MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

As season grows short, Tigers show fight

Ninth-inning rally secures back-and-forth win over rival Royals

As season grows short, Tigers show fight

KANSAS CITY -- Brad Ausmus, manager of the Detroit Tigers, was asked what he thought of Friday night's mercurial struggle against the Kansas City Royals. The manager saw the big picture.

"What a game," Ausmus said. "Obviously, we're happy that we came out on the winning side, but what a game to watch just as a fan of baseball with the back-and-forth. It was good entertainment."

It ended up being much more entertaining for Tigers fans, but you knew what Ausmus was saying. The Tigers prevailed, 7-6, but there were many twists and turns before that result became final.

With something substantial at stake, these two teams didn't let up for a second. The victory allowed the Tigers to remain tied with Baltimore for the second American League Wild Card spot. The victory also put the Tigers four games ahead of the Royals in the race for that Wild Card berth.

Both of these clubs have picked up their level of play in the second half of the season. This three-game series will be a test of which club can hang onto its better form.

The Tigers took a 4-0 lead in the top of the third, but the Royals answered with three unearned runs.

The Tigers stretched the lead to 5-3 on a Miguel Cabrera home run in the top of the seventh, but the Royals scored one in the seventh.

Then, in the bottom of the eighth with runners on second and third and two out, Ausmus brought in his closer, Francisco Rodriguez to face Paulo Orlando. Orlando singled in both runners. The Kauffman Stadium crowd of 25,008 was thrilled. Rodriguez was angry, with himself.

"I should have made a better pitch, for sure," Rodriguez said. "That thing right now is eating my inside."

At that point, this appeared to be a truly heartening victory for the Royals. Here was their closer, Wade Davis, coming off a stay on the disabled list after his second bout with a right flexor strain. With one of the game's best back in full health, surely this one would end, 6-5, in favor of the Royals.

No. Ian Kinsler, leading off the Detroit ninth, was hit with a pitch. Jose Iglesias doubled, sending Kinsler to third. Cabrera singled, driving in two, once again giving the Tigers the lead.

"We seem for some reason to have good at-bats against back-end relievers, whether it be setup men or closers," Ausmus said. "Against some of the better ones we seem to have good at-bats."

Given a reprieve, a second chance, Rodriguez went back out to pitch the bottom of the ninth. Fifth on the all-time save list with 423, Rodriguez already had a blown save on his record for this game, but he wasn't going to let this one slip away twice.

He pitched a superb ninth, getting two swinging strikeouts and a routine grounder to short.

"The only good thing, the only positive I can think of is that the guys answered back with two runs," Rodriguez said. "[In the ninth] I tried to make pitches early in the count and seal the deal. In the dugout I was itching for it, praying for it. Definitely, the guys picked me up big-time.

"I was still angry about [the eighth inning], but when we started getting hits and putting men on base, everything changed."

This game changed, changed, then changed again. At the end, it was the Tigers' game, and the Tigers taking the edge in a crucial September series. You think that these two teams probably won't top this sort of compelling entertainment. But you understand that they might.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.