The Detroit Tigers blew a late 4-0 lead, but Thursday afternoon in Detroit they came up with a ninth-inning rally to beat the Kansas City Royals, 5-4.
For a while, Doug Fister had the game completely under control. Midway through the contest, he retired 16 straight Royals ... including including nine straight strikeouts, which set a new American League record. But after giving up four runs in the first two innings, Royals starter Luis Mendoza pitched five shutout innings to keep it close.
And in the eighth, Fister faltered. Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur opened the frame with consecutive doubles. Two ground-outs plated Francoeur but left Fister just one out away from escaping with a 4-3 lead. He couldn't get it. After David Lough singled and moved to second on a passed ball, pinch-hitter Tony Abreu singled home Lough. That got Fister out of the game, and reliever Phil Coke ended the excitement by striking out Alex Gordon.
There would be more excitement in the ninth, though.
Usually, the ninth would have been closer Jose Valverde's. He didn't pitch Tuesday. He did pitch Wednesday night, but threw only a dozen pitches. Nevertheless, Joaquin Benoit trotted in from the bullpen to protect the Tigers' 4-3 lead. Billy Butler led off the ninth for the Royals. Butler took a ball, then a strike, and then drove a fastball over the right-field fence to tie the game. From there, Benoit retired the next three Royals in order.
Prince Fielder led off the bottom of the ninth, and skipped a grounder toward the mound. If Kansas City's Tim Collins were as tall as most relief pitchers, it would have been an easy play. But Collins is a foot shorter than most relievers, and by the time the dust had settled, Fielder was somehow on second base (the official scorer called it a double, but he clearly was on some poorly prescribed medication).
After an intentional walk, an attempted sacrifice bunt became a fielder's choice, which left runners on first and second with one out. Right-hander Alex Avila got Jhonny Peralta to hit an easy double-play grounder to Moustakas at third base. Except Moustakas foozled the ball for his third error of the game.
Which brought up Alex Avila with the bases loaded. And with a 3-and-2 count, Avila drove a hard grounder down the first-base line. Brayan Pena corralled the ball with a dive and tagged first base with his glove to retire Avila, but had no chance to throw home and prevent pinch-runner Don Kelly from scoring the game-winning run.
With their victory, the Tigers completed a four-game sweep that carried them past the White Sox in the American League Central standings, leaving them with at least a one-game lead heading into their weekend series against the Twins. Detroit finishes their season with three games in Minnesota and three in Kansas City.