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Saltalamacchia powers Tigers to comeback win

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Who else, right?

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has had a flare for the dramatics this season. He established this pattern with a game-breaking grand slam against the Pirates on April 13, then followed that up with a winner against the Astros three days later.

He hit a walk-off, two-run shot off the Royals’ Joakim Soria on July 17.

The Chicago White Sox certainly have seen it before. His blast in the ninth inning at U.S. Cellular Field on July 24 capped back-to-back-to-back fireworks against David Robertson to tie the score, though the Tigers ultimately lost.

So there he was again on Monday. Bottom of the eighth inning. The Tigers down 3-2 and seemingly dead in the water. With one on and one out, Saltalamacchia unloaded on a 97-mph fastball from reliever Nate Jones and sent it soaring into the night air.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, White Sox 3

The ball cleared the cutout in right-center field, traveling 397 feet, and the Tigers were up 4-3, a lead that held when closer Francisco Rodriguez pitched a clean ninth for his 37th save.

“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” Saltalamacchia said. “I’ve been humbled a lot and I am thankful for every opportunity. But at the end of the day, it’s about the win. Regardless if I do it or somebody else does it. Getting the win is what makes me feel good.”

The Tigers remain 4 1/2 games behind the Indians in the Central and just a game out of the second wild-card spot.

“He’s not scared in that situation,” Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “He’s going to take his swings. He’s going to take aggressive swings. He’s got good strike zone judgment. He can take a walk in that situation, as we’ve seen throughout the year.

“It’s nice to see a guy like that up in that situation.”

The ball was hit so high, Saltalamacchia feared he’d lose another well-struck ball to that cutout in right-center.

“I thought it was gone when I first hit it, but I saw the outfielders meet in that Bermuda Triangle out there and I got a little scared,” he said. “But I didn’t see them catch it.”

Flash ahead to the top of the ninth. Rodriguez quickly dispatched Adam Eaton and Tim Anderson. But Melky Cabrera launched one in the same direction, with the same loft, as Saltalamacchia’s blast in the eighth.

“I definitely held my breath,” Saltalamacchia said. “But I could see the Bermuda Triangle just sucking that ball in over there.”

Tyler Collins, playing center field after Cameron Maybin left in the fifth with a left thumb contusion, and right-fielder J.D. Martinez came together dangerously, but Collins took charge and made the catch.

“We were bottled up that whole game, trying to break away from that team somehow,” Kinsler said. “We just couldn't really get that big hit until Salty's hit in the eighth. That's an exciting moment in the game. It's almost like a walk-off. Obviously, you still have to get three outs…but you feel pretty about that. It was a big swing.”

It actually rescued the Tigers from another dismal offensive night. White Sox right-hander James Shields, who has been knocked around brutally all month, limited the Tigers to two runs over six innings.

The Tigers had scored 14 runs in 16 innings against Shields in three previous starts this season. In five August starts, he’d given up 32 runs in 20 innings, including 11 home runs.

And yet, Tyler Saladino’s three RBIS, including a go-head home run off Alex Wilson in the seventh, had the White Sox up 3-2.

“We seemed to be one hit away from scoring a couple of runs,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

The Tigers had tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, on a line drive home run to left-center by Justin Upton, his fifth in the last eight games. Through the first five innings, though, the Tigers put nine runners on base and scored once.

“Guys were grinding,” Saltalamacchia said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit.”

J.D. Martinez both stranded runners and was stranded himself.

He struck out with two on and two out in the first inning, and struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth.

He doubled to lead off the fourth inning and was gifted third base by Shields, who spun to make a pickoff throw at second. Nobody was there and the ball went into center field.

But, Martinez did not score on a ground ball to first by Saltalamacchia, even though first baseman Jose Abreu was playing behind the bag and had to dive to catch the ball.

“The infield was in,” Ausmus said. “You can say Abreu was behind the bag, but that was because Salty was up and he’s a pull hitter. The infield was in and from the get-go we told J.D. to see the ball through the infield.”

The Tigers manufactured their first run in the third inning. Erick Aybar singled and went to third on a hit-and-run base hit by Kinsler. Miguel Cabrera brought him home with a sacrifice fly, his 1,003rd as a Tiger, tying him with Alan Trammell for 10th in club history.

“Tonight was memorable; tomorrow is another day,” Kinsler said. “You are moving into September and September is a lot different now with that second wild card. It seems like there’s a lot more teams competing and trying to get into the playoffs.

“Every game is memorable when it comes to this time of year.”

Twitter.com: @cmccosky