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Published: Tuesday, 5/27/2003

Inge unlikely source of Tiger power

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - Detroit Tigers catcher Brandon Inge hasn't been hitting his weight and his .145 average is worst among everyday starters in the major leagues.

When Inge came to bat in the seventh inning yesterday against Cleveland reliever Jason Boyd, his average against right-handed pitchers this season was a microscopic .079.

Inge, though, defied the odds and lined a 2-1 slider from Boyd into the seats in left field for his third homer of the season, as the Tigers rallied for a 6-5 victory over the Indians before a Memorial Day matinee crowd of 17,619 at Comerica Park.

“I changed my batting stance and swing three weeks ago and I'm going up there looking to drive balls now,'' Inge said. “I was looking for a slider out over the plate and that's what I got and I was able to drive it out of the park.''

Inge's blast helped the Tigers to their fourth win in five games, but they are just 4-17 at home.

“I left a pitch out over the plate,'' said Boyd, who fell to 0-1. “And Inge wasn't fooled at all.''

Detroit manager Alan Trammell said he considered pinch-hitting for the light-hitting Inge, who was 0-for-3 but had hit two balls hard earlier in the game.

“Brandon's been hitting some balls hard lately and not had a lot to show for it, so I stayed with him,'' he said. “Everybody wants to focus on his numbers - they're not where he'd like them to be or where we'd like them to be - but he came through.

“That was a big hit for him and for us.''

Left-hander Steve Avery (2-0) got the win despite giving up a game-tying, three-run homer to Brandon Phillips with two outs in the top of the seventh. Franklyn German, the fifth Detroit pitcher, worked a scoreless ninth for his second save.

Dmitri Young, who is hitting .368 against the Indians this year, went 2-for-3 with four RBIs. He gave Detroit a 5-2 lead with two outs in the second when he belted a three-run homer off Indians starter Jake Westbrook on a 3-1 pitch.

Young, who also drew two intentional walks, had an RBI single in the first. Carlos Pena's double off the base of the wall - the fourth hit in a row off Westbrook - accounted for the other run in the opening inning.

Young, who has 22 RBIs this month, has socked two homers and driven in nine runs in five games against the Tribe.

“I'm seeing the ball real well right now,'' said Young, who has hit safely in 18 of the last 22 games. “I can't wait to step in the box and swing the bat. I feel like I'm going to hit everything hard.''

Westbrook, subbing for C.C. Sabathia who had his start pushed back to Friday because of a lower left ankle sprain, lasted just three innings. He allowed seven hits and five runs, with two walks and two strikeouts.

Westbrook, sent back to the bullpen Thursday when Jason Bere joined the starting rotation, is 0-2 with a 17.48 ERA in his last three starts. The right-hander has yielded 22 hits, 16 runs, eight walks and three homers in 112/3 innings.

“I've got to be able to go out there and do my job, pitch five or six innings and keep us in the game,'' Westbrook said. “I didn't do that.''

The Indians had given Westbrook a 2-0 lead in the first when Milton Bradley hit his fourth homer of the year, a two-out, two-run shot to right on a 1-0 pitch from Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman, who had dropped his last three decisions.

The 20-year-old rookie retired 10 in a row before being lifted after six innings because of a blister on his pitching hand. He allowed just three hits and two runs while striking out seven and walking one.

“It's a shame he had to come out of the game,'' Inge said. “He was pitching great.''

Bonderman threw 82 pitches, including 53 strikes.

“I was in a pretty good groove and I was throwing the ball real well,'' he said. “I wanted to stay in another inning, but [Alan] said he didn't want to take a chance and keep me in there any longer. He said I'm young and I'll have plenty of chances to finish games in the future.''



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