DETROIT – It was all going to hurt tomorrow, win or lose.
So, heck, they won.
The Texas Rangers were still going to be leading the American League Championship Series.
Or, the Rangers would have ended it.
The Detroit Tigers were whipped and achy and a little cranky themselves. They were down their best two relievers in an already thin bullpen. (Jose Valverde(notes) and Joaquin Benoit(notes) had pitched too much in the series, leaving manager Jim Leyland with two options if Justin Verlander(notes) ran out of pitches: a Phil Coke(notes) and a smile.)
So, they may as well have kept going.
"This is not over yet," Leyland had said earlier in the afternoon. "Trust me."
They showed up, put their best pitcher on the mound, kept swinging, stumbled into one of the more fortuitous moments of the postseason, gratefully accepted a few bonus at-bats against Rangers starter C.J. Wilson(notes), survived the Coke experience, beat the Rangers 7-5 and now will lug their gauze and ice bags to Game 6 on Saturday in Texas.
If that sounds exhausting, it was.
You sense the only thing keeping the Tigers propped up is the baseball. That what they'd really like is to go home and nap, but what they'd rather do is play more ball. Since March they've played exactly one more game than the Rangers, and for whatever reason look like they took the long way, through the wood chipper.
[Photos: ALCS Game 5 slideshow]
Maybe the team getting run out of the series always looks like that, but the Tigers seem to wear it more wearily, and definitely more heroically. They'd lost almost every big moment of the series, many of them with fastballs middle-in against Nelson Cruz(notes) – which, incidentally, they did again Thursday night, but for the first time it wouldn't be the story.
Leyland keeps talking about their hearts and guts, about how they're gassed or on fumes, even as they'd been out-pitched, particularly later in games. Maybe they needed a fortunate turn. More likely, they needed someone to pitch them past the vulnerable parts of their bullpen, along with some offense from an improbable place or two, and just enough luck to put the Rangers on their heels for a second.
Because on the other side of Friday's off-day, the Tigers would seem to have the better of the remaining pitching matchups. Game 6 pits Max Scherzer(notes) against Derek Holland(notes), and Game 7 would have Doug Fister(notes) against Colby Lewis(notes).
It's a series again because Verlander pitched into the eighth inning Thursday night, even going to the 101-mph whip a couple times mid-game. He didn't give the ball back until he'd thrown a career-high 133 pitches, the last of which resulted in the aforementioned and required home run by Cruz.
By then, however, the Tigers were ahead, 7-4, because Wilson, the Rangers' starter, allowed – and was allowed by Rangers manager Ron Washington to allow – four sixth-inning runs. If the series is turning, that's where it began, when a two-hopper by Miguel Cabrera(notes) with a runner – Ryan Raburn(notes) – at first base landed not in Adrian Beltre's(notes) glove, but on the corner of the third-base bag.
In the Rangers' dugout, Washington had breathed two words when the ball left Cabrera's bat: "double play."
Beltre assumed the same.
Raburn put his head down and hoped to beat Beltre's throw to second, not sure if he could.
"Beltre's got a great arm over there," he said.
Cabrera looked up and couldn't believe how close to the line Beltre had set up.
And as Beltre readied his glove, and Ian Kinsler(notes) shuffled to second to receive his throw, and Mitch Moreland(notes) got to the first-base bag, that baseball struck the corner of that 15-inch wide, four-inch high slab.
"It was lucky, I think," Cabrera said.
Rather than stay low and playable, the ball hopped over Beltre's head and over third-base umpire Larry Vanover's head, veered a little left and struck the low fence down the left-field line, bounding back toward fair territory.
Raburn scored from first. Cabrera huffed into second. When Martinez followed with a triple into the right-field corner ("Hey, Victor, you hit a triple today?" Cabrera later shouted across the clubhouse. "Believe it, baby," Martinez answered.), and Young followed that with his second home run in two at-bats, the Tigers had turned a 2-2 tie and an ounce of luck into a 6-2 lead.
They believed they had it coming.
Later, third-base coach Gene Lamont had someone exhume that bag and deliver it to Leyland.
"And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life," he said. "I can promise you."
By the end of the night, the Tigers had revived two dead bats – Young's and Avila's. They'd hit for the first natural – and consecutive – cycle in postseason history. They'd withstood another booming swing from Cruz, whose five home runs are a record for a league championship series.
More important, they hung around just long enough to catch the break they'd been talking about.
It'd been there all along, just on the other side of the wood chipper.