To those who have been watching the Tigers all year, there has been a big difference between the sporadic offense that pitchers could put to bed earlier in the season and the formidable lineup that has churned out 37 runs over the course of this season-high-tying winning streak.
"We're a little different team at this point in the season than we were earlier in the season," catcher Alex Avila said, "and it's showing. We can kind of taste the end of the season right now and taste the playoffs. We want it."
It's getting closer. The latest chapter in the streak brought the Tigers to within a half-game of the American League Central-leading White Sox, who lost at home to the Royals on Tuesday night. It's the closest the Tigers have been to the division lead since the Indians rallied to beat Justin Verlander nearly two weeks ago.
If they continue to have at-bats like this, whether they get a slew of runs or not, the Tigers will have a chance to turn what seemed like a week-long test against the Yankees and Rangers into a rallying point.
"We're winning games; it's exactly where we want to be," Avila said. "I'd rather do it now than scoring all the runs earlier in the season and not doing it now."
When Phil Hughes tossed a complete-game four-hitter to outduel Verlander at Comerica Park on June 3, the Yankees right-hander threw a season-high 123 pitches, but he didn't throw 20 in any inning. His fourth inning that day was a nine-pitch, nine-strike blur in which he rebounded from Prince Fielder's leadoff homer to send down Delmon Young, Brennan Boesch and Jhonny Peralta in order. The Yankees put the game out of reach after that.
After three innings on Tuesday, Hughes was seemingly headed in the same direction, having retired nine of 11 batters around two ground-ball singles. He entered the fourth inning with just 43 pitches and a 2-0 lead on Eric Chavez's two-run homer.
The 42-pitch inning that followed nearly doubled Hughes' pitch count. Miguel Cabrera's 29th home run, a line drive barely over the left-field fence on a 2-0 fastball, was the quickest at-bat of the bunch.
"That's really what did him in, I thought," Leyland said of Hughes. "I thought we grinded the crap out of him."
Like in June, Hughes recovered to strike out the hitter immediately following his home run. This time, however, he needed seven pitches and a nasty curveball to fan Fielder.
Up came Boesch, who worked Hughes for nine pitches in the second inning before singling up the middle. This time, he fouled off eight Hughes pitches -- fastballs and curves -- before centering another single on the 12th pitch of his at-bat.
It was the 65th pitch of the night for Hughes, and the 21st of the game to Boesch.
"Just on his own, he ran Phil's pitch count way up," Yankees catcher Russell Martin said of Boesch. "Boesch is a good fastball hitter; the spot to punch him out is up. We were trying to elevate the fastball and swing and miss, but he kept fighting them off. Really good at-bats."
Said Boesch: "I can't speak for [Hughes], but I was kind of gassed afterward. It definitely was an at-bat you can build off."
Boesch was speaking for himself, but the rest of the lineup picked up his lead. Young saw six pitches before flying out for the second out of the inning. Peralta saw four curveballs in a row to fall into a 1-2 count but fouled off the fourth to stay alive.
Hughes' fifth pitch was a brushback fastball, but he missed the outside corner on his next breaking ball to run the count full. On his payoff pitch, Hughes went back to the curveball and left it up for Peralta to pull down the left-field line for a game-tying double.
Hughes finally ended the inning with an Avila groundout but used seven more pitches to do it, leaving him at 85 for the game.
"I complimented the guys," Leyland said. "I told them, 'Have one more inning like the last inning, and we can get him out.' It was a terrific inning. He was going good, too. But we got the pitch count up, and obviously he's had some arm issues in the past and they're smart. They weren't going to let him go too long."
Tigers starter Rick Porcello (9-6) retired the Yankees in order on nine pitches in the fifth, starting a roll of eight straight Yankees retired. Andy Dirks' leadoff single in the bottom half on a six-pitch at-bat started it all over again.
"They were just battling," Martin said. "He was making pitches. As a pitcher, there's not really much you can do. You just keep trying to make pitches, and they were fighting them off, taking good swings at tough pitches, getting his pitch count up.
"It's kind of like what we do to pitchers normally. It's like we got a taste of our own medicine today."
Hughes' final pitch was a 1-0 curveball that Cabrera lined off the left-field fence for a go-ahead two-run double. It gave him 95 RBIs in his 110th game of the year, the fastest pace of his career and the fastest pace for any Tigers player since Rocky Colavito in 1961.
Six of Hughes' final 10 batters churned out hits. Even the outs seemed to cost him.