Tigers slip past Bucs with big seventh
Jones escapes bases-loaded jam in ninth to earn save No. 22
PITTSBURGH -- Don't tell the Tigers that the Pirates are a last-place team. By the late innings, Sunday was a getaway game in every sense of the term.
Manager Jim Leyland warned reporters going into this weekend that he'd be glad when this series was over. That was mainly for the connections he still has here after 11 years in the same role with the Pirates. After Sunday's 9-8 victory, it was apparent that he was worried for another reason.
"To be honest with you, I was concerned we might come in here and not win a game," Leyland said. "A team like that, they're going to get their share eventually, and I didn't want it to be this weekend. The way things are going for them, and the way things are going for us, this was a great setup. This could've been a tremendous sting this weekend. I'm happy as heck to get out of here, except I'm leaving my wife and the kids."
The Tigers headed into the seventh-inning stretch with a seven-run lead after a five-run rally. By the end of the inning, they needed a double play to strand the potential tying run on third base. Then, after loading the bases with one out in the ninth, Todd Jones retired back-to-back batters, barely finishing off a wild victory to take two out of three.
It wasn't a pretty series for a team that has dominated Interleague Play. At the same time, to Pirates first baseman Sean Casey, it showed why the Tigers are where they are.
"You look at this as a three-game measuring stick against the best team in baseball," Casey said. "With almost everything they do, you can tell they're a championship team. They win those close games, the same games we've been losing. That's what great teams do. They find a way to win even when they don't get all the breaks."
Two massive home runs -- a 449-foot, two-run blast from Carlos Guillen in the opening inning, then a 459-foot shot to straightaway center from Chris Shelton leading off the second -- helped build a 4-0 lead. Guillen's 10th home run of the season off an Ian Snell slider cleared the right-field seats, bounced off the walkway outside the park and landed in the Allegheny River, marking the 20th home run to splash down there in the stadium's six-year history.
"That was pretty low," Guillen said. "I was surprised it went that far, because I wasn't trying to do too much. The ball went further. I tried to hit it [there] in batting practice, and I can't do it."
Zach Miner kept the Pirates at bay by taking a no-hitter into the fifth and a shutout into the sixth until Freddy Sanchez broke through with a two-run double. Detroit's five-run seventh, paced by Craig Monroe's two-run double and an RBI double from Vance Wilson, more than erased the damage.
Hours after the Pirates' seven-run seventh sent the Tigers to defeat on Saturday night, Pittsburgh came to within 90 feet of duplicating the feat and tying the game in the same inning on Sunday.
Fernando Rodney hit Jose Castillo with his first pitch of the afternoon, Humberto Cota singled and Craig Wilson walked to load the bases with no one out. After Jose Bautista lined an RBI single just in front of Alexis Gomez in left field, Sean Casey plated another run when Guillen booted a double-play grounder to short.
Roman Colon entered and walked Jason Bay to reload the bases for Sanchez, who hit another two-run double, this one a blooper that fell just inside the right-field line and bounced into the stands. Pinch-hitter Ronny Paulino hit another blooper for an RBI single, putting Sanchez on third base as the potential tying run.
With runners at the corners and one out, Castillo finally got to swing after being hit by Rodney's pitch to lead off the inning. When he did, he grounded an 0-1 delivery to short for an inning-ending double play.
Disaster was delayed, but not completely averted.
"You let a team like that back in it with the crowd," Vance Wilson said, "and that team's going to base their whole win on big rallies like that. It was impressive, because they weren't trying to do too much. They weren't trying to hit the ball out of the park. They were just taking base hits, flares here, duck snorts over there. It's hard to quash a rally on a team like that."
After Joel Zumaya retired the side in order in the eighth, it appeared a bad omen when Wilson's final throw back before the inning started went awry and hit second baseman Placido Polanco in the gut.
Polanco had never seen that happen in his life.
"That was a perfect throw," he joked.
It started a not-so-perfect inning. Bay's one-out line drive in the ninth came within feet of tying the game. Instead, it hit close to the top of the fence in right-center field for a double.
After sustaining two doubles and four RBIs, the Tigers had enough of Sanchez that they were willing to intentionally walk him, putting the winning run on base.
"It was going his way," Wilson said. "It was one of those things where you're going to have days where you're seeing the ball and lunging out and getting hits. He was doing that today. That's why the skipper decided to [walk him]."
Problem was, Jones then fell behind on a 3-0 count to pinch-hitter Joe Randa. His five-pitch walk loaded the bases.
Up again came Castillo, whose sac fly opportunity vanished with a strikeout. Cota was the Pirates' last hope, and he nearly caught a break when Jones deflected his ground ball up the middle.
For the second time in the inning, Polanco was in the way. This time, it was a good thing.
"That ball wasn't too far from me," he said. "I thought I had it. [The tip] made it an easier play."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.