Brandon Inge sends Houston pitcher Jose Valverde's fastball on its way over the fence for a game-winning home run.
David J. Phillip / AP Enlarge
HOUSTON - Brandon Inge knew what pitch was coming, and he salvaged the Detroit Tigers' final game in Houston with a single swing.
Inge hit a two-run homer off Jose Valverde with two outs in the ninth inning, and the Tigers averted a sweep with a 4-3 win over the Astros Sunday.
Kaz Matsui's RBI double off Edwin Jackson in the seventh gave Houston a 3-2 lead.
Tim Byrdak retired two batters in relief of Russ Ortiz in the eighth and Valverde (0-2) started the ninth, looking for his seventh save. Placido Polanco and Miguel Cabrera each flied out before Valverde walked Marcus Thames, an at-bat that Inge watched carefully.
When Valverde missed the strike zone with his first pitch to him, Inge correctly guessed that a straight fastball was coming next. He promptly drove the pitch over the left-field wall for his 18th home run to give Detroit its first lead.
"I noticed he walked Marcus with a split-finger [fastball], and threw me a first-pitch split-finger," Inge said. "I thought, I don't think he wants to fall behind both guys. I just tried to stay on the fastball and be aggressive with it."
Valverde has blown four saves in 10 appearances this season.
"I had no idea what happened," Valverde said. "This guy's a good hitter. There's nothing I can do. I throw that pitch and he hit it."
Bobby Seay (1-1) pitched a scoreless eighth in relief of Jackson, and Fernando Rodney shut out Houston in the ninth to stay perfect in 17 save opportunities.
Thanks to Inge, the Tigers feel a lot better heading to Oakland for a three-game series starting tonight. They play three games in Minnesota at the end of the week.
"To start off a road trip with a sweep against you, that's not how you want to do it," Inge said. "This is a big one, just to get us started in the right direction." Curtis Granderson added a solo homer for the Tigers, who improved to 5-3 in the last eight games Jackson has started. Jackson came in with the AL's second-best ERA (2.40), behind Kansas City's Zack Greinke, and was as happy as anyone in the dugout when Inge homered.
"It's more for the team than for me," Jackson said. "A swing like that definitely gives us confidence going into the next series."
Jackson allowed only one hit through the first four innings, but the Tigers grounded into two early double plays. Detroit averaged only three runs in Jackson's previous seven starts.
Michael Bourn led off the Astros fourth with a triple to right-center. Jackson hit Jeff Keppinger with a pitch before Bourn scored on Lance Berkman's sacrifice fly to put Houston ahead 1-0.
Carlos Lee singled and one out later, Hunter Pence doubled down the left-field line. Keppinger and Lee scored, but a fan reached out of the stands and touched the ball. Lee's run was nullified and umpires ordered him to return to third base. Jackson struck out Ivan Rodriguez to end the inning and keep the score 2-0.
Inge beat out an infield single in the fifth and scored on Gerald Laird's double to left center Granderson tied it in the sixth, driving a 1-1 pitch from Ortiz to right-field for his 18th homer.
NOTES: Detroit placed left-hander Nate Robertson on the 15-day disabled list with a mass in his left elbow. To take his place on the roster, the Tigers purchased the contract of left-hander Fu-Te Ni from Triple-A Toledo. He was 3-0 with a 2.60 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 24 appearances. ... The Tigers announced that they would call up LHP Lucas French from Toledo to replace Alfredo Figaro in the rotation. French is expected to start for the Tigers Friday in Minnesota. Figaro was sent down to Toledo after giving up 10 hits and eight runs in six innings in Saturday's loss at Houston.