BALTIMORE — The Detroit Tigers had long ago dropped out of contention, yet their final regular-season game was anything but meaningless.
Brandon Inge homered, Johnny Damon singled in the tiebreaking run in the sixth inning and the Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Sunday to end a six-game skid and avoid a losing season.
Detroit won despite being outhit 9-6. The Tigers finished 81-81, only the second time in five seasons under manager Jim Leyland they failed to have a winning record.
“Obviously we wanted to finish .500 and we did that,” Leyland said. “That's not a lot of consolation, but it's better than finishing under [.500] and we wanted that game bad.”
Nick Markakis had three hits and an RBI for the Orioles, who for the seventh time this season failed to build upon a four-game winning streak. Baltimore was bidding for its first four-game home sweep of Detroit since April 1992.
Although the Orioles finished 66-96, there was upbeat feeling in the clubhouse because of their 34-23 record since manager Buck Showalter made his debut on Aug. 3.
“There are some class guys in this clubhouse busting their butts every game, every out. We left it all out on the field, and that's all you can ask for,” Markakis said.
Brad Bergesen (8-12) held Detroit hitless until Jhonny Peralta singled with one out in the fifth. Two batters later, Inge drove a 1-0 pitch into the left-field seats, his 13th homer of the season and second in two games.
Inge said general manager Dave Dombrowski offered him a multiyear contract before the game.
“First off I'm absolutely ecstatic about it,” Inge said. “This is where I want to play as long as they'll let me.”
Will Rhymes led off the sixth with a double and scored on a single to center by Damon, who left for a pinch-runner. It might have been the last at-bat in a Detroit uniform for Damon, who signed a one-year contract in February.
“Obviously we're on the road so he wasn't going to get a big applause, but all the guys were standing and cheering for him when he came off,” Leyland said.
Damon was gone by the time reporters were allowed in the clubhouse, but his teammates made it evident they would love to have him back in 2011.
“He's a great guy to have in the clubhouse. He provides stability in the lineup,” pitcher Phil Coke said. “If he were to come back that would be a good piece to have here.”
Detroit added an unearned run off Jim Johnson in the ninth.
Stuck without a rested starting pitcher because Detroit played doubleheaders on Wednesday and Friday, Leyland called upon Coke, whose previous 157 appearances in the major leagues came out of the bullpen.
Coke gave up five hits, two runs and a walk in 1 2/3 innings. He was the first of six Detroit pitchers.
Daniel Schlereth (2-0) pitched 3 1/3 shutout innings and Jose Valverde worked the ninth for his 26th save.
And so, the Tigers got the victory they so deeply coveted.
“Everyone that went out there kind of had it on their mind that this is the last day,” Inge said. “Can it kill you to play as hard as you can and try to get a win on the last day and salvage what you can and make it respectable?”
The Orioles got a first-inning run when Robert Andino led off with a double and scored on a single by Luke Scott.
A run-scoring single by Markakis in the second made it 2-0 and chased Coke, who allowed six of the 11 batters he faced to reach base.
Bergesen allowed three runs and four hits in seven innings.
“Bergy pitched well, well enough to win a baseball game,” Showalter said. “He'll win his share like that.”
NOTES: It isn't often that an umpire receives an ovation from the crowd, but Jerry Crawford was cheered by the fans when introduced before his final regular-season game over a 34-year career. ... The biggest cheer from the crowd of 23,914 came when the scoreboard posted the final NFL score of the Ravens' 17-14 win over Pittsburgh ... Peralta's fifth-inning single snapped an 0-for-11 slump. ... Scott walked three times and picked up his second steal of the season. ... It was only the second time in Tigers history they finished at .500. The other time was 1958.