DETROIT — Until two outs in the Chicago ninth inning, the most exciting part of the night for the Tigers was that Miguel Cabrera broke loose. He had three hits, including a home run, and drove in three runs to help build a five-run lead entering the ninth.
Then, with Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain trying to finish it off, the game got exciting in a most uncomfortable fashion.
Alexei Ramirez — representing the potential tying run — bid to become the fifth straight White Sox hitter to reach base with two outs. He hit a fly ball to leftfield, and J.D. Martinez, in his first start for the Tigers, lost the ball in the lights. “It was so scary,” Martinez said.
If Martinez had missed the ball, it would have rolled far behind him, and Ramirez probably would have had a triple or even a game-tying inside-the-park homer. At best, closer Joe Nathan would have entered with no room for error; a single could have tied the game.
Martinez said he finally saw Ramirez’s ball when it was a few feet in front of him. He jabbed his glove and caught it. After 26 outs had gone routinely, the 27th out had finally arrived in excruciating fashion. The Tigers had held on, 8-6, in a game where Justin Verlander held down the American League’s highest-scoring team for seven innings.
“As soon as it was hit, it went right into the lights,” Martinez said. “I knew in the vicinity where it was going to be. I said, ‘Forget it, I’ve got to go for it. I’ve got to at least let it hit me in the chest.’ At the last possible second, it came out of the lights.”
Chamberlain took over after Adam Dunn’s homer off Coke made it 8-6. Nathan was warming up. Chamberlain walked Dayan Viciedo on four pitches, bringing up Ramirez.
“We got to two outs quickly,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We got Joba up because he can heat up quicker (than Nathan). If I did it over, I’d tell Joe to be ready in case it turned into a save situation (which it did when Dunn homered). But because Joba had been up, he could get ready at quicker pace.”
Until Tuesday, Coke appeared to be making progress in rebounding from his distressing season last year. He allowed three runs in his first game this season, but hadn’t given up anything since then. In Tuesday’s ninth, he was one out away from his fifth straight scoreless outing.
Then he gave up a double to Marcus Semien, an RBI single to Paul Konerko (1-for-17 on the season to that point) and the left-vs.-left, two-run homer far over the rightfield fence by Dunn on an 0-2 pitch.
Cabrera hit an RBI double and two-run homer in his two at-bats against Charlie Leesman, a left-hander making his second career start. He was brought up to pitch in place of ace Chris Sale, who went on the disabled list Monday with a flexor-muscle strain. Cabrera had gone hitless in the previous two games to drop his average to .206 for the young season.
Alex Avila hit the ball well for the second straight game. He had three singles, all off left-handers, to raise his average to .227.
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