Granderson's triple key in AL's triumph

Granderson's triple key in AL's triumph

ST. LOUIS -- Of all the sights the Tigers enjoyed at this week's All-Star festivities, perhaps none were as welcome as the sight of Curtis Granderson tearing around second base and charging for third.

"Every time he even starts out of the box, I think he's got a chance at three [bases]," fellow All-Star Brandon Inge said. "The question is, 'Does he have a chance at four?'"

Three was plenty Tuesday night. In this case, it was the key to keeping the American League's dominance going in the All-Star Game.

Granderson's triples were a common sight the past two years, having led the league in them. He has just two for the Tigers so far this season, a casualty of his homer binge in the season's first half. Tuesday's triple couldn't have come at a much better time, setting up his go-ahead run in the eighth inning on Adam Jones' sacrifice fly for a 4-3 AL win at Busch Stadium.

It was a crucial hit, seemingly a perfect strategy to manufacture a run. Except Granderson wasn't thinking about it that way.

"I always try, no matter what," Granderson said. "I'm going to let the defense slow me down."

Granderson entered the game as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the sixth inning, replacing starting center fielder Josh Hamilton. Instead of batting sixth in Hamilton's spot, however, Granderson went in the third slot for Joe Mauer.

That difference came up huge when Granderson stepped to the plate with one out in the eighth. He took a first-pitch curveball outside from Padres closer Heath Bell before he got a fastball on the outside half of the plate. Granderson sent it to the fence and over the head of left fielder Justin Upton.

When Granderson put up 23 triples in 2007, the difference was his mentality out of the batter's box. He speeds up at the start, thinking about a triple until and unless he sees the ball fielded. Then he thinks his way down to two bases, then one.

Somehow, he hasn't had to do that often this season. This was an exception.

"Right away when I hit it, I thought, 'Oh yeah, I hit it pretty good -- let's see what's going to happen,'" Granderson said. "And sure enough, it kicked off the wall, and I thought I'm going to try my best to get there."

The fact that Upton was seemingly playing Granderson shallow might've made a difference. Zack Greinke, who gave up one of Granderson's triples in 2007, noticed it from the dugout.

"[Justin] Verlander called a home run," Greinke said, "and I was like, 'If he hits the ball, it's going to be an extra-base hit for sure.' That's all he ever does. ...

"I've never seen him to do it to that side [of the field], though. He always pulls the ball. That was kind of weird to see."

Granderson headed into second as center fielder Jayson Werth retrieved the ball, but he never stopped. His challenge on Werth turned out clutch once he slid safely into third.

"Curtis not being satisfied with a double was huge," AL All-Star manager Joe Maddon said afterwards. "It made them do something they didn't want to do. They had to come in, they walk [Victor] Martinez to try to get Jones to hit into a double play, and then he hits the sacrifice fly. All of that strategy changed because of Curtis going to third."

It was a critical extra base with one out, except Granderson didn't realize it.

"I honestly forgot it was one out," Granderson sheepishly admitted. "When I got to third base, I was like, 'Oh, that's a good possible mistake if I get there.' But the fact that the ball kicked away was my trigger to go."

Bell intentionally walked Martinez, but Jones' ensuing fly ball into the right-field corner allowed Granderson to jog home.

It gave Granderson quite a memory from his first Midsummer Classic. It also provided a topic for no shortage of conversation as Granderson and his parents made their way home to Chicago by car after the game.

He's hoping it also provides him with a spark going into the season's second half.

"Maybe this will be the kick start for the second half to go ahead and pick them back up," Granderson said. "They come in bunches. Hopefully this is the first of many."

The clutch hit capped a couple days of fun for the four Tigers All-Stars, three of whom experienced the Midsummer Classic for the first time. Edwin Jackson's perfect four-pitch fifth inning was part of a string of 18 straight batters retired by AL pitchers.

"I think it was just the time leading up to it that went slow," Jackson said. "The inning went pretty fast. I wish it could be like that all the time."

Before that, he was having fun competing with Ichiro Suzuki on trick catches in right field during batting practice. Together, they drew oohs and aahs from fans in the right-field seats, not to mention from Jackson.

"He was showing me his special little catch that he does," Jackson said, mimicking the way Ichiro can catch a ball behind and over his back. "I didn't do it. I didn't want to get hit in the head."

A day after Inge went scoreless in the State Farm Home Run Derby and loved it, Inge was still having a blast. He entered the game in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement. He grounded out leading off the ninth.

"I loved it all -- I liked everything about it," Inge said. "In my mind, I know I can play well enough to get back here. On the other hand, it's like any game I play: I approach it as if it could be my last."

Verlander was the one Tigers All-Star who didn't get into the game, but he expected that, having pitched on Sunday. This year, he made it a goal to enjoy himself, partly because he knew was unlikely to pitch. That wasn't a problem.

"It's been a lot more relaxed this time," Verlander said. "What I wanted it to be, it's pretty much been. It's been a little more slow motion for me, able to just take it in and have a good time."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.