I would be the first person to say the Tigers absolutely did the right thing in releasing Brandon Inge. Let's face it, since the All-Star break of 2009, he's been awful. He can no longer hit and his fielding isn't very good either. Nice guy, but good riddance.
In his career in Detroit, Inge hit six walk-off home runs. From my research, I believe that is tied with Kirk Gibson for the most ever in Tigers history. That's right. Inge had a flair for the dramatic. His late-inning blasts weren't limited to Comerica Park. Remember the one in Houston in 2009 with two out in the ninth off of Jose Valverde? That turned a loss into a win. How about the ninth inning grand slam in Tampa that same year? Inge could rise to the occasion. None, in my opinion, will ever match what he did with the team down to its final out, trailing by a run in that terrible season of 2003. When I asked Dave Dombrowski for his favorite Inge memory, this is the moment he mentioned.
The 2003 Tigers were possibly the worst team in the history of the American League. They lost 119 games, a record. The only team since 1901 with more is the expansion, 1962 New York Mets, who had 120. The '03 Tigers gave up 337 more runs than they scored. This particular game came on a Sunday afternoon in late August, their 129th of the season. Up to that point, they had scored 10 runs or more exactly once, but gave up 10 or more 17 times. They had lost 11 in a row, dropping their record to an almost impossible to believe 31-97. Entering the season, I thought for sure the Tigers were destined to set the record for futility. The previous season, they'd lost 106 games. In the offseason, they unloaded their four best players from that awful team. Those players included their only All-Star, Robert Fick, one of their most dangerous hitters, Randall Simon, their best starting pitcher, Mark Redman, and best reliever, Juan Acevedo. The team also had a first-year manager at the helm, Alan Trammell.
To me, this game contained one of my favorite things about baseball. No matter how seemingly meaningless the game, it can still provide amazing drama and emotion you can't get in any movie. A great moment is still a great moment. That's what makes baseball great. You never know when that moment could come.
The Tigers were playing the defending World Series champion Anaheim Angels at Comerica Park. This Angels team was stumbling in its defense of the crown, but they were still a tough group. Mike Maroth, who would go on to lose 21 games, started for Detroit. Garrett Anderson's first inning three-run homer made it 3-0 before there were any outs. A Dmitri Young homer in the bottom half cut the lead to 3-2. Chone Figgins's two-run single in the second made it 5-2. The Tigers scored two more in the second and then another in the third on a Carlos Pena solo shot to tie it up at five runs apiece.
The Tigers took a 7-6 lead into the eighth, as things came apart, as they inevitably did over and over again that season. With the bases loaded, the Angels used a couple of singles to score three runs, making it 9-7. The Tigers got one back in the bottom half to cut it to 9-8. It stayed that way entering the bottom of the ninth.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia called upon invincible closer Troy Percival. The Tigers had done virtually nothing off the flame-throwing right-hander in his career. They had scored two runs off him in 40 and two-thirds innings. Just 10 months prior, Percival was on the mound to close out game seven of the World Series against the Giants. Now, with a crowd of about 17,000, many of whom had probably already left, all Percival had to do was get three outs against one of the worst teams in history.
Pena led off the inning with a single. It looked pretty harmless. Craig Monroe followed with a pop up and Warren Morris struck out. Up came Brandon Inge. He entered the game batting .188 on the season. It looked like he had about as much of a chance of hitting Percival as a fan pulled from the stands. Inge had been sent down to Toledo in mid-season in favor of A.J. Hinch. Inge had trouble staying on the roster of this awful team. He worked the count to 3-2. The Tigers were down to their last strike, and everyone was pretty much ready to chalk up loss number 98. Then, Inge turned on one and drilled it to left-center. The stunned crowd stood. This one was a no-doubter. Gone. Game over. The Tigers had won it 10-9.
On the radio, the shock in Dan Dickerson and Jim Price's voices was evident. Inge had delivered one of the most stunning home runs in recent Tigers history. He rounded the bases as his teammates waited to mob him at home. The players jumped up and down, just like the fans in the stands. A great moment is still a great moment. As I listened to the game in my tiny apartment in Kalamazoo, I think I almost cried. I was shocked and overjoyed. While many people try to forget this season because of the 119 losses, I will always remember this one glorious win. The players celebrated like they had just won the pennant. Cameras caught Trammell cracking a smile. He didn't have much to celebrate that season, but that magnifies it and makes it special, and memorable. After the game, Trammell said, "Today, we're on top of the world."