DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers finished off the first half of the season the way manager Phil Garner hopes his team performs through most of the second half.
Detroit rallied for three runs in the seventh to knock off the Chicago Cubs 9-6 in an interleague matchup before a sellout crowd of 38,279 yesterday at Comerica Park.
“I don't know where we stand mentally, but all the wins are important,” said Garner, whose team closed out the first 84 games of the season with a 36-48 record after beating one of the most surprising teams this season to go 1-2 in interleague play over the weekend against the Cubs (51-35).
Nevertheless, Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa displayed the kind of power at the Tigers' cavernous ballpark Detroit fans can only wish for. Sosa blasted his 28th and 29th home runs off Tigers starter Jose Lima. Both were two-run shots to push his RBI total to 83.
“He hit those balls pretty good,” Garner said. “Big guys can hit home runs in any ballpark.”
But Sosa's exploits, which drew as many cheers as boos, weren't enough to stop the Tigers from closing out the first half of the season on a favorable note.
Tied at 6, the Tigers rallied for three runs on four hits in the seventh. Juan Encarnacion gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead when he lined a single to right with the bases loaded. Wendell Magee followed with a pinch-hit single through the middle of the infield to drive in two more to give the Tigers their eventual game-deciding edge.
However, the Tigers didn't take full advantage of the inning. They stranded three base-runners. Jose Macias and Roger Cedeno struck out with two men on base before Bobby Higginson struck out looking at a 3-2 pitch after Damion Easley had walked to load the bases.
After watching the two teams combine for 55 runs during the three-game series, Cubs manager Don Baylor isn't quite sure about the notion that Comerica Park favors pitching over hitting.
“For a pitcher's park, there were a lot of runs and a lot of hits,” Baylor said. “It reminded me of Coors Field, believe it or not.”
Macias produced a home run and a double while driving in two runs for the Tigers, who tallied 13 hits against a Cubs pitching staff considered one of the best in the league. The Tigers recorded nine of their hits off Chicago starter Kerry Wood, who gave up six runs in six innings.
“He struggled today,” said Garner, of Wood. “He started off slow and we put the runs on the board.”
Wood's trouble finding the strike zone early on led to the Tigers taking a 4-0 lead in the second inning. Robert Fick led off with a walk. Tony Clark and Shane Halter followed with a base hit apiece to load the bases. Fick gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead when Wood threw a wild pitch that bounced by catcher Joe Girardi. Juan Encarnacion followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead. It became 3-0 when Macias doubled in another run and eventually scored later in the inning on a fielding error.
“I was behind in the count most of the day and you're not going to win many games pitching like that,” Wood said.
Baylor basically agreed it was an off-day for Chicago's most talented pitcher.
“He struggled most of the day and was barely getting by,” said Baylor, of Wood. “His stuff was there, but his control was very erratic.”
On an afternoon when Wood didn't deliver his `A' game, Sosa produced enough power at the plate to lead Chicago back from a 4-0 deficit.
His first homer cleared the fence in right-center field in the third inning to trim Detroit's lead to 4-2. His second blast off Lima came in the fifth. Sosa swung at the first pitch thrown to him and connected on a shot that quickly cleared the fence in left-center.
Lima, who gave up six runs on seven hits, wasn't completely discouraged about his performance that also included three strikeouts and one walk. Other than two bad pitches to Sosa, he considered it a positive outing since he was able to stay in the game for six innings and the Tigers went on to win.
Lima looks forward to pitching even better in the second half of the season. And there's one aspect of the remainder of the season Lima knows will benefit his performance on the mound.
“I will not have to see Sammy (Sosa) again until next year,” Lima said. “I won't have to worry about him now.”
Sosa didn't receive another chance at potentially a third home run in the game because when he returned to the plate with a runner on second and two outs in the seventh, he received his career-high 21st intentional walk of the season.
The move to have Detroit reliever Todd Jones pitch around Sosa was met with a chorus of boos from a Comerica contingent draped in as much paraphernalia for the Cubs as Tigers.
Yet, the move, coming with the score tied at 6, worked favorably for Detroit. Jones failed to get out the next batter, Ron Coomer, who reached base with a walk. However, Jones escaped the inning unscathed after Roosevelt Brown popped up to right. Jones (4-5) got the decision.
NOTES: All three games against the Cubs at Comerica Park were sellouts, raising the season total to four. ... Wendell Magee's pinch-hit, two-run single was his first base hit as a pinch-hitter this season. ... Shane Halter recorded his second straight three-hit game. He has six three-hit games this season, all coming in his last 15 games. ... Bobby Higginson went 0-for-5, making the last out in five of Detroit's first seven innings, four times with runners on base. ... By adding Comerica Park to his list, Sosa now has homered in 36 ballparks. He has seven home runs in 34 career at-bats against Lima. ... Wood hadn't allowed six runs in a start since the Cardinals scored seven in four innings off him May 13.