Cleveland — A penny was not needed for your thoughts on Tuesday night. They’d been known for innings.
Manager Brad Ausmus eventually thought them, too.
Had the Tigers wasted all their chances against the Cleveland Indians? Most of them, it turned out, but not all.
When one more opportunity came their way in the ninth inning, they made the most of it.
With a three-run home run from J.D. Martinez, the Tigers overcame the 2-1 deficit they’d been staring at since the second inning, and dealt the Cleveland Indians a devastating blow with a 4-2 victory at Progressive Field.
“Oh man, they were hungry, we were hungry, it’s September and you can tell it’s a pennant race,” Torii Hunter said. “Don’t miss out. Stay tuned.”
Before Martinez connected to center with one out, the only Tigers’ run — despite 15 hits — had come on a bases-loaded walk to Alex Avila in the second inning that followed a two-run home run by Cleveland’s Carlos Santana in the first.
Chances came, chances went as the frustration grew. Here was a chance to drop the Indians into a hole of trailing the Tigers by five games, after they’d begun the series just three games back, but the Tigers just couldn’t get break through with runners in scoring position.
Even when they scored in the second, it could have been a much bigger inning, because they still had the bases loaded with no outs after the walk to Avila by Indians’ starter Carlos Carrasco forced in a run.
But no dice. They kept coming away empty.
That’s not how it went in the ninth, however.
Against Indians’ closer Cody Allen, off whom Martinez had hit a save-blowing, game-tying home run May 19, the Tigers caused immediate trouble with a leadoff walk to Hunter, followed by Miguel Cabrera’s single.
The situation looked promising for the Tigers, but so had earlier chances.
And when Victor Martinez flied out to center after hits in three of his other four at-bats, no one had to say out loud that the history of this particular game might be repeating itself.
But it didn’t.
On a 1-0 count, J.D. Martinez got the fastball from Allen for which he was looking and there it went — a no-doubter to deep center that decided the game.
So elated at coming through in the clutch was Martinez that when he crossed the plate, he thought to himself, “did I touch all the bases?”
Asked what it is about J.D. that enables him to come through in the clutch, Ausmus said, “I’m not sure I can tell you exactly what it is, but I like it.”
The Tigers suddenly found themselves within a Joe Nathan save of making it two wins in a row over the Indians.
Allowing a two-out single to Michael Brantley, but not struggling, Nathan secured the Tigers’ victory by retiring the dangerous Santana on a fly ball to center.
Ingredients of why the game looked it would be a loss for most of the night were everywhere. The Tigers stranded 12 runners. Until the game-winning home run, they were 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
But they were at their toughest with the clock ticking loudly. On a 3-2 count leading off the ninth, Hunter fouled off two would-be third strikes before drawing a walk.
Cabrera was behind 1-2 in the count after that, but singled to center after fouling off a pitch on a full count following Hunter’s walk.
And one thing you know by now about the two Martinezes is that if the first one doesn’t get you, the second often does.
Such was the case with J.D. connecting after Victor’s fly ball.
But to overcome a 2-1 deficit, the Tigers did a good job of keeping it a one-run game. Never in their wildest expectations, for instance, did they expect Kyle Lobstein to have a 10-strikeout start against the Indians after he hadn’t struck out any Yankees in the six innings he lasted in his previous start.
Even Lobstein hadn’t dreamed of 10 strikeouts, and actually lost count of them while holding the Indians to just two runs until exiting in the sixth.
The first two Tigers out of the bullpen, Al Alburquerque and Blaine Hardy, had some scary moments because they combined to allow five baserunners in 1 1/3 innings, but nothing proved costly.
Phil Coke (3-2) proved to be the winning pitcher with 1 1/3 clean innings.
The Tigers lost Avila during the game because of the dizziness and headaches after taking a foul ball off his mask in the sixth. While facing the likelihood of not starting Wednesday night, Avila said he felt fine in the clubhouse after the game.
The Tigers felt fine as a team, too, because all was well that ended well for them.
Even though it hadn’t looked like it would for most of the night.