Saturday evening, Tigers utility man and fan base lightning rod Ryan Raburn helped almost mathematically eliminate the vaunted preseason AL Central favorite Chicago White Sox and did it in spectacularly dramatic fashion.
It’s been quite some time (about four months) since anyone thought the White Sox were poised to make a run at taking this division and now that the team is seven and a half games back of the Tigers with just four games left against their rival, the Sox chances have gone from slim to extremely slim to not even the Mets could blow this lead.
Raburn, who entered the game in the 7th to face Jesse Crain because he was 5-for-10 career against him, stepped up to the plate with a runner on third and the Tigers down two runs in the ninth.
White Sox closer Sergio Santos, who Raburn was 0-for-3 in his career against, was two outs away from a save and bringing his team within 5.5 games in the division. It’s an understatement to say that Santos had been dominant on the road this year coming into Saturday’s ninth inning. Santos was yet to allow a single run in 25 appearances on the road and had just allowed six hits.
According to ESPN’s baseball research specialist Mark Simon, Santos hadn’t allowed a single hit on a 2-strike slider to a right-handed hitter all season (43 K, 0 HA) before Raburn wrapped a belt high offering 423 feet around the left field foul pole.
I guess he was due.Raburn, of course, was quickly upstaged WPA-wise (*Win Probability Added) two batters later when Miguel Cabrera sent the first pitch he saw (another slider) into the seats for his 4th go-ahead or game tying home run in the 7th inning or later this season and a .464 WPA boost sealing the win for Detroit 9-8.
This marks the first time the Tigers have won a game all season when allowing at least eight runs (previously were 0-21), and the 12th time the club has won when scoring at least nine runs (12-1 in those games).
Another oddity in this game was David Purcey’s three scoreless frames. This marks the fifth time this year that Pauley has pitched at least three scoreless innings in a game (the previous four all coming with Seattle) and the fourth time this year that he’s pitched at least three scoreless innings while allowing one hit or less. Pauley had allowed eight runs on 18 hits in ten innings in a Tigers uniform prior to Saturday’s game. However, Pauley did not receive the win in this game, that went to Luis Marte, who pitched a scoreless ninth in his second career appearance.
Saturday was also the largest comeback victory for the Tigers since September 27th, 2003 against Minnesota. Why is that date significant? Oh, just because that was when the Tigers came back from an 8-0 deficit in the 5th inning to avoid becoming the first team in the history of the American League to lose 120 games.
Our WPA hero that day was everyone’s favorite soft spoken first basemen Carlos Pena, who singled against J.C. Romero in the 8th to drive in two runs and tie the game at eight. However, the most memorable play from that game was undoubtedly Warren Morris’ walk-off strikeout on a wild pitch from 46-year-old Jesee Orosco with one out in the bottom of the ninth, which scored Alex Sanchez to win the game.
This was the final pitch of Orosco’s 24-year Major League career, though he’ll mostly be remembered for his time with the 80’s New York Mets and ’88 Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished third in the Cy Young award voting when he achieved what would be his career high in innings pitched with 110 and ERA with 1.47.
The Tigers still had to come back and beat the Twins the next day to end the season with just 119 losses, which they did in a game where Mike Maroth threw a quality start and picked up his 9th win that year. The Twins three and four hitters that day were Doug Mientkiewicz and Matt LeCroy, and the lineup also featured featured Luis Rivas, Dustan Mohr and Denny Hocking.
The Tigers WPA hero that day was Inge, who had an RBI double that tied the game at two in the fifth inning against Brad Thomas (Yes, that Brad Thomas). The Tigers proceeded to break the game open with a seven run 6th inning at the hands of former number-two overall pick in the 2000 draft Adam Johnson, who never pitched in the majors again.
Getting back to Saturday’s game, the Tigers hit four home runs from the fifth inning on—with recent acquisitions Wilson Betemit and Delmon Young getting the Tigers within striking distance with and unfortunately Cabrera’s 1st inning double was mere feet from leaving the yard—pushing their season total of home runs against Chicago to 15.
I can already see Tigers fans smiling at the fact that the Twins are the only team the Tigers have actually hit more home runs against with 17. The two clutch bombs in the ninth against Santos weren’t the first batch of heroics from Raburn and Cabrera against the White Sox this season as a series in early June at U.S. Celular Field included game deciding blasts from each.
On Saturday, June 4, Cabrera hit a go-ahead two-run shot off Jesse Crain (another slider) helping Justin Verlander win his 6th game and the next day Raburn’s grand slam off Jake Peavy won the Tigers the series.
One can’t help but note that Cabrera had come full circle as he rounded the bases with all of his teammates waiting for him at home plate Saturday night. It was just two years ago that Cabrera played an important September game against the White Sox coming off a brutal and public hangover.
Though teammate Justin Verlander has generated more AL MVP buzz this year, Cabrera is a perennial candidate for the award. He’s had his usual elite offensive season as he ranked third in the AL in wOBA entering play Saturday and he’s stepped up when the game is on the line as he trails only Toronto’s Jose Bautista in total WPA.
To see him put a quick move on the first pitch he saw made his effort look entirely effortless as he calmly trotted around the bases knowing that the White Sox were effectively finished.