Distilling a 162-game baseball season down to five moments can be a challenge. Unfortunately for the Detroit Tigers, there were few notable occasions after the All-Star break. From a competitive standpoint, it's almost like they played half a season.
But in a year when Detroit fans came out to support their team, even when a first-place finish was out of reach, the Tigers gave their fans plenty to cheer about. Most of the notable moments came before July (and some, such as Miguel Cabrera's three-homer game came in a losing effort), but that doesn't make them any less memorable. Here are five of the best moments from the Tigers' 2010 season:
No. 5: Johnny Damon turns down Boston
If there was one time in August where the Tigers found themselves in the national baseball spotlight, it was near the August 31 waiver trade deadline. In Damon, Detroit had a proven playoff veteran who could help a pennant race contender. The Tigers made him available on waivers, and he was claimed by his former team, the Boston Red Sox.
Instead of jumping at the chance to join a contender, however, Damon revealed hard feelings over how his career ended in Boston. He disliked how the team treated him in contract negotiations and how Red Sox fans regarded him when he returned with the New York Yankees. Damon expressed his desire to remain a Tiger, and also suddenly became a civic champion when Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wondered how Damon could possibly prefer living in Detroit over Boston.
Damon was informed he won't be back with the Tigers in 2011, so if his defense of Detroit was a form of contract negotiation, it didn't work. But he perhaps forever endeared himself to Tigers fans for wanting to play in Detroit and sticking up for the city.
No. 4: Damon's walk-off homer beats Angels
Damon's Tigers career got off to a good start in April, but it was at the beginning of May when he truly provided some excitement. In what looked like a match-up of possible playoff teams at the time, Detroit needed a win to keep pace with the first-place Twins. The Angels took an early lead, but the Tigers rallied to tie the game, helped in part by Damon's three hits.
The biggest of those hits came in the ninth inning. Facing Scot Shields, Damon pounced on a 2-0 fastball down the middle and launched it out for his first home run of the season. Not only did it provide an exciting walk-off win, but with a Twins loss to Cleveland, the Tigers were within a half-game of first place. This was Damon's "Welcome to Detroit" moment.
No. 3: Brandon Inge hits two home runs versus Rangers
Coming off double knee surgery in the offseason, there was doubt as to whether Inge would still have the same power bat that hit 27 homers in 2009. Those doubts only intensified when he went through the Tigers' first 19 games without a home run. As if responding directly to such questions, Inge finally broke out the big stick in the finale of a four-game series at Texas.
Inge hit his first homer of the season in the fifth inning, but came back for more in the ninth. Following Miguel Cabrera's go-ahead solo shot off American League Rookie of the Year candidate Neftali Feliz, Inge cinched a win (and series split) for the Tigers with another long ball. Most doubts and grumblings about Inge's lack of power faded away after that.
No. 2: Max Scherzer strikes out 14 Oakland batters
After an impressive Tigers debut in which he allowed no runs over six innings, Scherzer's next seven starts didn't go so well. Scherzer couldn't find the right movement on his slider, making him much more hittable. This also forced him to throw far too many pitches, frequently exhausting him by the fifth inning. The Tigers knew Scherzer's stuff was still there, but noticed his arm slot needed adjusting. Rather than work on that and get hammered in the majors, however, the decision was made to send Scherzer to the minors.
After two dominant starts with Triple-A Toledo, in which he struck out 17 batters in 15 innings, while allowing only one earned run and four hits, it was clear that Scherzer had made the necessary changes in his delivery. Between that and a starting rotation in desperate need of help with the struggles of Dontrelle Willis, Rick Porcello and Jeremy Bonderman, the Tigers called him back up to the majors.
In his return, Scherzer showed that his rediscovered slider wouldn't just mow down overmatched minor league batters. Pitching against the A's and opposing Dallas Braden, who threw a perfect game four weeks earlier, Scherzer was nearly unhittable. He struck out 14 of the 24 Oakland batters he faced, allowing just two hits (though he did issue four walks). Only five hitters even made contact on Scherzer, and no one in baseball history had recorded more strikeouts in fewer innings pitched.
No. 1: Armando Galarraga's "almost perfect" game
Okay, you probably guessed this would top the list, right? There was no higher point for the Tigers this season, though it ended in disappointment and disbelief. Galarraga seemed the least likely of Detroit's starting pitchers to pitch a perfect game. For one thing, he began the season in the minors, not joining the big league club until mid-May. But Galarraga rarely put together a consistent effort, so how could he be unhittable for nine innings?
Against the Cleveland Indians on June 2, however, he was exactly that. Galarraga could put a pitch anywhere he wanted in the strike zone. His sinker and slider had wicked movement on them. The defense playing behind him was spectacular. (The "OH, JACKSON!" catch probably warranted a place on this list.) It was a perfect night. If only it could've actually ended that way.
Of course, it should have. Galarraga had recorded 26 outs. And the 27th, Jason Donald, hit a ground ball to first base. Miguel Cabrera gloved it, and a simple flip to Galarraga covering at the bag would give him the 21st perfect game in major league history.
Except umpire Jim Joyce didn't see it that way. He inexplicably called Donald safe, missing what was obvious to anyone and everyone who saw the throw beat the runner by at least a full step. What did Joyce think he saw? Did he just choke in a big moment? It happens to players. This time - the worst possible time - maybe it happened to an umpire, too.
But even if Galarraga, the Tigers and their fans were denied perfection, the game still provided an exceptional moment. Joyce knew he blew the call and was as remorseful as we've ever seen an umpire. Galarraga had every right to be furious, yet forgave Joyce upon seeing how devastated he was. It was a signature moment of sportsmanship, and the nation took notice. Galarraga and the Tigers were the talk of the baseball world for days. Even the non-sports media expressed disbelief, talking about Galarraga and Joyce on nightly newscasts and morning talk shows.
After it all settled down, Tigers fans got more than a perfect game. Maybe it was the first 28-out perfecto thrown. But there was the poignant exchange between Joyce and Galarraga the next day, when lineup cards were turned in at home plate. (Galarraga also got a little red corvette for his efforts, courtesy of Chevrolet.)