Tigers 9, Devil Rays 2

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Detroit’s Steve Avery tried every method he knows to calm his nerves.

“Deep breaths, focusing on something. None of it worked,” the left-hander said Sunday after pitching one scoreless inning in his first appearance in a regular season game in the majors since 1999.

Avery worked the eighth inning of the Tigers’ 9-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the second of three relievers to follow Nate Cornejo (3-2), who pitched six strong innings to get the win.

Eric Munson homered and Shane Halter, Dmitri Young and Carlos Pena each drove in two runs as the Tigers finished a six-game road trip a 4-2 record.

Detroit purchased Avery’s contract from Triple-A Toledo on Friday. Manager Alan Trammell was looking for the right situation to get the 32-year-old, one-time NL championship series MVP into a game.

When the Tigers scored eight runs on 10 hits in the first three innings, Avery figured he’d get his chance.

“I just wanted to get in, no matter where it was,” Avery said. “I went over a lot of the hitters with (Steve) Sparks and tried to prepare myself as well as I could.”

The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Carl Crawford in the eighth, then escaped further damage when Rocco Baldelli lined to Pena, who stepped on first for a double play, and Aubrey Huff grounded to shortstop.

“I’m looking forward to the next time. I think he was a little nervous,” Trammell said. “I think he got a break (with the double play). But that’s a nice way to start, to have a one-two-three inning.”

Avery, part of Atlanta’s dominant rotation in the early 1990s, hadn’t pitched in a regular season game since July 23, 1999, when he allowed three runs on two hits and walked five in 1 2-3 innings for Cincinnati against San Francisco.

Avery was 6-7 with a 5.16 ERA with the Reds in 1999, but his season was cut short by surgery on his pitching shoulder.

He pitched in the minors in 2000, then didn’t play at all for two seasons after being released by the Braves during spring training in 2001.

“Four years is a long time. It’s definitely understandable to be a little bit jumpy out there,” Avery said.

“My first appearance in Toledo was the same way. You have to get accustomed to your surroundings.”

Halter drove in runs with singles in the first and third innings, helping Detroit build an 8-0 lead against right-hander Jorge Sosa (1-5). Young had a RBI triple in the first and run-scoring single in the second, while Pena also drove in two with a single and sacrifice fly in the first two innings.

Bobby Higginson drove in a run and had two of Detroit’s season-high 15 hits. Ten of the hits came in the first three innings off Sosa and reliever Nick Bierbrodt, and Young doubled off Jesus Colome in the ninth.

Huff hit his 10th homer of the season for Tampa Bay, a solo shot off Cornejo in the sixth. Huff doubled off the top of the left-field wall in the fourth, then scored Tampa Bay’s first run on Marlon Anderson’s RBI single.

The Devil Rays got solid starting pitching in winning the first two games of the series. But Sosa yielded hits to four of the first five batters and never settled down, allowing six runs and six hits in 1 1-3 innings.

Munson homered off Bierbrodt, making it 7-0 in the third. Bierbrodt also gave Halter second RBI single and Craig Monroe added a sacrifice fly off Colome in the ninth.

Cornejo walked one and struck out none before being replaced by Franklyn German at the start of the seventh inning.

The Devil Rays have won the first two games of a three-game series five times this season. They’ve lost the finale each time.

“After you beat a team two or three times in a row, you would think on a getaway day you could put a team away once in a while,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “We’ve been in a position to do it four of the last six series,but we haven’t been able to do it.”

Notes

Higginson has reached base safely in 13 of his last 14 games, hitting .340 (17-for-50) during the stretch. … Sosa, converted to pitcher after spending the first pro seasons as an outfielder in the Rockies and Mariners chains, has lost 11 of 14 decisions in 19 career starts. … With a single, double and triple, Young finished a homer shy of hitting for the cycle. … Cornejo won his second straight start and has three of Detroit’s eightvictories.

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