TOP OF THE NINTH: TIGERS 6 – 5 METS
The Detroit Tigers are wearing uniform tops with Tigres written in navy across the fronts, meaning one of three things: The equipment manager overlooked a run of typos; they’ve been bought out and renamed as a companion team by Tigres UANL, top-league fútbol team of Monterrey; or it’s some sort of Spanish-language night at Comerica Park and the translation has been deemed a plus for local promotions.
Safe to say the latter wins out there, though from a glance it’s not entirely clear.
Detroit Tigres. New York Mets. Interleague play. A battle for respective playoff-chasing scraps. Two teams going for a Wild Card spot. Mets on their tailspinning way down, Tigers on a pleasant-surprise surge into contention.
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) August 6, 2016
And the all-important final frame begins with Francisco Rodriguez on the mound for Detroit, Ty Kelly at the bat for New York.
A groundout back to the pitcher, K-Rod pounces on it. One out. Neil Walker steps up next, making out on an easy fly ball to left. Two down.
The sell-out crowd gets up. Please, they say, bring this one home. Let us think this summer run is no illusion.
Jay Bruce comes up next for the Mets, the man sent from Cincinnati to save them. An angel, in the Metropolitan outfield. A hopeful attempt to replicate the Cespedes success of last year—a deadline deal intended, however vainly, to save a flagging roster. Perhaps the most topical of all Bruces, in temporary fame, among these summer baseball months. For a few short weeks edging out the greats in mentions. Springsteen. Willis. Lee. Bruce.
Jay Bruce knocks a base hit to left on the first pitch against the shift. Rodriguez paces around the mound frowning, with the full, round cheeks of a squirrel, puffed out and growing as he goes.
And Alejandro De Aza steps up to continue the two-out rally try. Ale-ale-jandro, Ale-ale-jandro…
Strike one on a big curveball. De Aza slices the second pitch on a line to left field, a timely single. First and second now, the tying run inching closer. Travis d’Arnaud up. Mets fans praying, a whole borough of New York panicked and pale. A win needed, now more than ever. Or at least a crapshoot chance in extras.
Rodriguez deals a wicked changeup, his back leg kicking up high on the follow-through, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia blocks the pitch in the dirt. Two fans behind the backstop press both palms forward, as if to say “eassssy”.
“It’s gettin’ looud in here now!!” via the home-team telecast.
The fans rise, and the pressure follows. Rodriguez winds up. Delivers. And d’Arnaud smacks a bouncing ball to the right side, through the infield. Rolling into right, to the feet of J.D. Martinez. Bruce rounds home, lumbering all-out for the score. To tie. And the throw.
The bottoms of Bruce’s gold-painted cleats slide in to the plate, a big long man, as Saltalamacchia receives the ball and spins to his left to apply the tag. The fans half-cheer and hold back as the ump bends his neck for a sure look.
His fist flares across his chest, making gusts of wind like a great emphatic punch, a boxing match with the ump against the air, leaning down as if to slug Bruce himself in the face. The hard punishment for a misjudged homeward sprint.
The fans go nuts. Matching fists thrown up in the air, all arms up, a ballpark bursting with joy. Tigers win, the kind of win that ignites a whole team. Martinez the hero, proud sniper in right. A huge triple-hug from Upton and Collins. Happy disbelief for all fans present. And a depressed pushup from Jay Bruce in the aftermath, in the dirt, no one there to help up their man.
“Happy happy, joy joy!” says one of the TV guys, “as the Tigers get a win!”
FINAL: #Tigers 6, Mets 5.
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) August 7, 2016
In an Olympic week, with talk of Phelps and Lochte, Biles and Ledecky. Rio. Zika. Copacabana. Ipanema. And the Tigers. Tigres. Making a backdoor run for title. A rag-tag group of ballplayers taking back the headlines. Rodriguez. Martinez. Saltalamacchia.
Tigres Tigres burning bright, in the forests of the night…