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07/04/09 3:04 AM ET

Tigers pull out 16-inning win over Twins

Polanco's RBI single sparks three-run frame for Detroit

MINNEAPOLIS -- What had been a blown six-run lead for the Tigers eventually became a victory -- it just took a while.

Actually, it took quite a while, long enough for Placido Polanco to have two go-ahead singles, for the Tigers to empty the bullpen and for the calendar to turn to the Fourth of July by the time Polanco's RBI single spurred a three-run 16th inning.

It was a tough 11-9 win for the Tigers to pull out over the the Twins, and it probably shouldn't have gotten to that point. But they also know it could have been worse: They could have lost a game that they twice led by six runs, 6-0 in the third and 7-1 in the fourth, and that's a good part of what kept them going from Friday night into Saturday morning.

"We were here for so long that we really wanted to win the game," Polanco said of the Tigers' longest game inningswise since 2003 and their longest ever at the Metrodome. "You don't really think how tired you are or whatever."

Or as manager Jim Leyland put it, "That was a really good win, because it could've been a really bad loss."

The longer the game goes on, third baseman Brandon Inge said, the tougher it is mentally. By the time he came up with two outs in the 16th inning, he was just thinking about how crazy this night had been.

"It's funny, I went up to [Joe] Mauer in my last at-bat and I said, 'This is a messed-up game, isn't it,'" Inge said. "Not tonight, but just baseball. And he just started laughing. Because we throw up seven runs like that, like nothing, then all of a sudden we've got how many innings where we can't even sniff a run? And then they bang back runs and then they can't score. It's a messed-up game."

This particular game was messed up enough that a near miscue on the Twins' game-tying hit probably kept the Tigers alive to win it. And a bullpen effort that began with a five-run sixth inning from Zach Miner concluded with 10 2/3 innings of two-run ball from everybody else.

It took a long at-bat from Polanco to move the Tigers ahead in the 14th, but most of that time was spent with Polanco crouched behind home plate trying to recover from a foul tip.

"It takes a little time for you to, um, get it out of your system," Polanco said.

Stuck in an 0-2 count, Polanco finally stepped back to the plate and slapped the next pitch back through the middle to score Gerald Laird for an 8-7 lead. Freddy Dolsi entered in the bottom of the inning for the save attempt, but three straight Twins singles -- including Michael Cuddyer's RBI grounder off the glove of a diving Inge -- tied the score again.

The ball was sitting behind third base as Mauer trotted home. Inge and shortstop Ramon Santiago looked at each other, waiting a split second for the other to go after it as Justin Morneau decided to try for third.

"I saw Brandon go first," Santiago said, "and then he kind of saw me going to the ball. He went to the bag, because somebody has to be on the base. He was a safer choice to go to the base."

Said Inge: "It might've deked Morneau a little bit. If he sees me going, obviously there's going to be nobody [covering] third. It got to the point where I got out there a little bit, but I came back."

If Morneau had gotten to third, he would've scored the winning run on Dolsi's two-out pitch that skirted past catcher Laird for a passed ball. Instead, that merely allowed Cuddyer to move to third before Delmon Young grounded out to end the threat.

"He thought he could get there and he got thrown out," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You know what, it's a situation where the ball is rolling down the left-field line and he's trying to get there and doesn't make it."

Dolsi (1-0) retired six straight batters after Cuddyer's game-tying single. By the time his error covering first base allowed Mauer to get on, the Tigers were up three, and he could survive putting Mauer and Morneau on base again.

"That's a lot to ask of the kid," Leyland said. "I'm seeing Mauer and Morneau in my sleep. Every time I turn around, they're coming up."

The Twins could say the same of Polanco, who came back up with one out in the 16th after Santiago singled and Curtis Granderson doubled. With the infield in, Polanco laced a line drive past a diving attempt from Twins shortstop Brendan Harris to send Santiago home. Ryan Raburn and Magglio Ordonez added two-out RBI singles for huge insurance runs.

Once Dolsi finally retired the side in the bottom half, he didn't have enough energy for so much as a fist pump. Nobody could really do their usual celebrations. The guy with the most energy seemed to be Laird, who hugged his winning pitcher.

"To go that long, it feels a lot better when you win," Laird said. "Long game. Important game."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.