MINNEAPOLIS — The Detroit Tigers’ brush with the AL Central title was fleeting.
Brandon Inge insists that a pitch grazed his jersey with the bases loaded in the 12th inning against Minnesota on Tuesday night, which would have scored the go-ahead run in this back-and-forth tiebreaker.
Home plate umpire Randy Marsh thought otherwise, ruling that Bobby Keppel’s pitch did not hit Inge.
“It hit my shirt. Period,” Inge insisted after Detroit’s 6-5, 12-inning loss to the Twins that cost them a spot in the playoffs. “I want to hit as much as the next guy, but when it’s that important … It hit my shirt. I don’t lie about things like that.”
Inge followed with a bouncer to second base that Nick Punto was able to scoop up and throw home to force Miguel Cabrera, another opportunity down the drain.
Misplayed flyballs, poor baserunning, squandered at-bats. Jim Leyland’s team made a season’s worth of mistakes, all in one game, a fitting conclusion to a historic collapse.
“The ball did hit Inge, it hit his jersey. That’s a shame,” Leyland said. “No excuses, but the ball definitely hit him. You don’t know if that changes anything, so there’s no blame to be put on umpires or anything. It’s a shame because it did hit him.”
Trying to win their first division title since 1987, the Tigers held a seven-game lead on the Twins on Sept. 6. But they limped to an 11-16 finish that made them the first team in Major League history to miss out on the playoffs after holding a three-game lead with four to play.
They had countless chances — in the last month and in this one-game playoff for the Central crown — to put away the Twins and they blew every one of them.
“We had it won maybe four or five times, easily,” second baseman Placido Polanco said. “We came out after 162 games and we had our chances and didn’t get the key hits. We got nothing.”
The Tigers had the bases loaded with one out in the 12th, runners at the corners with nobody out in the ninth — and still somehow came up empty both times.
In the 12th, replays appeared to show Bobby Keppel’s pitch grazing the billowy part of Inge’s jersey. Leyland came out for a brief argument and Inge seemed set to head to first base, but Marsh told the manager to go back to the dugout and told the batter to get back in the box.
“I did not have the ball hitting him. We looked at replays, too,” Marsh said. “And the replays that we’ve looked at, to be honest with you, were inconclusive. I did not see a replay that showed that it hit him.”
Punto then made a nifty stab and throw home to get Cabrera and Keppel struck out Gerald Laird swinging to end the inning, setting up Alexi Casilla’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the inning.
In the ninth, the Tigers had Adam Everett on third base and Curtis Granderson on first with nobody out against Joe Nathan. Polanco struck out looking and Granderson’s lean off of first base allowed shortstop Orlando Cabrera to double him off first base on a line drive to end the inning.
“That’s a mistake,” Granderson said. “There were a lot of them made today.”
The Tigers took a 5-4 lead with a double by Inge in the 10th, only to have Ryan Raburn give it back in the bottom of the inning with an unnecessarily aggressive play on a sinking liner from Michael Cuddyer.
Rather than try to protect the lead and keep the ball in front of him for a base hit, Raburn went for the “SportsCenter” highlight and attempted a sliding catch. The ball squirted past him and rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Cuddyer to make it to third, a Dome triple if there ever was one.
“It was one of those unfortunate things that happened,” Raburn said. “I was right on it until it went in the lights.”
Cuddyer scored on a single by Matt Tolbert, though Raburn atoned for his miscue later in the inning by throwing out Casilla at the plate to keep this heart-pounding game of inches going.
Rookie Rick Porcello was strong in the start for the Tigers, but his errant pickoff attempt in the third inning allowed Tolbert to score the Twins’ first run of the game.
The Tigers’ 7-2 victory over the Twins at Comerica Park on Sept. 30 gave them a three-game lead with four to play, getting about as close to wrapping up their first division title since 1987 as a team can get.
But they dropped the first two games of the final series of the season to the floundering White Sox at home, allowing the Twins to tie them atop the division and setting up this thrilling 163rd game of the season.
“This game,” Raburn said, “is always going to be in the back of our minds.”