DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter were supposed to have the day off.
Jhonny Peralta was supposed to be banned for baseball, and Tiger fans hadn't ever heard of Jose Iglesias a week ago. Even Bruce Rondon spent a large part of the season in Toledo after losing his job in spring training.
Sunday afternoon, all five of them played key roles in Detroit's 12-inning win over Chicago. The victory gave the Tigers a perfect 8-0 homestand and kept the red-hot Indians and Royals from gaining any ground in what has turned into a crazy divisional race.
The last one into the game was the one that Jim Leyland really didn't want to use. Not only did playing Cabrera risk aggravating the injuries that have cascaded from his original back problem, it reset the clock on any eventual stint on the disabled list.
After 11 innings of deadlock, though, Cabrera was Leyland's last chance. The reigning Triple Crown winner came out of the dugout to a huge roar from the sold-out crowd of 42,315 to pinch-hit for leadoff hitter Ramon Santiago. There was no question about his ability to hit -- he was crushing homers in batting practice -- but could he run?
"We were looking for the perfect spot," Leyland said. "We wanted to be very careful. You need a situation where they can't just walk him."
The move paid off when Cabrera lined a sharp single to left field. He limped to first and was immediately replaced by pinch-runner Matt Tuiasosopo. When asked how much harder he could have run, he quickly changed the subject.
"That was a good win," he said.
Austin Jackson laid down a sacrifice bunt, bringing up Hunter. He was supposed to be resting his sore Achilles' tendon, but stayed in the game after pinch-hitting for Andy Dirks. Hunter took two balls from Dylan Axelrod, then lined the ball into the left-centerfield gap. Alejandro De Aza cut the ball off, but Tuiasosopo was already well around third. He jumped onto the plate, then raced toward first base with his teammates to mob Hunter.
Tuiasosopo wasn't surprised that Hunter and Cabrera had been able to provide late heroics.
"Those two guys that came off the bench, Miggy and Torii, have been carrying us all year," he said. "They are the leaders on this team, and it is just special to watch them work and play alongside them."
The Tigers, though, might not have been celebrating if not for Peralta, Iglesias and Rondon.
Peralta saved a sure run in the top of the 10th, racing out into short leftfield to make a leaping catch of Alexei Ramirez's soft liner. Tyler Flowers, who had been on second, was so sure the ball would drop that he was still headed for the plate when Peralta tossed to Santiago to finish the inning-ending double play.
After weeks of delay, the Biogenesis ruling is expecting at noon tomorrow, meaning that Peralta's season might have ended with his 11th-inning drive to deep left-center -- a ball that nearly cleared Jordan Danks' glove for a Hollywood ending to his crazy year. Peralta said he hasn't had any trouble staying focused on baseball, even given the endless media reports about his situation.
"There's nothing to worry about," he said. "I'm just going to play the game the way I play every day, and try to enjoy every day."
Two innings later after Peralta's entry for the highlight reel, it was Iglesias robbing Gordon Beckham of extra bases with a spectacular sliding stop behind third base. Iglesias, already showing one of the quickest releases the Tigers infield has seen since Lou Whitaker, popped up, threw Beckham out at first and then finished the play with a grinning half-spin.
"That kid made a couple plays ... well, I don't know how he made them, to be honest," Leyland said. "In the last couple days, our infield defense has been unbelievable."
There was also Rondon, pitching two scoreless innings to get the first win of his major-league career. He struck out three batters, mixing his triple-digit fastball with a sharp breaking slider. When he only has command of his fastball, Rondon still looks like a rookie, but when he has the slider working, you can easily see him as the closer of the future.
Hunter's single might have won the game and ended the homestand, but there was one more bit of craziness to go. On a day that had already seen contributions from Tigers who belong to the past, the present and the future, Dave Dombrowski went way back to get a new long man for the bullpen.
"Before tomorrow's game, we're going to purchase the contract of Jeremy Bonderman from Toledo," said Dombrowski, who said that Evan Reed will go to the Mud Hens in exchange. "We're trying to get a veteran arm for our bullpen here."
Bonderman's career was generally considered to have been ruined by a blood clot in his pitching shoulder in 2008. He missed almost the entire 2009 season, and pitched poorly when he returned to the Tigers rotation in 2010. After sitting out the next two seasons, he made a comeback with the Mariners, but was released after seven poor starts.
He signed a deal with the Mud Hens, but most people expected him just to fill a roster spot. Instead, in seven games of relief, he allowed only three baserunners in 9 23 shutout innings.
"He's pitched very well -- he's throwing strikes and his velocity is good," Dombrowski said. "We know what kind of make-up he has, he's a very tough competitor, and we were so young in the bullpen with Smyly, Alburquerque and Reed. Reed pitched very well for us. We just wanted a veteran arm."
Bonderman's return gives the Tigers a fourth player from the 2006 World Series team, joining Santiago, Omar Infante and Justin Verlander. He, Santiago and Infante also played for the 43-119 team in 2003.
Detroit's already won 21 games more than they managed ten years ago, so the Tigers aren't risking a repeat of that debacle. They'd be happy to take another World Series shot against the Cardinals, though.