DETROIT -- The Tigers didn't call this a must-win game, this 7-6 comeback over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. They don't have must-win games in July. They still found plenty of ways to describe the importance.
Even for a veteran clubhouse like this, a team that stays steady through the ebbs and flows of a long season moreso than riding the waves of it, Tuesday was big.
"I believe in that," said Torii Hunter, whose last strides to first base to beat Jose Reyes' throw for a two-out infield single and the go-ahead run in the eighth inning brought back memories of his younger days beating out choppers at the Metrodome.
"You're only as good as your last game. Our last game, we battled back, Hunter added. "We didn't give up. If you can't build from that, what else are going to build from?"
Miguel Cabrera, whose 26th home run of the year put the Tigers on top in the second hid the back stiffness he battled for eight innings, agreed.
"Especially when this club scored a lot of runs in the first inning, to get back in the game, it's big for us," he said.
Joaquin Benoit, who finished off the lead few thought the Tigers would ever get in this game after a four-run Toronto first inning, described it another way.
"It's a relief," Benoit said, "because playing the Blue Jays here, it's tough. This team at home is really, really good. Their offense is really good. For us, it's a big win, coming from a deficit early in the game and to win the game by the minimum."
The numbers back them all up.
They hadn't come back from more than a three-run deficit in their first 81 games this season, yet erased a four-run first-inning deficit by the time Doug Fister took the mound again after his 38-pitch debacle of an opening frame.
"Right after they scored four, we came in the dugout and we said, 'Hey, don't give up, don't give in. Let's keep fighting, keep battling,'" Hunter said. "We were telling each other that, lifting each other up."
They scored more runs in the second inning (six) than they did in 46 of their first 81 games, including all but nine games in June. They hit Jays starter Chien-Ming Wang hard enough to not only knock him out of the game, but knock him off the roster once Toronto designated him for assignment.
"I think in that second inning the ball just flattened out a little bit," catcher Josh Thole said of Wang's sinker in his second straight second-inning exit.
Maybe most important, a team batting just .210 in the seventh inning or later of close games on the season, compared to a .279 average overall, scored a go-ahead run in the eighth. It took the ricochet of a Hunter comebacker off Neil Wagner and a flash of speed that seemingly had been waning as the season wore on, but it was enough to get Omar Infante home.
Just when it seemed the Tigers had missed their chance three pitches earlier, when Austin Jackson's drive to center field died on the warning track, they had merely set themselves up to manufacture a run.
"It would've been a base hit anyway," Hunter said, "but the pitcher blocked it. There were a lot of ups and downs on that play. My emotions were jacked up the whole time I was running down the line."
As a result, a day shy of two months after Drew Smyly picked up the win in Houston on May 3 during a four-game sweep of the Astros, the Tigers bullpen earned a win on the road for the first time since then.
Detroit's bullpen has gone through a full-blown reconstruction since. Smyly, then the long reliever, is now a setup guy, and his perfect eighth carried the lead over for Benoit's sixth save in as many chances. Al Alburquerque (1-1), exiled to Triple-A Toledo in May with control problems, earned another notch of trust by retiring the top of the Toronto lineup in the seventh, earning him his first regular-season win since Sept. 10, 2011.
The late-inning trio manager Jim Leyland spent the last few weeks struggling to fit into roles -- in large part because of the struggles of the rotation -- finally came together at the right time.
"It's a good win for us. We needed it," said Leyland, whose team had lost six of its last seven. "Hopefully we can get things going again."
It was almost a reversal of Fister's usual fates this season. Detroit's portrait of run support deprivation received two runs of offense or fewer five of his previous seven starts, which made his fate appear sealed once the Jays batted around on him in a first inning that included two doubles, two infield singles, Fister's league-leading 13th hit batter of the season and less-than-stellar defense behind him.
Simply seeing another full turn through the Toronto lineup seemed unlikely, let alone seeing a handshake from Leyland after the sixth.
"It's still a nothing-nothing ballgame in my mind," Fister said. "Going out there, you're still throwing the same pitches and trying to get outs."
A Tigers offense that left two runners on base in the opening frame against Wang sent 11 batters to the plate in the second, including back-to-back RBI doubles from Infante and Alex Avila ahead of Cabrera's drive to right-center.
Just as suddenly as Fister had been given a lead out of initial disaster, the Jays erased it with Colby Rasmus' two-run homer following a two-out walk to Jose Bautista in the second. Fister retired 13 of his final 14 batters from there.
He not only set up the bullpen, he set up the rally that began with Infante's leadoff single.
"That's a great feeling," Hunter said.