‘Battling’ Tigers win fifth straight in walk-off thriller

Chris McCosky, The Detroit News

Detroit — Just another manic victory for the Tigers.

“We went from real low to real high,” manager Brad Ausmus said, following the Tigers’ improbable 3-2 walk-off win over the Houston Astros Saturday.

“The guys, it’s almost like the concentration level has gone up,” Ausmus said. “I don’t know if that’s just in my mind, but it seems like the concentration has gone up. They are battling. They are pulling for each other. They are staying in the game; even when they have a tough at-bat, they are staying in the game for their team.”

The Tigers pulled it out in the bottom of the ninth on a two-out RBI single by James McCann and an infield single by Jose Iglesias. That’s five wins in a row now following those two walk-off losses to the White Sox last Sunday.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 3, Astros 2

“There’s a lot of good hitters in this lineup, and if we’re in it, and we have a chance, we feel like we’re going to give it our best shot,” said Justin Upton, who scored the tying run in the ninth. “We’ve done it a couple of times where we’ve come up short, but at the end of the day, if you give yourself a chance, you can hang your hat on that.”

This was a ninth inning for the ages.

“This is one of the most exciting baseball games you can have,” said Justin Verlander, who was brilliant in this one and still walked off the mound after nine innings trailing 2-1.

Best to start there.

Verlander blanked the Astros on two hits over eight innings and took a 1-0 lead into the ninth. He was at 96 pitches and had dispatched the Astros on six pitches in the eighth.

“Nobody said anything to me,” Verlander said about coming out after eight innings. “It was unspoken; I knew it was my game.”

Fact is, there was not even a discussion about removing Verlander after eight innings.

“It was his game,” Ausmus said. “He’s our ace, our horse. There’s nobody else on the staff I’d send back out with a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning, but he’s the one guy I would. … He was at 96 pitches and I think he expected to go back out.

“There wasn’t any discussion. Him at 96 pitches isn’t even a concern. It was his inning.”

The 34,673 folks at Comerica Park stood and cheered as Verlander ran back onto the field for the ninth. But they got quiet quickly when George Springer led off with a sharp single. It would be the only hard-hit ball in the inning.

With one out, Jose Altuve got a broken bat infield hit. At that point Francisco Rodriguez started warming in the bullpen.

Carlos Correa blooped a single to center, scoring Springer and sending Altuve to third. Shane Greene joined Rodriguez in the pen.

“I was going to get him if the game got tied or they went ahead, but they went ahead on a ground ball out,” Ausmus said. “I just stuck with him.”

A fielder’s-choice ground out by Colby Rasmus put the Astros up 2-1 before Verlander got out of the inning.

“I was really upset in the ninth,” said Verlander, who struck out 11. “I kind of put us behind the eight-ball there. It didn’t look like we were going to win the game and obviously I was shouldering the blame for that.

“But, man, our guys battled and with two outs — two-out lightning, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Astros closer Will Harris made quick work of the first two batters in the ninth, but he walked Upton.

Tyler Collins followed with a single.

McCann then fell behind 1-2, the second strike coming on a half-swing at a high fastball.

“Chasing (pitches) is going to happen, it’s part of the game,” said McCann, who had struck out in two previous at-bats. “If you allow it to snowball, your mind is going to start racing and you’re not going to be able to put the type of swing on a pitch that you need to.

“So, take a step back, take a deep breath and relax. Allow yourself to let it happen. Don’t try to make something happen.”

It happened. He fouled off a cutter from Harris, then laced a single to left. Upton did not hesitate and scored the tying run. Collins hustled to third base on an errant throw home.

"I had no intention, zero intention, of stopping," Upton said.

Upton wouldn’t be denied on his tying dash

Iglesias was next. He rolled one wide of the bag at first. Jason Castro flipped to Harris covering but Iglesias beat him to the base. A walk-off infield single.

“I should have found the bag and then caught the ball,” Harris told reporters after the game. “But I tried to catch the ball and then find the bag. It's just a bonehead play by me. There's no other way to put it.”

The win keeps the Tigers 4 1/2 games behind the Indians in the Central Division, but they jump ahead of the Astros in the wild-card race, just 1 1/2 games behind Boston for the final playoff spot.

“When August and September roll around, it’s playoff time,” McCann said. “You start to make your move. If you don’t start to make your move now, it’s now or never.

“With that being said, if we start to scoreboard watch and start paying too much attention to that, you can forget what’s most important — and that’s what’s going on in this clubhouse.”

Twitter: @cmccosky