DETROIT -- Rick Porcello said after his last start that he needed to mix things up, that he had become too predictable in his pitching. What followed Sunday, few would've predicted, and not just from him.
It wasn't just the 6-3 win over the Giants to salvage a game from the series and stop the bleeding from a pitching staff that yielded 51 runs over a five-game stretch for the first time in seven years.
Not many would've foreseen a sinkerball, contact pitcher like Porcello hitting three batters, throwing three wild pitches and earning a quality start as well as his first victory since June 7. Just four other Major League pitchers since 1901 had done it, regardless of result, according to research on baseball-reference.com, and only Victor Zambrano in 2003 had gotten the win and the quality start out of it.
"He had some innings where he was effectively wild," catcher Alex Avila said.
Fewer would've predicted the game hinging on a diving attempt at a catch from Ryan Raburn, the left fielder turned second baseman who was moved back out to left field for defense just before Aaron Rowand's sinking line drive in the eighth inning. With two on and two out in what was then a 4-3 game, any ball past him would've surely cost them.
"He hit it," Raburn said, "and I took off for it."
Instead, the denial earned Raburn a standing ovation from a crowd that has been less than sympathetic to struggles over the last few weeks.
"I put my head down and started running," Rowand said. "I didn't know he caught it until I heard the crowd react. I was running for three. He made a great play."
Though Magglio Ordonez's go-ahead single an inning earlier might've been predictable, ringing true to his track record as a run producer, the fact that it came off a mid-90s fastball from Santiago Casilla might have seemed a little tougher for someone who had to regain his bat speed after an injury-slowed start.
The insurance runs that followed in the ninth inning, when Brandon Inge defied his sub-.200 average with a two-run triple into the gap, might've been the most unexpected -- even though Inge has been feeling good about his swing for several days since coming back from mononucleosis.
"I've felt unbelievable at the plate," Inge said. "I've felt like my old self at the plate. But it's hard to block out [the struggles]. I've probably strung together probably four or five at-bats back to back, great at-bats in my book, but no results. It is good every once in a while to get rewarded."
The resulting win was a reward for a brutal week of lopsided losses and close wins, and an end to an Interleague Play stretch that the Tigers would probably like to forget. Detroit 's 7-11 record against the National League marked the first losing Interleague record in manager Jim Leyland's six-year stretch as Tigers manager.
At the same time, the combination of a Tigers win and an Indians loss crept Detroit back to within a half-game of first-place Cleveland in the American League Central. It also reclaimed a game of breathing space for the Tigers over the third-place White Sox, now three games back of Detroit and 3 1/2 games out of first place.
"It wasn't an easy game by any means," Porcello said. "But it was definitely a game that we needed, especially going on the road here to finish up this first half. We had to go out there and get it done any way possible."
Porcello's early command made that possibility seem a little dim. After a three-game losing streak in which opponents seemingly were on his sinker, Porcello entered Sunday on a mission to find a better mix, and he spent a lot of time trying to find the secondary pitches to keep hitters honest.
He battled the Giants, but he also battled himself. He hit batters in the third, fourth and fifth innings, starting with a pitch off Miguel Tejada that nearly set up San Francisco to blow open its lead after Aubrey Huff walked and scored in the third.
Emmanuel Burriss reached base on a hit-by-pitch in the fifth and scored on a wild pitch, with Pablo Sandoval's double in between. Another wild pitch advanced Sandoval to score on Cody Ross' RBI single.
That was the last hit Porcello (7-6) allowed. He retired eight of the final nine batters he faced, with a Miguel Cabrera errant drop accounting for the lone runner. Porcello's six strikeouts, many on sliders, marked his highest total since mid-April, and his eight swings and misses from Giants hitters was his highest total in four starts.
"I think the main thing was I was able to locate my fastball down in the zone more, especially early on," Porcello said. "That was a big difference. Also, we were throwing some off-speed stuff for strikes and getting some good swing and misses. I think that definitely helped."
As Leyland put it, Porcello stepped up. If the Tigers are going places this summer, they desperately need that. If they were going to go into this coming week with a fresh bullpen, they had to have it.
"Rick was what the doctor ordered today," Leyland said. "He came up big for us."
So did Inge, Raburn and Ordonez. But nobody could've fit that so easily into a prescription for a Tigers victory.