DETROIT -- The Texas Rangers came to town looking like a team that could waltz to October. They left the field at Comerica Park watching the Tigers jump around after a walk-off hit. Again.
That's how quickly momentum can turn in April, making it difficult to anoint contenders and curse pretenders. In the Tigers' case, it turned on two days of walk-off hits, the latter on the swing of Brandon Inge's bat for a ninth-inning home run in a 3-2 victory Wednesday afternoon.
Inge scored the winning run both days, but this time simply drove himself in. He breathed an air of confidence after the first one, and maybe just a little sigh of relief the second time around.
"I'm 100 percent certain that nobody on this team would intentionally panic or try to stress this early in the season, but there's just a difference," Inge said. "The feeling right now -- as opposed to if we had gotten swept by the Rangers -- is completely different, especially going into a long West Coast swing. There's something to that not-panicking thing, just letting it play out. ...
"I felt like we haven't played terrible, but we haven't played great, either. Maybe this can jump-start us and get us going."
Offensively, the Tigers basically did well when they had to, scoring eight runs over the three-game set -- all of them in the final two games after being shut out in the opener. The equalizer was a pitching staff that came in under question and came out looking like a staff with promise.
The Rangers came to town two days ago with one of the American League's prolific offenses, having put up two double-digit onslaughts and no ugly totals. The Tigers welcomed them with a pitching staff whose ERA stood in the 6.00 range.
Justin Verlander, Brad Penny and Max Scherzer had varying levels of effectiveness, but along with their defense, they all accomplished the game goal: Give their offense a chance.
"I think it's just overall good pitch execution and good defense," Scherzer said. "The defense has been playing well, and that really helps out a staff. If you're able to execute some pitches and kind of keep their big hitters at bay -- you're not going to keep them down; you just have to keep them at bay -- then you're going to have some success. I think as a staff, we were able to do that for the series. That allowed us to win two out of three."
For Scherzer in particular, it was a six-inning labor Wednesday, as the Rangers collected runners in scoring position and waited for the mistake pitch that would help them to the big hit.
All seven of Scherzer's strikeouts came with runners in scoring position, and all of them were swinging. Take those away, and Texas went 3-for-6 when putting the ball in play with runners in scoring position.
"They're an offensive juggernaut," Scherzer said. "I really think that's a very good lineup, even without [injured MVP Josh] Hamilton. It's one of these starts [where] going in you know you have to bring your A-game. If not, they're going to make you pay."
He did not have it early on, but he had swing-and-miss pitches that allowed him to survive. He needed 50 pitches over two innings to keep Texas from jumping ahead early, including back-to-back strikeouts of Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz with runners on second and third in the opening frame. He threw six straight fastballs to Cruz, the last of which hit 95 mph as Cruz tipped it off the bat and into Alex Avila's glove.
When Michael Young hit a one-out double in the third inning, Scherzer did it again, fanning Beltre and Cruz on a slider that has shown considerable improvement this year.
"That's just the way it worked out," Scherzer said. "Really, in those situations, I wasn't trying to strike people out. I was just looking to get ahead and see what happens. I was able to execute pitches with two strikes to get those strikeouts. Alex called a great game back there that allowed me to do that."
Said Avila: "His slider got much better as the game went on."
Even after the Rangers finally got to Scherzer with singles from Beltre, Cruz and David Murphy, his recovery made sure it wasn't for much. Murphy's single scored Cruz and put the bullpen into quick action, but Scherzer regrouped to overpower Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland on fastballs.
After Julio Borbon singled Murphy over to third and brought up the top of the order, Scherzer saved one of his best throws for last -- a pickoff move that caught Borbon off first base for the second straight day and put him in a rundown. Miguel Cabrera fired home in time to nab Murphy trying to score.
"The offense didn't get much going," Murphy said. "Just like yesterday, we took advantage of our opportunities, but there were also a few opportunities that we didn't get it done. We're not going to be perfect ... at some point you have to give the other pitchers credit, but I feel like we could have won that game."
Back-to-back doubles from Victor Martinez and Brennan Boesch helped quickly power the Tigers back to even in the bottom of the inning, capped by an Inge sacrifice fly. Mark Lowe, Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver combined to retire eight straight before Inge came back up with one out in the ninth and Oliver on the mound.
Inge got a slider and teed off for his fifth career walk-off homer.
"He did start me off with two of those the other day," Inge said, "but I'd be lying if I told you I was looking for it. I was just trying to really get my swing down and be aggressive and try to hit the ball up the middle. Hard."