DETROIT -- Brennan Boesch looked like he had the weight of the team on his shoulders around this time last year. As he watched his line drive clear the right-field fence Tuesday night, he looked like he could've flown around the bases.
"There's rare times as an athlete where things start to slow down a little bit," Boesch said, "and you kind of seize the moment, and I really felt like that was one of those times."
His go-ahead home run in the eighth inning off Mike Adams meant he could do an easy home-run trot through the driving rain at Comerica Park, having dug himself out of a two-strike hole. Once Jose Valverde followed it with three outs in the ninth, it meant the Tigers could breathe a sigh of relief with their 6-5 win over the Rangers.
They had a three-run lead in the eighth that felt like twice that with all the hits they recorded, but missed chances at add-on runs gave the Rangers a chance at a comeback, which they completed with two eighth-inning homers off their former teammate, Joaquin Benoit.
Boesch's solo shot in the bottom of the inning brought Detroit back. With the Indians and White Sox falling to defeat, it also pushed the Tigers further up in the American League Central. Their three-game lead over the Tribe is their biggest margin all year, while their 5 1/2-game gap over the White Sox is the biggest Chicago has faced since July 8.
It means Boesch's bash had a major impact around the Central. Just as important, it continued a season in which the second-year slugger has been less of a flash of lightning and more of a steady source of production.
After all that happened last year, that's what he has been looking to do.
"I'm just trying to be consistent," Boesch said. "I'm not trying to hit 50 home runs and do anything crazy. I just want to be consistent for this team."
If he can stay that way, the Tigers believe, he has a chance to be a lot more.
"If he lets himself," manager Jim Leyland said, "he has a chance to be a monster at some point, I think."
Boesch isn't interested in 2010, the stellar first half and the drop after the All-Star break. It isn't going to help him this year. He knows it, and he's moved on. His important message this year has been one word: Relax.
The publicity over that stellar first half last year is long gone, allowing him to settle in. He has become a much better hitter for contact, with 68 strikeouts in more than 400 plate appearances. He had a little bit of a slump after the All-Star break, a .230 second-half average entering Tuesday, but nothing by comparison to last year.
He went 5-for-15 over the four-game weekend series against the Angels, and he said he felt good about nearly every at-bat. That carried over.
"I felt like I was putting a good at-bat on some tough pitchers, and it kind of locked me in for today," Boesch said.
His evening was a decent sampling of his summer. His one-out walk in the opening inning off Texas starter Colby Lewis started a scoring chance that ended with a double play, one of three the Tigers hit into over the first five innings. His third-inning single was an easy ground ball through the middle, putting him on base to score on a head-first dive following Victor Martinez's hit.
Another ground-ball single through the middle led off the sixth before Boesch swiped second base, only to be stranded as Yoshinori Tateyama kept Detroit's lead at three. By the time Boesch came back up in the eighth, it was tied.
Adams arrived from San Diego with a 1.13 ERA and just 26 hits allowed over 48 innings. He had allowed just two home runs all season, and just five over the last three years combined.
All Boesch knew about him as he stepped to the plate with one out was what he saw on video before the game.
"I saw that he had a nice cutter, good cutter, tough cutter," Boesch said. "That was probably his pitch. I had a feeling that I might not get a pitch to pull because of the situation, and so he threw two good cutters away to get me down and 0-2.
"From there, it's just a battle, seeing the ball big and trying to just take anything he gives you -- a base hit the other way, whatever it takes to get on base from that point."
Boesch fouled off four straight pitches -- back-to-back sliders, another fastball, then a curve -- as he tried to extend the at-bat. He hadn't hit a home run after an 0-2 count this year, and had just two with two strikes, but he owned a .239 two-strike average that some hitters with more experience would love to claim.
"Things kind of slowed down," Boesch said. "I knew if I just laid off some tough pitches with two strikes that I'd get a pitch to hit, and I got a pitch to hit."
It was a changeup Adams left high, and it was enough to pull with authority. Boesch didn't miss.
"Boesch had a great at-bat," the Rangers' Michael Young said. "He fouled off some tough pitches and then hit the ball out of the ballpark. That was a great at-bat."
The at-bat ended in a no-doubt result. The line drive went out in a hurry through the rain. Boesch knew from the swing.
"It's just smooth," he said. "You don't feel anything. That's when you know you got it."