Slugger ends extra-base skid in big way as Tigers advance to ALCS
OAKLAND -- It was kind of like one of those commercials where the batter connects and the ball flies out of the park, out of the city, past a series of corn fields, skyscrapers and tourist attractions until it ends up thousands of miles away.
The home run Miguel Cabrera hit in the fourth inning Thursday night landed just on the other side of the left-field fence at O.co Coliseum. The impact, however, might be felt as far away as Boston, where the Tigers will open the American League Championship Series on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET on FOX after eliminating the Athletics, 3-0, in Game 5 of the ALDS.
It was the slugging third baseman's first extra-base hit of the postseason. Hampered by groin and abdominal injuries, he had also gone without a homer in his last nine games of the regular season and had just one in his final 25 games. That roughly coincided with the team that finished second in the big leagues in runs scoring two or fewer runs 11 times in the final month.
If Detroit is looking for harbingers, the appearance that Cabrera could be getting at least healthy enough to turn on pitches is encouraging. So is the fact that after scoring a combined six runs in the first 31 innings of this ALDS, the Tigers piled up 11 in the final 13.
"When you've got Miguel Cabrera and Prince [Fielder] and Victor [Martinez], they could explode at any time," manager Jim Leyland said. "Cabrera came through for us. Prince swung the bat good. Victor swung the bat good. Jhonny [Peralta] swung the bat good. When we get those guys going, we're a dangerous club."
And here's something even more amazing: Peralta said Cabrera called his shot.
"You know, it's crazy, but he said it [before the game] in batting practice," the shortstop said. "He said he feels he's going to hit a home run. I said, 'I believe you.' And it happened. It's crazy how this guy can do it."
Make no mistake. In a room full of stars, Cabrera's teammates show a special reverence for him. After the game, they gathered around a clubhouse table, goggles in place, bottles of champagne ready to spray. But they held off, waiting patiently, until he arrived after doing a series of on-field interviews.
And while they obviously appreciate his offensive contributions, they especially admire that he goes about his business while obviously hurting but without complaint.
"His name in the lineup makes a difference," catcher Alex Avila said. "He hasn't been at full health all series, but he's been playing his butt off. He'll get big hits when we need him to. I don't doubt him coming through in situations like that."
Added 21-game winner Max Scherzer: "He's such a warrior. For him to be playing through these injuries is unbelievable. Not many guys could possibly be doing this for the whole season. When you see him him going out there and doing that, it makes you want to step up and do whatever it takes of the team. That's why we have such a great team mentality. That's why when we celebrate, we celebrate as a team.
"It was great. That's what Miggy does. For him to hit a bomb in that situation is so huge. Their pitcher was throwing the ball really well."
The pitcher in question was Oakland's Sonny Gray, who pitched eight scoreless innings against the Tigers in Game 2 and had not allowed a hit going into the fourth inning Thursday night. But Torii Hunter singled with one out, and Cabrera followed by drilling a 1-0 pitch that was up and in to give Detroit a lead it never relinquished.
"Anybody hits a two-run homer off Sonny Gray with Justin Verlander on the mound, it pumps up anybody; so it feels great," Hunter said. "It feels good to win. Miggy has been doing his best. He's injured, and he's out there playing his heart out. It's good to see him go out there and hit a home run."
As he has throughout the postseason, Cabrera deflected inquiries about his physical condition.
"We're here in the playoffs, man," he said after the game. "You have to do what you can do. I said before, everybody talk about what's going on with me, you know, everybody can talk what they can talk. I want to do my job, man. I want to be with the team. I want to play with my heart.
"We in good position. We got to come through like a team together and go out there on fire. It's like a puzzle. You never know when it's going to be your last. And you got to go out there and fight to win."
Bob Melvin said it was obvious Cabrera was not 100 percent healthy.
"It looked like his approach the whole series was to hit the ball up the middle and that he didn't have the leg drive he normally does," the Athletics manager said. "So I was a little surprised he pulled it for a home run. Yet, I don't know how surprised you can be when Miguel Cabrera hits a home run."
Surprising or not, it has to be considered a good sign for the Tigers.