CINCINNATI -- The Tigers had six innings to cover with an injury-depleted bullpen Sunday night once Drew Smyly left with what manager Jim Leyland called the worst blister he's ever seen. The Reds had Aroldis Chapman fresh to try for a six-out save with a three-run lead, and they had a home crowd behind him.
Everything suddenly flipped in the eighth inning on national television. It's not crazy to wonder whether the resulting 7-6 victory might be the win that changes the Tigers' fortunes.
By the time Chapman recorded an out, the Tigers had taken the lead, capped by Austin Jackson's two-run double, jumping on a 99-mph fastball. And the many Tigers fans who gathered in Cincinnati for the weekend and stuck around for the finale made Great American Ball Park sound more like Comerica Park.
"I knew there were some [Tigers fans] here, but toward the end of the game, it felt like there were more and more," Quintin Berry said. "I think they started to see what we could do, how we battled all the way back from being down. They're getting as excited as us.
"Taking this series was big. You can tell in the locker room, everybody's feeling good. It feels like things are about to start changing."
His manager wasn't disagreeing. Leyland had talked about the fight he was seeing in his team off and on for more than a week. This was the first time in a few weeks they saw a comeback victory out of it.
"That's natural for people to talk about. I hope they're right," Leyland said. "I'm not saying they're not. Who knows? ... I don't know. This is certainly a nice step in the right direction, to take two out of three from a first-place team, and a heckuva team."
And they did by beating up one heckuva reliever.
The Tigers knew they were going to have to deal with Joey Votto in this series. Chapman was the guy they wanted to avoid if they could. Leyland said as much coming in on Friday. When they took the middle game of the series Saturday, Leyland noted it again, saying they had gotten through another game without seeing Chapman.
When they put the tying run on base with nobody out in the eighth inning and a three-run deficit Sunday night, Dusty Baker wasn't holding him back any longer. Leyland's good friend and longtime counterpart had used three relievers trying to get through the seventh, and had to strike out Delmon Young as the potential tying run.
Once Ramon Santiago's four-pitch walk and Gerald Laird's bloop single off Logan Ondrusek brought the potential tying run to the plate again, Baker bypassed his remaining relievers and went straight to his closer.
"We didn't want to go two innings with him," Baker said, "but that was the inning of decision right there after those two guys got on base."
Chapman hadn't pitched since the Pirates beat him with two 10th-inning doubles Thursday night, shortly after the Tigers had landed. Chapman was well-rested and aggressive with his 100-mph fastball, but if any team has the ability to hit a fastball pitcher, it's the Tigers.
Thing is, they only needed two hits to get him, and none of them leaving the cozy confines of this ballpark.
Pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch, scratched from the starting lineup with a sprained right ankle, turned on a 99-mph heater and grounded it through the right side to load the bases.
Up came Matt Young, who had struck out six times in seven at-bats since coming up from Triple-A Toledo. Once he swung and missed at two fastballs, even he admitted he seemed set for another.
"Try to catch up to it," he said. "I think it was obvious it was getting by me."
Chapman's next pitch came in at 100, but it came in on Young -- too far. It was close, judging by replay, but it got him.
"It hit my elbow," Young said. "There were two sounds. That helped me out."
Leyland said half-jokingly, "His only chance."
That plated Santiago and brought up Jackson, who just returned from the disabled list Saturday. He had spent Saturday trying to get used to game speed again. Now he was seeing the hardest thrower in the game.
He sent a line drive over Frazier's head at third and just inside the left-field line to score two. A four-pitch walk to Berry loaded the bases and set up a matchup between Chapman and reigning American League batting champ Miguel Cabrera.
The Tigers didn't need it. Once Chapman fired another wild fastball that got by catcher Devin Mesoraco and flew to the backstop, Young broke for home with the go-ahead run.
Chapman retired the middle of the Tigers' lineup from there, but the damage was complete. Brayan Villarreal (3-1) picked up the win. Joaquin Benoit preserved the lead in the eighth for Jose Valverde, who picked up his 12th save.
And they might have just picked up their season.
"That's a big win," Laird said, "and hopefully it gets us over that hump. It just goes to show you guys are busting their tails in here."