
It’s the third time since 1920 that the Tigers have stranded 18 runners in a nine-inning game. They also did it in losses in 1926 and 1931, both against Philadelphia.
“We’re going to play nine innings,” Leyland said. “Like I told them after the game, that’s the very reason you preach that. We caught a couple breaks there. We caught a couple breaks on the last pitch there, but we hung in there. We got a lot of hits and left a lot of guys on base, but as it turned out, we still had nine runs on 18 hits.
“If you get a run for every two hits, that’s pretty good. It didn’t seem like it was going to be that way for a while. We were fortunate to win that game. That’s one that we probably shouldn’t have won that we did.”
The Tigers’ two hottest hitters, Ordonez (two hits and two RBIs) and Cabrera (three hits and one RBI), continued to sparkle.
“It was fun,” said Cabrera, now hitting .522. “When you’re winning and play good, everything’s coming easy. We play very good ball right now.”
What was really encouraging was seeing some of the hitters who had struggled so far this season making contributions. Sizemore, who came in with one hit in 11 at-bats, had three. Guillen snapped his 0-15 skid with two hits, an RBI and two runs scored. Laird got his first hit of the season, ending an 0-17 stretch.
“This is a team game and I think everybody on this team contributed today, in a big way,” Verlander said. “There were some big at-bats. Sizemore, it was really nice seeing him come through. I think it was a big burden off of his shoulders to come though like he did today.
“We know the talent’s there. It’s just a matter of going out there and relaxing and playing the game. I think today’s going to allow him to do that.
“This is a great win for us. I know it’s early in the season and it’s hard to quantify how big of a win this could be for us in our confidence and everything. But my personal feeling is, it’s huge.”
Damon, who relished being put in the situation with the game on the line, said he had a feeling about this team.
“I love it. I knew this team had a lot of potential when I was a free agent,” Damon said. “That’s why I tried pushing Detroit to make it happen and they made it happen.
“I like what I see. It’s a young team with a lot of life.”