DETROIT -- A year after hitting 21 home runs, Jhonny Peralta went through the first month of the 2012 campaign without finding his power stroke. However, for the 29-year-old Tigers shortstop, it was well worth the wait.
As the crowd of 33,615 at Comerica Park began to leave in the bottom of the ninth inning, Peralta hit a two-run shot just over the right-field wall off pitcher Matt Thornton to stun Chicago with a 5-4 walk-off victory.
"This feels really good," Peralta said. "It's the best moment that you can feel. First home run this year and it's walk-off. Not bad, huh?"
Not bad at all.
Peralta rounded third base, threw his helmet in the air, covered his head and jumped into the massive group celebrating at home. The fans went from silent, as they watched their beloved Tigers on the brink of a sub-.500 record, to raucous.
Peralta said he worked his heroics from drawing off experience versus Thornton. Of all the Tigers batters, Peralta entered with the most at-bats against the White Sox left-hander. Although he had only four hits -- no home runs -- in 21 career at-bats, he knew what to expect.
"The first couple pitches I was looking for the cutter because the last time in Chicago that's what he pitched to me," Peralta said. "Today, the first couple pitchers were cutters, too. The last ball that I hit, I knew that he threw me a couple cutters ... so I knew to look for the ball away right there."
It was an attempt at hard contact, turned into a line drive home run. And it turned around what looked like another depressing defeat for Detroit at home, as White Sox ace Jake Peavy, the American League Pitcher of the Month for April, fired another gem.
Pitching opposite rookie left-hander Drew Smyly, who also threw another excellent outing, Peavy yielded three runs on seven hits over 7 2/3 innings. He didn't outduel Smyly, who allowed two runs through six innings, but he outlasted his 22-year-old opponent.
Peavy was in line for the win before getting derailed. His 122 pitches marked the first time the 30-year-old reached 120 pitches in a White Sox uniform.
But that last pitch proved to be a big one as Miguel Cabrera singled to drive in Don Kelly and cut the score to 4-3 and put the Tigers within striking distance.
"I just hate going out there, having that team on the ropes and then losing one," Peavy said. "It's tough but we'll be back at them tomorrow."
Prior to that, both teams had been battling back and forth. Detroit stayed out in front behind Alex Avila, who entered the game with only nine hits in his past 48 at-bats -- good for a .186 average.
Avila smacked an opposite-field double in the second inning and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Raburn. With the score knotted at 1, Avila came up in the fourth and hit a solo shot into the bullpen. He finished 3-for-3, tacking on a single in the ninth before Peralta's at-bat.
Meanwhile, Smyly attempted to keep the rival White Sox at bay. For back-to-back games -- and three times in five starts -- Smyly struck out a career-high seven batters.
It seems so simple, but Smyly credited a lot of his success to the relationship he's established with his catcher.
"Me and Alex have been on a really good page," he said. "I feel like he knows exactly what I'm thinking the whole game, like I hardly ever shake him off. He's a great catcher, and he calls an easy game. I just try to go out there and throw it."
Smyly arguably made just two costly mistakes. With a runner on second, Smyly threw a pitch out over the plate to Gordon Beckham on an 0-2 count in the third, and Beckham hammered an RBI double to tie the game at 1. Three innings later, Alexei Ramirez struck a triple to lead off the sixth and came home on an Adam Dunn sacrifice fly.
After 99 pitches, Octavio Dotel took over in the seventh and allowed his first runs of the season, a two-run homer to Beckham that gave Smyly his fourth no-decision in five outings.
For Smyly, all that matters is if the team wins, not his own record.
"Of course you want to get a win, but as long as the team wins there's not much you can do about it," Smyly said. "All you can do is just go out and pitch and keep your team in the game and hope for a win or a no-decision. Just stay away from the losses."
With a 4-1 record in his starts, that's what the Tigers have done this season. And this might have been one of their biggest of the season.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.