August 21, 2011: “OH, JACKSON!!!” (Part Two)
First-place Detroit held a 1 1/2 game lead over second-place Cleveland in the AL Central when the Indians arrived at Comerica Park for an important weekend series. Huge crowds gathered at the ballpark for each of the three games. The Tigers won the first pair to increase their lead in the division. A crowd of 43,388 was on hand for the finale to see if Detroit could pull off the sweep.
The Tigers looked like they were well on their way to a big victory with a seven-run rally in the third inning. Jackson contributed an RBI-single and also scored a run in the outburst. The Indians countered with a five-run rally in the top of the fourth. Detroit led, 8-7, heading into the bottom of the ninth. Closer Jose Valverde took the mound, but “Papa Grande” wasn’t his sharpest that day. He gave up a leadoff walk to Kosuke Fukudome and walked Jason Donald. Jack Hannahan, a former Tiger, advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. That brought up pinch-hitter Matt LaPorta.
LaPorta hit a fly ball to shallow center. Jackson came in a bit and ranged to his left to make the routine catch. Fukudome boldly tagged up in the hopes of scoring the tying run. Jackson took a couple quick steps and promptly hurled the ball to catcher Alex Avila, who was positioned left of home plate at the point where the baseline met the batter’s box. Avila gloved Jackson’s solid throw in plenty of time to pivot and greet Fukudome. The runner’s attempt to slide underneath the tag was in vain. He was out, and it wasn’t close. Home plate umpire Paul Schriber paused only long enough to make sure Avila held on to the ball before calling Fukudome out.
The game-ending double play that Austin Jackson instigated preserved the 8-7 win and wrapped up the Tigers’ sweep. Their lead in the division was now 4 1/2 games. In the Fox Sports Detroit booth, Rod Allen unleashed another epic “OH, JACKSON!!!” The crowd was ecstatic, and the victorious Tigers’ procession of high-fives was especially sweet. It was an exciting and successful ending to a long day at the ballpark. The teams needed three hours and 45 minutes to complete the game. Reflecting on his highlight-film moment, Jackson said,
"“It wasn’t hit that hard, so I was just trying to get it lined up. I knew I had to get it there on the fly, but I didn’t know if I even had a chance until I saw Alex put on the tag.”"
June 13, 2012: Fear No Ivy
There’s just something special about watching the Detroit Tigers play in Wrigley Field. Since interleague play began in 1997, the Tigers have only made five trips to the baseball cathedral on Chicago’s North Side. The 2012 visit was the first for a Detroit team since 2006, and it was a big draw. The 41,326 on hand for this Wednesday night contest, the second in a three-game series, represented a season-high for attendance at Wrigley. (It was topped the next afternoon when 42,292 showed up.)
Through the first five innings, the Cubs led, 4-1. Then the Tigers’ offense took over. Detroit led, 8-4, heading into the bottom of the ninth. Closer Jose Valverde retired the first two hitters he faced, and it looked like he was heading for a 1-2-3 inning after throwing his first two pitches to Reed Johnson for strikes. Johnson singled, however, and the Cubs still had life. Tony Campana was first-pitch swinging, and he drilled a single to left field.
That brought up Starlin Castro, who was also first-pitch swinging. He hit a fly ball to left-center. Jackson and left fielder Quintin Berry both closed in, but Jackson was just a bit quicker. The ball had carried all the way to the ivy-covered wall. With his back to the plate, Jackson leapt up to snag it. His left foot actually made contact with the wall as completed the game-ending catch. Jackson robbed Castro of what might’ve been a two-run double that would’ve brought the potential tying run to the plate.
Detroit survived the late-inning scare and held on for an 8-4 win. The fearless Jackson was understandably pleased with his glovework. He commented,
"“It was pretty cool, especially when you hear it’s a brick wall behind that ivy, and you’ve got to be careful running full speed. I was able to brace myself a little bit at the end, so I didn’t get the full effect of the brick wall.”"