By Joe Christensen
DETROIT — Well, last night brought one of those games that you could pick apart and talk about for a week. I tried boiling it down for the game story, answering as many questions as possible about how the Twins could squander those 5-0 and 9-4 leads in an eventual 11-9 loss.
Hard to believe, the Twins came very close to re-tying that game in the ninth inning. Tigers closer Todd Jones got the first two outs, but Jason Kubel walked, Brendan Harris singled and Nick Punto came to the plate representing the go-ahead run.
Even with Craig Monroe on the bench, Manager Ron Gardenhire stuck with Punto, who had entered as a defensive replacement at third base for Mike Lamb in the eighth. I wrote about Monroe in today’s notebook, so I knew how much it would mean to him to get a chance in that spot. But as a switch hitter, Punto could bat lefthanded against the righthanded Jones, and he hit the ball well.
So much had happened by that point, it was easy to overlook what a great play Tigers left fielder Ryan Rayburn made on Punto’s deep fly ball. If that ball drops, it’s a tie game with both runners hustling with two outs. Rayburn had just replaced Jacque Jones in left field at the top of the inning.
Anyway, what a game. Detroit’s comeback will be memorable for me just because of how awful the Tigers looked earlier in the game. Seriously, that dropped popup by Pudge? He’s a 13-time Gold Glove Award winner. It would have been the third out in the second inning, but the Twins made him pay with two runs.
I kept thinking how the Tigers have the second highest payroll in baseball at $138 million and looked like “The Worst Team Money Could Buy.” I’ve read Bob Klapisch and John Harper’s book about the 1992 Mets, and for 5 1/2 innings, these Tigers looked like suitors to the throne.
As the Tigers kept limping around the bases and fumbling plays, the Twins kept sprinting around the bases. Detroit looked old, fat and slow. The Twins looked young, hungry and fast. Joe Mauer, in particular, looked terrific running from first-to-home on Delmon Young’s double in the sixth inning.
Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera was charged with one error and misplayed two other chances to start 5-4-3 double plays against Carlos Gomez. At one point, I heard one fan bellow at Cabrera, “Go back to Florida!”
Well, the Tigers might be gimpy, but they can certainly hit. After Nick Blackburn got the second out in the sixth inning, 14 of the final 19 Tigers hitters reached base.
By the end, Pudge was at the heart of Detroit’s comeback. “It’s tough, but I got mad at that play [the dropped pop-up],” he told the Detroit Free Press. “I take a lot of pride in my defense.”
From John Lowe’s game story in the Free Press, there is also this:
The fans who left missed the first Detroit appearance of the fully animated Miguel Cabrera. As the eighth culminated, he was on the top step of the dugout, cheering. He had a bounce in his step as he went out for the ninth. “He’s just a big kid who likes to play baseball,” Leyland said. “I told him again today to be himself.”
I have a feeling that was the kind of game that will let these Tigers be themselves for a while. I think they got their wakeup call, and the Twins were the unfortunate squad that woke them up.