Detroit – You could sense the hesitation from the players afterward. When you've been as up and down as the Tigers have been this year, it's best not to look too far beyond today.
"We hope," said Victor Martinez, when asked if the dramatic, come-from-behind 5-4 win over the White Sox Sunday could be a rallying point. "Every game counts, every win counts. We're just trying to feed off anything. We won a great game today, we will see what happens."
David Price, who pitched much better than his stat line says, offered the same caution.
"We hope so," he said. "We've got a really good team here. We know that. But we have to put it all together. When we do, we all understand how good we are capable of being."
This game was almost a synopsis of the Tigers' inconsistent ways this season. They were listless and seemingly overmatched for seven innings, trailing 4-0 and limited to two hits by White Sox right-hander Jeff Samardzija.
Then came the eighth inning and it was all thunder and heroics, culminating with a one-out, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth by James McCann.
"That's how baseball is," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Something ignites you and you go from looking like a flat team with no energy to a team that can't make an out."
Start with the eighth inning.
Samardzija, after cruising through seven innings, lost the lead in six batters.
McCann got it started with a two-strike single. Then, in maybe the most pivotal at-bat of the inning, Jose Iglesias worked a 10-pitch walk.
"He got ahead of me with two strikes, and I was able to get a knock," McCann said. "He got ahead of Jose with two strikes, and he was able to battle and get a walk. For a pitcher, that's kind of deflating, especially that late in the game. Wearing him out a little bit.
"That was a big at-bat."
Anthony Gose followed with a single to load the bases and then Samardzija hit Ian Kinsler on the elbow to force in the first run.
"That's huge, right there," Price said. "Nobody wants to get hit and he wears 95 (mph) on the elbow."
Samardzija struck out Miguel Cabrera on a high fastball. But his first pitch to Victor Martinez, his 110th of the game, was blasted to the gap in right-center field. The bases cleared, with Kinsler crossing the plate right on Gose's heels.
"We weren't able to do anything off this guy the whole game," Martinez said. "Just getting that hit to tie the game up, I think it was huge for the team … I was just looking for a fastball, getting a good pitch to hit and I put a good swing on it."
That was it for Samardzija. Zach Putnam, the University of Michigan product, came on to strike out Yoenis Cespedes and get J.D. Martinez to pop to first to keep the game tied.
But after Joakim Soria retired the White Sox in order in the top of the ninth, McCann came up with one out.
Putnam got two quick strikes on him, then he hung a split-finger fastball and McCann hit it on a line over the fence in left field.
"Surreal," said McCann, who hit a walk-off homer against Houston on May 21. "He went cutter first pitch, cutter second pitch and then 0-2 splitter. That's his out-pitch and I was just trying to find something up in the zone. I am thankful I could put a good swing on it."
Alex Avila is in the middle of his rehab assignment and could return as soon as next weekend. Ausmus has already said that Avila will return to his role as the primary catcher. But McCann has made an indelible impression.
"At this point I don't think anybody is surprised what (McCann) is doing," Martinez said. "The guy can hit. I think he has shown it in the minor leagues and he's been able to do the same thing in the big leagues.
Price's day lasted just six innings, his shortest non-rain delayed outing since getting knocked out in the third by the Yankees on April 22.
"That's the game we play," Price said. "I felt like I made some really good pitches and it didn't go my way."
He was victimized by a bouncing ball double down the third baseline and an error by Cespedes in left in the fourth and a broken bat triple by Adam Eaton in the sixth. He also gave up a legit home run to left by Melky Cabrera.
"If you look at his numbers, it's not vintage David Price, four runs in six innings," McCann said. "But you also look at the hits they had: broken-bat triple down the right-field line, ground-ball double, a chopper for a double by Jose Abreu. A bloop single. Did he pitch bad? No, not by any means. Just one of those days where things weren't going his way."
It was the first time Price had allowed more than two earned runs in a game since May 16 – a span of eight starts. But all's well that ends well.
"We seemed kind of listless," Ausmus said. "Not taking anything away from Samardzija, because he pitched outstanding, but we seemed kind of listless, for whatever reason. Then to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, I thought this was a real big one."