DETROIT — Ramon Santiago is one of the smallest players on the Detroit Tigers — a smooth fielder and fast runner, but nobody’s idea of a slugger.
For the second time in less than three months, the 5-foot-11 backup infielder gave the Tigers a victory with a big hit in extra innings. Santiago’s solo home run in the bottom of the 10th on Tuesday night lifted Detroit to a 2-1 victory against the Kansas City Royals.
On June 13, Santiago hit an RBI triple in the 10th to give the Tigers a 2-1 victory against Tampa Bay in a game he had entered as a defensive replacement. He came in as a pinch-runner in the eighth on Tuesday but made his biggest contribution two innings later.
“I knew I hit it hard, but I was running as fast as I could because I wasn’t sure where it was going to end up,” Santiago said. “Once I saw it go out, I wanted to enjoy it, because you don’t get to do that very often.”
Santiago’s home run off Aaron Crow (3-4) was only his fourth of the year. It enabled the first-place Tigers to stay five games ahead of the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.
Joaquin Benoit (4-3) pitched two innings for the Tigers, matching his longest outing of the season. Crow struck out Wilson Betemit with the bases loaded to end the ninth, but he got only one out in the 10th before allowing Santiago’s surprising home run over the right-field wall.
“You like to see someone like Santi get a turn in front of the cameras. He’s the underdog on a team with guys like [Miguel] Cabrera and [Victor] Martinez,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “He ran into a fastball and he hit it well. That wasn’t a paint scraper.”
Detroit starter Doug Fister retired the first 18 hitters he faced. He ended up allowing a run and four hits over 7 2/3 innings and struck out six.
Kansas City’s Jeff Francis allowed two hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings in an impressive duel between the two starters.
“I felt like every time I sat down, I was right back up, the way he was throwing,” Francis said.
Fister was traded from Seattle to Detroit on July 30 as the Tigers tried to bolster their rotation for the stretch run. He entered Tuesday’s game receiving only 2.63 runs of support per nine innings, and he settled for a no-decision after taking a perfect game into the seventh.
Alex Gordon ended Fister’s bid with a double. Billy Butler eventually drove him in with a sacrifice fly to give the Royals a 1-0 lead.
“I knew it, but it never crossed my mind to think about [the perfect game],” Fister said. “It doesn’t change how the hitters are going to approach me, and it doesn’t change how I’m going to approach the hitters, so it isn’t something that is in my mind.”
Francis was pulled with two on in the seventh, and reliever Greg Holland retired Martinez and Alex Avila to end the threat.
Holland has allowed only one of his 29 inherited runners to score this season, but he stayed in the game for the eighth inning and the Tigers managed to tie it. With men on first and third and two outs, Magglio Ordonez singled up the middle to make it 1-1.
The Royals had missed a chance to pad their lead in the top of the eighth when they put men on second and third with one out. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta fielded Alcides Escobar’s grounder and threw home to catch Mike Moustakas trying to score. Phil Coke then relieved Fister and struck out Gordon.
Detroit nearly won it in the ninth when Louis Coleman allowed three consecutive two-out walks, but Crow came in and got out of the jam.
In his past three starts, Fister has allowed two runs in 21 2/3 innings.
Martinez’s hard grounder in the ninth handcuffed first baseman Eric Hosmer, but the ball bounced off him and over to second baseman Chris Getz, who threw back to Hosmer covering first for an odd 3-4-3 groundout.
It was Benoit’s third outing of more than an inning this season.
The Tigers and Royals will finish their four-game series with day games Wednesday and Thursday. Rick Porcello takes the mound for Detroit on Wednesday against Felipe Paulino.
The Tigers are 9-5 against Kansas City this season.
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