“Better late than never” has become the slogan of the 2013 Detroit Tigers. After a full week of late comebacks, most of which were capped off with impressive victories, that certainly looks to be the case.
The Tigers actually started this practice in earnist last Sunday. Trailing the White Sox all afternoon long, Detroit rallied to take a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning with some clutch hitting. After Chicago tied the game, the Tigers managed to win in the 12th inning behind heroics from Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter.
Monday night, heading for an important series in Cleveland, the comeback act continued. Trailing 2-0 the entire night since the early innings, the Tigers faced Indians’ closer Chris Perez in the ninth inning. Perez quickly got into trouble allowing runners on base and a run, then Alex Avila stunningly cleared the bases with a three run home run. Detroit’s dugout exploded with raw excitement. The next day, the Tigers rallied for another win with an offensive explosion in the later innings, powered largely by Don Kelly’s three run homer.
Even as play shifted to the Bronx after a dominating 10-3 win on Thursday over Cleveland, the Tigers weren’t willing to say die. Looking up at a 3-1 deficit left over from the early innings, Detroit had to face Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning. With a runner on base after fouling plenty of pitches off his leg, Cabrera did the trick, tattooing a ball to straightaway center field to tie the score, prompting a “wow” from Rivera himself. The Tigers would lose in extras, but they certainly didn’t die easy. Sunday afternoon provided the same story line, as the Tigers slugged their way to a ninth inning tie off Rivera before losing.
These Tigers have suddenly found their mojo late in games. So often, fans get frustrated when the team gives away at bats in later innings or lacks an ability to come back on teams, especially against good closers and quality competition. The 2006 Tigers made acts like that their hallmark, and this year’s edition of the team started doing the same in one week. All these close wins have helped cripple the rest of the Central Division, casting serious doubt over the Indians’ ability to truly contend and likely ending their push.
More than that, though, this newfound urge to come back late in games could be the biggest factor helping Detroit when the playoffs begin in over two months. Far too often in last year’s World Series, the Tigers would fall behind early and not be able to come back. This year, they’re learning they can get the job done, even if the team’s closer comes in or the odds look long considering a bigger deficit.
Not only can that help the team’s outlook during the regular season in the midst of an important pennant race, it could pay the biggest dividends in the playoffs. The one missing element for this year’s Tigers may have been found: a never say die, always go down with a fight attitude.
Should this mentality show itself in the middle of October, Detroit fans should take special note of August 4-12, 2013, which would forever be known as the week everything changed.
Speaking of relief pitching, the Tigers ran into one of their former players this week during the 10-3 whitewash in Cleveland. Ryan Raburn entered the game as a pitcher in the ninth inning, and actually did a solid job, collecting a strikeout. Naturally, fans got a kick out of this and had plenty of opinions on the former Tiger’s pitching debut. It’s our Facebook feedback of the week.
Chad Roggow: He just pitched better than Jose Valverde all year long!
When he left, fans had to know Raburn would come back to doom the Tigers eventually. If it wasn’t hitting a home run, certainly everyone figured he’d work a scoreless ninth, right? It did look much better than Valverde, Chad. I’d argue he pitched better than Valverde for this year and last.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax