(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
For one night the Tigers hitters and pitchers played role reversal.
When starter Armando Galarraga struggled out of the gate, allowing four runs to score in the first inning and shouldering six earned runs without making it through the third inning, the game seemed lost.
All season the pitching has been charged with carrying the offense. If they allowed more than four runs in a given game you might as well head for the exits. The 2009 version of the Cardiac Cats don't have much of a history of combackability, if you will.
The Tigers haven't been in the business of scoring bunches of runs this season, but that was the task that was required of them. And on this one particular evening in Tampa, the Tigers hitters were equal to the challenge.
To the tune of eleven hits and eight runs, the Tigers offense fought back. Jim Leyland—who may very well be earning that contract extension—pulled all the right strings. Pinch runners scored the Tigers final three runs, and pinch hitter Marcus Thames singled in the eighth to put the Tigers into the lead for good.
But Leyland also made the right calls when turning to the bullpen. After Galarraga was lifted in the third inning, Eddie Bonine, Fu-Te Ni, Jeremy Bonderman, Bobby Seay, Zach Miner, and Brandon Lyon combined for four hits in six and two-thirds innings without allowing a run to score.
In all, the Tigers used 23 players en route to recording the win, their fifth win in as many games in September.
There was a playoff feel to this game, both teams wanting to win badly. The Rays
needed a win to keep their pursuit of a wildcard bid viable. The Tigers needed a win to keep the Twins
at bay in the AL Central division. But Leyland bested Rays manager Joe Maddon in the chess match of pinch hitters, relief pitchers, pinch runners, and squeeze bunts that make these types of games so riveting.
So the Tigers will leave Tampa with another series win, transfering even more pressure to the Twins who still trail in the division by six games. If the Tigers play 0.500 baseball, the Twins must win all of their series to catch them. If the Tigers win their series, the Twins must be virtually perfect the rest of the way.
The Tigers are doing whatever is required in order to take care of business, even if it means the anemic offense must shoulder the load from time to time. These Tigers are looking less like the de facto winners of a weak Central Division and more like a contending playoff team.