By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – After being thumped by the Oakland A’s in three straight games, the Detroit Tigers would have little reason to believe that a miracle in game four would save them from a sweep – particularly when they trailed by two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and superstar slugger Miguel Cabrera out of the lineup.
Pitcher Justin Verlander believed. In fact, he had a specific scenario in mind, featuring 38-year-old Torii Hunter.
“We hadn’t started the ninth inning yet, and I just got one of those funny feelings, so I went and told him about it,” Verlander said. “I just pointed at him, I said, ‘You’re going to hit a walk-off homer.'”
“He goes, ‘I like that,'” Verlander continued with a grin. “He said, ‘If I get up there, I’m going for it.’ So when he got up there, I was like, ‘Make me look like a genius!'”
Of course, Hunter obliged, doing exactly that. Tigers manager Jim Leyland thought it was out of the park the moment Hunter saw it but had a moment of doubt when he looked at Oakland’s defense.
“I thought so, but I didn’t like the left fielder was reacting,” Leyland said. “I wasn’t sure when I saw the left fielder reacting. When he first hit, it was no doubt, but when I saw the, I believe it was the left fielder, looking kind of strange, I thought, ‘What the hell? That ball’s got to be gone, doesn’t it?’ and then obviously it was.”
Verlander said calling a home run is hardly out of the ordinary, but this one was better than most.
“Everybody’s called homers, but I’ve never done one quite like that,” Verlander said, laughing. “It’s exciting, but it’s all on him, man. This is his moment. It’s awesome, man, just to be involved in it. Maybe I had my small part in it just by putting it in his head, I don’t know.”
Hunter appreciated Verlander planting the seed, and he also said he loved the situation and was ready for it, having done his due diligence in preparing to face Oakland closer Grant Balfour.
“There’s only pressure when you don’t study,” Hunter said. “When you go and take a test and you haven’t studied, that’s pressure. But I know this guy. I’ve seen this guy a lot, and I’ve been in this game. My experiences are my studies, so there’s no pressure to me. I just go and play and I want to be in that situation.”
It was a breath of fresh air to the Tigers, having been pummeled 14-4 the previous day.
“We kind of exorcised the demons there with that last swing of the bat Torii had, so that was fantastic,” Verlander said.
Hunter is in his 17th year in the major leagues but just his first with the Tigers, and he has been invaluable for him this season. Not only is he hitting above .300, he is, by all accounts and experiences, a delightful personality as well.
“He’s been an amazing acquisition,” Verlander said. “Obviously what he’s done on the field and how well he’s played, but in the clubhouse, you couldn’t ask more for a better teammate. He brings a positive attitude every day, not just for himself but for everybody around him. He lifts everybody up. He’s the consummate teammate, he leads by example, everything you could ask for in a great teammate.”