HOUSTON -- Detroit's Don Kelly seemed destined to score the winning run in Thursday night's marathon. Instead, he drove in the winning run with a bases-loaded single in the 14th inning to help the Tigers beat Houston, 7-3.
After Austin Jackson led off the 14th with a double and Torii Hunter moved him to third with a groundout, the Astros intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to load the bases with one out to bring up Kelly, who began the night hitting .192.
"If I'm in the other dugout, I'm walking Miggy and Prince, too," Kelly said. "Heck no, I wasn't surprised.
"I'm just trying to get a good pitch to hit, in the zone. I was able to lay off two pretty good pitches, a fastball and then a curveball down. Then he threw a fastball."
Kelly bounced it through the right side of the infield to score Jackson with the go-ahead run.
"Those are the opportunities that you want," said Kelly, picking up his first RBI of the season. "RBIs are just opportunity. But when you have opportunities like that, bases loaded, you want to capitalize."
Kelly got the hit off Houston left-handed reliever Dallas Keuchel, the seventh of eight Astros pitchers. "That's his third hit off left-handers recently, so that's good to see," manager Jim Leyland said of the left-handed-hitting reserve.
Kelly entered the game as a pinch-runner for Victor Martinez in the eighth after the Tigers had tied it at 3. But pinch-hitter Matt Tuiasosopo struck out to end the inning.
Then Kelly led off the 13th with a double and Jhonny Peralta singled him to third with one out. But Brayan Pena struck out and Omar Infante flied out to end another threat.
It took four hours and 50 minutes, the game ending at the stroke of midnight, Central Time.
The win moved Detroit into a virtual tie with Kansas City for first place in the AL Central after the Royals were snowed out at home earlier in the day.
"That was a long one," Kelly said. "We had a couple of opportunities. It was a tough game."
Houston's Keuchel threw 4 1/3 innings before getting hit hard in the 14th.
"I felt good," he said. "You go so far and come up short, it's pretty disheartening and pretty disappointing. Hats off to their lineup for just keep getting after me."
The Tigers outhit Houston 15-6.
Detroit nearly won it in the 11th when Tuiasosopo walked with two outs and moved to second on Peralta's single. Pena, pinch-hitting, sliced a single to right, but Houston's Rick Ankiel threw out Tuiasosopo at home.
"You've got to send him," Leyland said of Tuiasosopo trying to score. "Ankiel's got a great arm and made a great throw."
"We got quite a few hits and weren't doing much with them for a while," Leyland said. "But we hung in there. Obviously the pitching staff did a tremendous job."
Starter Rick Porcello worked seven innings, allowing three runs on two Astros homers. But Porcello gave up only five hits, struck out seven and walked none in his 97-pitch outing.
The Detroit bullpen was simply brilliant.
Jose Ortega pitched two perfect innings, striking out three of the six batters he faced. Joaquin Benoit gave up only a walk in his two innings, striking out three more. And finally, Luke Putkonen, who just joined the club Thursday from Triple-A, came on with one on and two out in the 12th and retired seven of the eight batters he faced, surrendering only a walk.
Putkonen got the win.
"My first [Major League] win," he said. "I'll remember that for a long time."
The longer the game went, the better chance Putkonen had of getting the call from the bullpen.
"I'm always ready," he said. "As a reliever, that's your job. That's why I'm here, to get in the game. I was stretched out in the Minor Leagues, throwing two or three innings at a time."
Final score -- Detroit relievers pitched seven innings, gave up one single, walked two and struck out 11.
"They did a great job," Leyland said of his bullpen. "Everybody who came out of there did a fantastic job, which you have to do on the road because they get the last at-bat."
The 18 strikeouts by Houston batters extended the Tigers' American League record to seven consecutive games of 10 or more strikeouts.
Ortega, as well Putkonen, just joined the club this week.
"They're getting opportunities," Leyland said of his two new relievers. "If you do the job, you're going to stay here."
It was the Tigers' fifth extra-inning game of the season and only their second win. They beat Seattle 2-1 in 14 innings April 17 on the road and lost to the Angels 4-3 in 13 innings four days later, again on the road.
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.