Jim Leyland made a desperate move. With the Tigers trailing 4-3 with one out in the ninth, the tying run stood on first base. Josh Anderson was coming to the plate, to be followed by Gerald Laird. Not exactly a group that would strike fear into the heart of your opponent.
That’s when Jim Leyland went against conventional wisdom and went to his bench. He summoned Ryan Raburn, a right-handed hitter, to replace Anderson, a lefty, and face Cubs closer (and righty) Kevin Gregg. Leyland knew he needed an extra base hit to score Kelly and tie the game.
“I thought right-handed hitters had a little better chance against [Gregg] than left-handed hitters,” Leyland said. “The numbers show [that]. We felt like he throws the slider a little bit more to right-handers, and if he happened to hang one, he might be able to jump one. And we caught a big break.”
What began with a wild first inning for both Tigers’ starter Edwin Jackson and Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, became a pitchers duel. Both hurlers allowed one run in the first, but the damage could have been much worse.
Jackson was able to limit the Cubs to one run after loading the bases with no one out, and Zambrano kept the Tigers to just one after Detroit got a double and a triple to begin the game.
With the Cubs leading 2-1 in the seventh, Brandon Inge lined a Zambrano fastball over the fence in left for his 17th bomb on the year, giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead. A Micah Hoffpauir two-run shot followed in the eighth to regain the lead for the Cubs and set the stage for Raburn.
After Kelly walked to lead-off the ninth, Gregg battled back and got Inge to pop-up, throwing a steady diet of breaking balls.
He started Raburn the same way, missing with a slider on his first pitch. The second offering from Gregg was another breaking ball, but this one didn’t break. The ball landed some 403 feet away, over the fence in left center, and the celebration began.
It was the first pinch-hit walk-off homer for Detroit since Lou Whitaker hit one in 1995.
The Tigers needed to catch lightning in a bottle last night, and Ryan Raburn caught it.